My yoga teacher, Kris, is writing an article about trauma informed yoga. She asked me if I would share with her how it has helped me, what I think yoga has done in terms of healing. This is what I sent her, and I wanted to share it here. I think it’s a good synopsis of how yoga has helped me, and why I think yoga is such a great tool for dealing with trauma.
Being able to take trauma informed yoga has definitely impacted my journey of healing from trauma. When my therapist suggested yoga, my first response was to say “no way”. I’d been disconnected from my body for so long, it felt safer to be that way. The therapist didn’t let it go, though. Every so often, she would suggest yoga, and say she really felt that yoga would be a good way for me to get in touch with my body in a safe way. She kept trying to make me understand that trauma, and all the scary feelings and thoughts that go along with it are in the past, and if I could be connected to, and present in my body, I would be grounded in the here and now.
I didn’t understand that until I met Kris, and started seeing her for weekly yoga sessions. Because I had spent a good portion of my life participating in ballet, gymnastics and cheerleading, a lot of the yoga poses came easily to me if I didn’t think about it. When I tried to think about it, or feel something in my body, it was harder to perform the pose. Kris was never pushy, and she never made me feel bad for not feeling something in my body, or not wanting to do a particular pose. She was simply accepting of where I was at, and seemed to easily make space for whatever feelings I had coming up even when I couldn’t articulate them.
During one session, she had me sit in a chair, stand up and then asked me to sit back down in the chair without looking behind me. It seemed simple, but I froze. I can’t fully explain it, but later when I talked with my therapist about it, she hypothesized that Kris was asking me to do something that was out of my control in some ways, and that triggered a freeze reaction. Trauma is all about loss of control, so it made sense. Kris worked through it with me, and I did eventually sit back in the chair. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was really the moment that I understood being in the present, connected to my body and trusting my body was safer than being disconnected and constantly stuck in the past. I felt more confident after that, stronger somehow, just knowing I had been able to get through the scared feelings and move past them without disconnecting from the moment.
I’ve learned a lot from yoga. I’ve learned to be able to focus on my breathing to help calm myself. Before, focusing of breathing was always slightly triggering for me. I think that being able to breathe through any uncomfortable feelings that come up from poses in yoga has helped me see I can breathe through any feelings that might come up during therapy, or in life. I’ve learned I’m stronger than I think I am, and that I can trust myself. My therapist and I have both noticed that when I talk to her about traumatic memories, I’m able to keep one foot grounded in the present and one foot in the past. Before, I was constantly getting fully sucked into my past, never able to really hold onto the here and now. Yoga has had a lot to do with that.
On a more practical side, yoga has helped me to connect with my body again. I’m diagnosed with fibromyalgia, so while I do feel pain if it’s bad enough, I’ve always been able to block it out quite easily. While that can be beneficial in some situations, it has meant I tend to over stress my body because I don’t feel it, and it has made it hard to communicate with my doctors about where I feel pain at. Since starting yoga, I’ve learned to listen to my body, and stop before I hurt myself. I’ve been able to communicate more effectively with my doctors, too.
I wish I could fully explain how yoga has helped me. I think so much of it is a feeling, something I just know, that it’s hard to find words. It’s helped move out of my head and back into my body. I’ve grown a lot in the year since I started trauma therapy. I have no doubt that I wouldn’t be nearly as far in this journey if it weren’t for trauma informed yoga.