How does it work? Yoga & healing trauma from the inside out

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Experiencing trauma at any point in life effects us on many levels, and the residue of our experience can linger for the rest of our life. How does this residue (or trauma response) look in our life?

Trauma responses can manifest in various outward behaviors reflecting how an individual copes with or reacts to traumatic experiences. These behaviors can vary widely depending on the person and the nature of the trauma.

Common outward behaviors that reflect trauma response

1. Hyperarousal:

Individuals may appear constantly on edge, jittery, or easily startled. This is a reflection of the body’s heightened state of alertness as a result of trauma.

2. Avoidance:

A person may avoid certain places, people, or activities that remind them of the traumatic event. This can manifest as social withdrawal, isolation, or a reluctance to discuss the trauma.

3. Re-experiencing:

Behaviors such as flashbacks, nightmares, or intrusive thoughts about the traumatic event are common. These can lead to visible distress, panic, or disorientation when triggered.

4. Emotional Numbing:

Some individuals may seem detached or emotionally flat, showing little interest in activities they used to enjoy. This is a coping mechanism to avoid experiencing painful emotions.

5. Anger and Irritability:

Trauma can lead to increased irritability, anger outbursts, or aggressive behavior. This can be a reaction to feeling threatened or a way to regain a sense of control.

6. Self-Destructive Behavior:

Engaging in risky or self-destructive behaviors, such as substance abuse, reckless driving, or self-harm, can be a sign of trauma response.

7. Changes in Sleep Patterns:

Difficulty falling or staying asleep, nightmares, or sleeping too much can be indicative of trauma.

8. Somatic Symptoms:

Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, or unexplained pains can be outward manifestations of trauma, especially when medical causes are ruled out.

9. Hypervigilance:

An exaggerated focus on surroundings for potential threats, leading to behaviors like constantly checking exits or being overly alert in seemingly safe environments.

10. Dissociation:

Behaviors such as zoning out, feeling detached from reality, or experiencing a sense of unreality can be signs of dissociation, a common trauma response.

Trauma and the mind-body connection

You may notice how many of these trauma response behaviors relate to a mind-body relationship. Our mind experiences something and our body reacts. This is where yoga comes in.

Yoga is a type of somatic movement practice (the word soma is from greek meaning “living body”). In yoga we focus on the internal sensation of our body. In the ways that trauma disconnects our mind from our body, yoga can reconnect mind & body.

Dr Bessel Van Der Kolk, a leading expert in the field of trauma, wrote a book “The Body Keeps the Score” which emphasizes the role of somatic practice in healing from trauma. If you havent read it or listened to it, it’s a must read for anyone recovering from trauma in life.

Key ways yoga can help heal trauma

1. Reconnecting with our Body:

Trauma can lead to disconnection or dissociation from the body. Somatic practices help individuals reconnect with their bodily sensations and become more present in their bodies. This reconnection is crucial for processing and integrating traumatic memories.

2. Regulating our Nervous System:

Trauma can dysregulate the autonomic nervous system, leading to a constant state of fight, flight, or freeze. Somatic practices, such as deep breathing, yoga, and mindfulness, can help regulate the nervous system and promote a sense of calm and safety.

3. Releasing Stored Trauma:

Traumatic energy can be stored in the body’s tissues and muscles. Somatic practices like somatic experiencing, a therapy developed by Peter Levine, allow individuals to gently release this stored energy through physical movements and exercises.

4. Enhancing Our Body Awareness:

Somatic practices increase body awareness, helping individuals recognize and respond to their bodily sensations. This awareness is crucial for identifying triggers and developing coping strategies to manage them.

5. Restoring Our Agency and Control:

Trauma can leave individuals feeling powerless and out of control. Somatic practices empower them to take charge of their bodies and their healing process, restoring a sense of agency and control.

6. Facilitating Our Emotional Processing:

By focusing on the body’s sensations, somatic practices can provide a pathway to access and process emotions that are connected to traumatic experiences. This emotional processing is essential for healing.

7. Promoting Our Mind-Body Integration:

Somatic practices emphasize the integration of mind and body, helping individuals develop a more cohesive sense of self. This integration is vital for overcoming the fragmentation caused by trauma.

When we think about healing trauma, especially emotional trauma, we may envision spending time with a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is pretty common in rehab and other substance abuse treatment environments. CBT helps change negative thinking patterns into positive ones, and since our negative thought patterns often contributes to substance abuse, changing those patterns is helpful.

Yoga and other somatic therapies work on levels that talk therapy doesn’t reach. The thing I love about yoga and meditation, is that it is always available to us in the moment. Just pause, right now, and take 5 steady breaths. Gaze softly downward and just feel the sensation of your breathing. If you have more time, try a simple yoga sequence. You will likely notice the benefits right in this moment.

Give it a try

Ready to try it for yourself? Here is a simple 10 minute yoga practice that can be done with no equipment by any body type, size, gender, age, and ability.

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