By Lisa Foss, MA, LCMHCA
Trauma symptoms are not contained only within our memories but flow throughout our physical body, like vibrations, into the nervous system. “The emotional pain we carry within us isn’t just in our heads. It’s etched in our muscles.” -Bercelli, 2008.
Trauma has an impact on our mental and emotional well-being, and science has shown us it also affects our brain and body. Bessel van der Kolk, who is a pioneer researcher in trauma healing, has written about how “the body keeps the score.” Yoga allows the body to reconnect to the brain and to restart the process of connection that has been disrupted by trauma. Individuals who have experienced trauma can feel unsafe and helpless within their own bodies. The benefit of mindfully practicing yoga for mental health purposes is to promote attention, mindfulness, body awareness, self-regulation, resilience, self-actualization, and pro-social behavior. This includes calming the nervous system, improving breath practice, and increasing mind-body connection. Yoga can be a self-led approach to mindfully and consciously BE with your whole self as you move. This is such an important step for healing from trauma as it can help us learn how to manage the physical symptoms triggered by memories or senses.
The mindful practice of yoga for trauma recovery can be facilitated by a yoga instructor or trained therapist. The individual who is practicing should move at a pace that allows them time to slowly move throughout the practice. There should always be permission and autonomy given to everyone to move or not move into positions that feel appropriate to match where we are at in the healing process. Yoga teachers and therapist should be encouraging and mindfully aware of an individual’s personal space. Slow and mindful yoga practice does not focus on the contortion of the body, nor is the goal necessarily to increase flexibility by challenging oneself with complicated moves. Individuals who have experienced trauma need to feel safe, supported, and validated. We need to recalibrate the nervous system, integrate past stress experiences, and develop resistance for future stress.
Interested in this approach?