How does yoga help trauma?
Dear Yoga Community,
This month I am teaching a workshop and 8-weeks series called Yoga for Trauma: Coming to the Ground Beneath You. I have been contemplating presence, grounding, and how to use the tools of yoga when our world feels like it is collapsing.
Trauma happens to all of us. Most people I know have been in a car accident at some point in their lives or fallen and sprained their ankle. Commonly, people think that trauma only happens when we have experienced abuse or war, but it happens to all of us.
Shortly after Buddy, our beloved puggle, came to live with us he was attacked by another dog. The situation was much scarier than it was injurious, and Buddy just had a little puncture on his rump. Even now, 5 or so years later, this trauma has stuck with me.
A couple of weeks ago I went to visit a dear friend on a remote island, and I knew there were a couple of dogs that ran around the island. I thought about leaving Buddy at home but I knew that was my anxiety and fear talking more than my heart. Buddy and I both wanted him to come on the adventure! When a trauma happens fear and anxiety can paralyze and prevent us from doing things our heart wants to do.
When we arrived on the island I saw one of the dogs running around barking at the cars. It was interesting to observe my thoughts about this dog, both as a threat and a really cute dog that I would love to pet. Trauma can distort our perceptions and we can see things that may not be threatening as something dangerous. Buddy and I were safe and secure in a car, and yet I still noticed fear arise in me when I saw the dog.
Later that day my friends, Buddy and I walked around the circumference of the island. It was beautiful! We saw a seal, kingfishers, a great blue heron and so much more as we basked in the sunshine. While we were walking I was both enjoying the experience as well as being on guard. When we walked by the ferry dock I noticed my nervous system kick into high gear since this was where we saw the dog several hours ago. I played out scenarios of dog fights in my mind during the course of my walk, even while I watched a heron fly overhead, even as I stepped across uneven rocks. Trauma can take us out of the present moment and launch us into past experiences, especially when triggers are present. When these past traumas are replayed our nervous system goes into fight, flight or freeze mode.
One of the interesting things about this adventure was to be able to work with the stories that were arising as well as the physical and emotional sensations. With the stories I was able to witness them with curiosity and tell myself the reality of the moment (satya=truth): I am walking, we are safe, Buddy is having a great time. When emotions of fear arose I allowed them to be there without trying to fight them (ahimsa=non-violence or compassion), and I was also with my trusted friends that I could share my experience with (sangha=community). When my physical body went into fight, flight or freeze I kept walking at a normal pace. I took in my surroundings and felt my breath coming in and out (repetitive and rhythmic movement, orienting to the space around you and diaphragmatic breathing can be calming to the nervous system).
These are some of the tools we will explore in this workshop and series (early-bird rates end this Saturday!). I have seen these methods effectively move people out of a trauma response, back into his or her body and back into a relaxed nervous system. The yoga system is a powerful tool to help return to our ground of presence.
I look forward to seeing you in a workshop, series, or private session soon!
Laura Humpf and Satmato Yoga Therapy