Reality is that life is not peaceful. Trauma can arise from any number of daily things, seemingly small to one person, yet overwhelming to another. Having experienced trauma, whether recently or in the past, one can feel like something is broken within us, wrong with us, or we feel damaged. This is not so but is a part of the healing process and a normal response to internalizing a traumatic experience. Trauma Sensitive Yoga Therapy is not about fixing or changing anyone. It’s about learning how to find healing and support within, by empowering yourself to feel safe in your own body and mind and seeing the potential in yourself. By separating yourself from the traumatic event, you are able to witness and self-observe. Through witnessing awareness, you begin to look at it objectively and come to realize that you are not the trauma, it is something that happened to you.
Through your yoga practice, you can return to wholeness by seeing the experience from a place of comfort and safety within your own body, and in time, finding meaning in it. This will arise when the time is right for you. Post-Traumatic Growth will evolve, remembering that people don’t become great in spite of their challenges, but because of them. Eventually, your yoga practice will take you to that inner place where you can be the witness, and know that you can return to that place anytime during your practice or in your daily life. The change will come from that untouched true nature when you are operating not from brokenness, but from wholeness.
Trauma activates our Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) for survival but leaves us frequently stuck in the fight or flight response. Yoga practices that can help us get back into the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) include Therapeutic Yoga, along with talk and physical therapy, and meditation. In The Relaxation Response: Yoga Therapy Meets Physiology published in Yoga Therapy Today, Summer, 2017, Maggie Reagh, Yoga Therapy International renowned founder and teacher, lists restorative procedures under topics of Relaxing through Positioning the Body; Relaxing through Lengthening the Breath; Relaxing through Stilling the Mind and Balancing the Nervous System.
Utilizing guided meditation of Yoga Nidra allows healing to begin by building resilience to challenging circumstances that arise in our daily lives. In the International Journal of Therapy, No.19 (2009) p.123, David Emerson et al. state in Trauma-Sensitive Yoga: Principles, Practice, and Research, “Trauma exposure is ubiquitous in our society. Over half the general population report having had exposure to at least one traumatic event over their lifetime…research has shown that Yoga practices, including meditation, relaxation, and physical postures, can reduce autonomic sympathetic activation, muscle tension, and blood pressure, improve neuroendocrine and hormonal activity, decrease physical symptoms and emotional distress, and increase quality of life. For these reasons, Yoga is a promising treatment or adjunctive therapy for addressing cognitive, emotional, and physiological symptoms associated with trauma, and PTSD specifically.”
When we get stuck in the SNS, the brain is affected, the amygdala grows, making us more reactive, the hippocampus shrinks and we may lose perspective on time, the frontal cortex goes off-line, making it harder to make decisions or think things through. Trauma often makes us feel detached from our body, and sometimes feeling unsafe in our body. Dr. Herbert Benson of the Benson Henry Institute has found in Harvard University’s research that spending 20 minutes a day in the relaxation response can lower or turn off our stress genes. Through comforting Therapeutic Trauma Sensitive Yoga we experience the relaxation response of coming back to our body and mind. Yoga and guided meditation also help one to understand the significance of the breath. Controlled, yet easily learned, breathing is a powerful trigger to engage the relaxation response. Yoga Nidra supports organization of thoughts and flow of memories and puts us in touch with our physical self.
I hope this article helps explain some of the benefits of a yoga practice, particularly when we’re hoping to recovery from trauma in our lives. You may not think that yoga is for you – and you know what, I don’t blame you. For many, it’s an entirely new concept and outside of the box in terms of thinking of treatment. The research is showing that Yoga Therapy and Trauma Sensitive Yoga can be effective in helping reduce symptoms of trauma and change the physiology of our brain.
At Alongside You, we work as a team and I’m pleased to be able to work alongside the other staff in helping clients, many whom have benefitted from yoga therapy as an adjunct in their recovery. If you’re curious, please give me a call at (604) 283-7827 ext. 709 or contact me through the website here and I’d love to speak with you about how I might be of help.