Yoga and Trauma: The Power of Release

Yoga in the sacred place
Photo by ntitov

We all have emotional trauma, and it seems the more my trauma releases and quietens, the more I can hear the pain of others. My body, breath and mind hold the memory of the patterns of trauma, not yet fully released. This residual energy primes me to the feelings and patterns of others. I can hear them more clearly. I can feel the energy of consciousness moving through the world.

As a yoga teacher working with students dealing with trauma, I have to remember two things: 1) not to let my own trauma impinge on someone else’s practice and 2) to be mindful…of being present, of my language, and of the current needs of the traumatized student. I know yoga is beneficial for healing and trauma; I have experienced the release that can come from the practice of yoga in my own body and mind.

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With yoga asana and pranayama, we can gently and safely bring about different feelings in the body and watch the mind’s reactions as the feelings arise, uncovering the cause of these feelings and moods. Once you know why you are in a bad mood, you have the choice and the power to address the cause of the mood. Through yoga we develop awareness of where we hold stress or anger and awareness of when the body gives us clues to indicate what triggers our anger or sadness.

A key to releasing trauma through yoga is knowing how to come home to your ‘basic goodness’ after you have been ‘triggered’. Sometimes a certain pose or the way the teacher guides or cues us triggers a reaction in our bodies that we can’t explain in words; it feels so deep and familiar, yet sometimes in a distant and surreal kind of way. Have you ever noticed how often someone cries in a yoga class? We have all experienced trauma of some description, perhaps only vicariously, but our mind and body have been affected nonetheless.

Our bodies, sometimes more than our minds, hold the memory of trauma. This may be in the form of a tightly contracted psoas, constricted diaphragm, habitual tension in the shoulders, neck or jaw. These tightenings have occurred as a response to a perceived threat, part of our fight or flight response, but once the threat has passed, our bodies very often still do not feel safe enough to release fully into relaxation. As a result, we experience symptoms of trauma such as back pain, digestive problems, anxiety and even PTSD.

When we are in a safe environment, with a yoga teacher we trust (which may be ourselves in a home practice), we are able to recognize the impact of trauma on our bodies and experiment with how poses may trigger or release habitual patterns of responding. With mindfulness we can learn to stay with the body and the breath, being a conscious witness to the trauma that is stored within us, assessing what works and what causes more suffering throughout our practice. In this way, yoga can bring about a deep sense of healing in mind, body and spirit.

Have you ever cried in a yoga class and wondered why? What is your experience with yoga and trauma?

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