Yoga Focus: Healing trauma with yoga
To move past trauma, survivors need to learn to befriend the body, and yoga asana practice and meditation can help them do that, writes YogaFit founder Beth Shaw.
We don’t need to look far to see that as a society we are suffering; from mass shootings and suicides to homelessness and addiction. For many, trauma is the root cause of suffering. Unless the root of the problem is dealt with, time is wasted dealing with the symptoms. It is often hard to differentiate symptom from cause. Untreated trauma, often occurring in childhood, leads to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, mood, personality and psychotic disorders.
The human mind has incredible protection mechanisms as well as coping skills. Unfortunately, we don’t always opt for the healthiest coping techniques first. Those skills usually have to be learnt after some unhealthy ones have been given a run. Trauma varies from person to person, so it’s fortunate that the path to healing is a very wide one with many options.
People living with residual trauma are continually getting ready for the next attack or life-altering event. When someone is preoccupied by a real or imagined threat, the resulting fear, rage, or disappointment will be reflected in the body. Research shows that trauma survivors suffer more illness, in addition, muscle tension, disease, and injury are physical manifestations of this preoccupation.
Trauma has such a severe impact because of the way it affects, and ultimately, rewires the brain. When the brain gets stuck in stress mode, it leads to physical changes and a complicated ripple of life-altering symptoms. Enter yoga, mindfulness and meditation. To move past trauma, survivors need to learn to befriend the body, and yoga asana practice and meditation/mindfulness can help them do that. Yoga allows us to be the witness to the body, mind, and emotions, and make better choices that contribute to a healthier lifestyle, more positive mood, better relationships, improved quality of life and balanced living.
From the place of being the witness, we can then seek the appropriate treatment. In yoga and mindfulness, we learn that if we can find contentment and focus in the present moment, we will find joy. Trauma survivors can lose this connection to the present moment and, as a result, can easily lose their sense of peace, joy, and connection to others. This has been my personal experience.
In certain respects, one may never heal completely from trauma, but we can certainly learn to mitigate and cope with the daily symptoms and feelings associated with PTSD, trauma, addiction, anxiety and depression by applying these mind body healing tools and principles. Mindfulness allows us to stay open, curious, positive, and present to our unique and individual process of healing.
Awareness is the key component to managing the day-to-day shifts and storms. My own approach to living with trauma, depression, and emotional dysregulation is simple yet complex. It involves a constant vigilance and being the witness to the body, mind, and emotions. I use intention plus action to get results.
One of the best ways to start a mindfulness practice is to simply try a few yoga classes. Try at least five different types, styles, and teachers. Letting go of judgement of yourself and expectation can be very helpful. Maybe even try a few classes online in the privacy of your own living room.
Having experimented, I can honestly say that taking your healing into your own hands is one of the most empowering things you can do. Yoga helps give you that power. We all heal in different ways, but what is most important is that we recognise our victories towards that goal. Celebrate your progress, be kind and loving to yourself. May you have more sunny days than rainy ones – and if it is raining, don’t forget to dance in that rain!
Beth is CEO and founder of YogaFit Training Systems Worldwide Inc, which has trained more than 200,000 fitness professionals across six continents. She is the author of Healing Trauma with Yoga and Mind Body Tools.