Trauma and its symptoms are more prevalent in society than is often thought. Nevertheless, yoga may be one of the best treatments to help with trauma.
What is trauma and how can yoga help?
Trauma happens when we have an experience that we struggle to process. It can feel too overwhelming as we experience negative emotions such as helplessness, fear, sadness, rage or shame.
Trauma-sensitive yoga with a trained teacher and some considerations for a trauma sensitive practise, can be helpful in trauma recovery.
“Yoga is more effective for treating PTSD than any medication so far.”
(Bessel van der Kolk, NScience seminar , London Guys Hospital, 15 May 2005)
Yoga as effective treatment for trauma
In trauma, the body itself becomes unsafe. Yet by learning to reconnect with our self through learning to be with our body we can learn safety again. We can also learn skills of self-regulation, which are important in bringing our arousal levels down. And finally we can begin to take effective action. Effective treatment for trauma needs to involve
- Learning to tolerate feelings and sensations by increasing capacity for interoception. This will strengthen hypocampal and precuneal activity in the brain and improve cortical function to help process the trauma. In doing so we reduce dominance of the emotional arousal of the right hemisphere. This will help us to develop a sense of self awareness and tolerate sensations in the body.
- Learning to modulate one’s own physiological arousal or to self-regulate. This will strengthen the vagal tone and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) response to increase heart rate variability (HRV) and respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) to improve self-regulation and reduce physiological arousal levels.
- Learning to engage in taking effective action – to overcome the feelings of physical powerlessness and helplessness from the traumatic experience (s), thereby replacing the passive fear response with an active coping strategy. This will help to release the energy of the ‘stuck’ emotional response from the body.
Trauma is our body’s response
Primarily trauma is a physical experience of our body; we have a series of physical responses as our ‘fight or flight’ system kicks in to deal with the situation. We need specific type of help with trauma because of this.
The trauma survivor’s sense of control has been taken away rendering the individual helpless in the face of the event or experience. This is why it is absolutely necessary that throughout the treatment the person is empowered with a sense of choice, control and volition. This requires a trauma-sensitive yoga teacher.
In 2015 during my Satyananda Integration training I completed a project on yoga for trauma. ‘Yoga for Trauma – How Trauma-Sensitive Yoga Can Help in the Trauma Recovery Process’. Click here to see a full copy of the research report.
Embodied Living is running a free online course to help people with anxiety and depression during COVID-19, this may help with trauma too. Watch this space or contact us for more details.