Trauma-Informed Yoga Is Changing Lives & Healing Hearts
Trauma-informed yoga is a popular topic these days as is the notion that you can heal trauma through yoga itself. Yoga is both a noun and a verb. Most people recognize it as a verb, meaning to do something that brings about a state of calm and united consciousness. If we were to look at yoga as a noun, we would see it’s a state of union where sentient beings move in and out of different states of consciousness. The process of healing implies fixing something, and that is how we look at trauma as a society. Trauma is something that we think needs to be fixed. There may be some truth to that, but there is also an underlying misunderstanding around trauma and the way we heal on an energetic level. When we understand that we can fully understand why yoga works so well to create a sense of healing and how it’s more a process of integration than it is healing.
Trauma occurs when there is a physical, intellectual, or emotional disturbance that deeply impacts the wellbeing of the individual. When we experience trauma in the body our bodies heal themselves from the inside to the outside of the body. This prevents pathogens, air, and foreign debris from being stuck inside the wound. As the body heals, it creates adhesions. These adhesions attach themselves internally to various parts of the body to create an anchor. The wound heals, but it might not heal as smoothly as it was originally. Even on the surface, there may still be visible scars reminding the individual of their traumatic experience.
Our internal trauma behaves the same way. If we experience intellectual or emotional trauma we heal from the inside out, and just like the physical body we experience adhesions and scarring. These are the attachments that we have to the experience, and although they are metaphoric they are truly as painful, if not more painful, as physical scar tissue.
Yoga works on every system in the body to promote homeostasis. The physical tissues of the body are stimulated which causes the body to produce certain hormones, absorb micronutrients, and help the energy to flow in alignment. The energetic practice integrates the cardiopulmonary system and uses it as an efficient way to transport molecules throughout the body, ultimately saturating the body with Prana. The nervous system integrates seamlessly with the mind and our conscious and unconscious functions and the nervous system is directly related to the chakras and impacted by our environment. When we need to regulate our nervous system we must use the cardiopulmonary system. In order to do that, we have to have a connection to the heart and breath and we have to be able to quiet our thinking mind long enough for the practice to take effect.
Many people think we need to “heal” from trauma, but that is a misperception. Once the trauma occurs, our bodies and minds heal. We develop coping mechanisms that help us to regulate our nervous system, our cardiopulmonary system, and our physical body. We might even develop personality traits to help navigate social and emotional situations that activate our trauma. We might feel broken, but we’ve healed and learned to survive.
The cognitive dissonance is what makes us feel broken. We function, put one foot in front of the other, but we don’t feel whole and complete. We don’t feel like we are enough. We feel like our trauma makes us bad or wrong. These are misunderstandings that come from the same mechanisms that help us to cope. When we can recognize that our ego told us that the trauma we experienced was unpleasant, undesirable, and therefore “wrong” or “bad” as a way to help us remain safe from further traumatic experiences we can begin to unpack the trauma.
Our trauma does not make us bad or wrong, and it does not break us, either. It creates an opportunity for us to see that we are resilient, strong, adaptive beings in this human experience. It allows us to notice how we can change and grow, and how our traumas can give us new perspectives that we might not have otherwise considered. Of course, sometimes the trauma impacts our nervous system in such a way that we need to reset the entire system, and sometimes a little reframing goes a long way.
Yoga helps us to achieve both cognitive reframing and it helps us to reset the trauma loop. We can replicate a degree of the stress we experienced during our traumatic event on the mat whether it be through the intensity of movement, posture, or cardiovascular activity. From here, we can tone the nervous system to respond to the stress and we can witness the experience from the perspective of the observer. Viewing the traumatic event as an object can be an excellent way to allow the trauma response cycle to complete in the body so that the nervous system is not holding onto the experience moving forward.
All of this can be done without a conversation. That is the magic of yoga. There is no conversation required, most of the time. The practitioner can come into practice, set an intention, and go to work. Ultimately, the more times the practitioner works with their material objectively the more they will let go of the metaphoric adhesions that bind them to their experience.
Letting Go Of Trauma
Many of us want to let go of our trauma and put the past behind us. Sometimes you’ll find students and practitioners who will want to hold onto their trauma which can make it difficult to move forward. It’s important to remember that our client’s trauma is not our trauma. Although we hold space for it, we don’t need to internalize it. If they are attached to their experience we have to let them be attached. If we try to shift their perspective or push them to do something we want them to do then our attachment is greater than theirs.
By letting go we free ourselves for other experiences. We allow for the richness of life to unfold before our very eyes, and that is one of the gifts of living in the present moment. Yoga helps us to come home to this presence and to remember the truth of our being.