“Trauma is not what happens to you; trauma is what happens inside you as a result of what happens to you” Gabor Mate
Yoga therapy works on the premise that there is no greater healing modality that knows what is right for you, better than you do.
Our bodies contain our histories, they know what we need and yoga therapy offers an opportunity to listen, allow and explore with curiosity.
“If the trauma stored in your body is too scary to face, it might be easier to stay perpetually in your mind by constantly thinking, doing, planning and consuming”
Trauma is much more common than we think, although only 8 percent of the population presents with PTSD research shows that almost everyone person has experienced a traumatic event. Given that traumatic memories are stored in the body, it is not uncommon that during yoga practice a traumatic memory or feeling may surface.
We may think of trauma as something that only happens after an event such as going to war, or being involved in an accident. However, trauma can be thought of as the response to any deeply distressing, or disturbing event that overwhelms our ability to cope, causing feelings of helplessness and diminishing our sense of self, and our ability to feel our full range of emotions.
Trauma creates a physiological state that causes long-term dysregulation of the nervous system. Responses of the nervous system happen below the level of our conscious awareness. We do not choose to become fearful, to freeze or shut down, it happens automatically. It is not our fault. You cannot talk yourself out of a trauma state – positive vibes only, being resilient or strong cannot change it.
Our nervous systems are designed to keep us safe, with this in mind we can begin to see that our reaction to a traumatic event was a survival mechanism designed to protect us in the best way it could at the time.
“When the alarm bell of the emotional brain keeps signalling that you are in danger, no amount of insight will silence it” Bessel Van Der Kolk
For those who have survived trauma, our nervous systems can become stuck in flight or fight. A healthy nervous system needs to face manageable challenges and succeed in meeting them. If this need is not met, or we are challenged and cannot self-regulate as is often the case in the experience of trauma, we end up lacking vitality and can feel unable to fully engage in life.
We may have learnt early on in life that it was ‘safer’ to suppress and ignore our own needs…perhaps our needs were not met with comfort, and so we adapt and adopt strategies to disconnect from our own needs; becoming fiercely independent; a trait that is widely applauded by our culture and which further reinforces this adaptation.
How might we disconnect from our bodies?
We might ignore our own bodies need to sleep, rest and eat, constantly push beyond our limits with work, exercise, partying, substance abuse, over or under eating, avoiding or seeking unhealthy relationships…all things leading to further physical and psychological stress.
Many trauma survivors hold their breath and their bodies tightly, bracing themselves for what is next to come. Staying alert for years takes a toll on the body. Creating a safe space to explore what it feels like to take the armour off is important.
“When I listen deeply to my body, like a friend, I can hear its wisdom”
How can I learn to trust my body again?
People who have experienced trauma may not trust their bodies. This can lead to a sense of disconnection, and feelings of discomfort. Maybe you find it difficult to rest and be still? Perhaps you experience difficulties sleeping?
Curiosity is the opposite of trauma.
Curiosity opens the doors to new possibilities.
We can be curious only when we feel safe…
Yoga Therapists are specially trained to address the symptoms of PTSD and trauma, and understand how a trauma informed yoga practice can be particularly beneficial for trauma survivors.
Creation of a safe space is vital in yoga therapy work. Working with a yoga therapist is a collaborative experience and my ultimate aim is always to create a safe space in which to safely and gently explore. Each process is unique to the individual.
Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions about trauma sensitive yoga, or yoga therapy.
Benefits of trauma-sensitive yoga:
- Increases heart rate variability (HRV) which allows us to deal with stress with more flexibility
- Increases GABA, GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. Low levels of GABA are linked to chronic pain, insomnia, anxiety and mood disorders.
- Equips us with tools for self-regulation, ways to help soothe and calm
- Helps us connect to our bodies and feel safe experiencing different sensation
- Restores a sense of belonging
- Helps discharge imprints of trauma on our nervous system