Healing Trauma with Yoga and MeditationMay 21st, 2018 by Christina Sprayberry
It is said the the buddha teaches one thing, suffering and the end of suffering (Salzberg). Although, the Buddhist concept of suffering is not limited only to trauma, it is helpful in understanding how our relationship with trauma creates suffering. Mark Epstein is a Buddhist scholar and psychotherapist who explores this in his book “The Traumas of Everyday life.” He writes that “Trauma is an indivisible part of human experience. It takes many forms but spares no one” (Epstein). We can change our relationship to trauma, remove stigma and shame, and shift to a more empowered way of relating to ourselves and our experiences. “Trauma, in any of its forms, is not a failure or a mistake. It is not something to be ashamed of, not a sign of weakness, and not a reflection of inner failing. It is simply a fact of life. … If one can treat trauma as a fact and not a failing, one has the chance to learn from the inevitable slings and arrows that come ones way … the traumas of every day life, if they do not destroy us become bearable even illuminating, when we learn to relate to them differently.” (Epstein)
It is possible to heal from trauma and there are many healing paths. Neurobiology asserts that trauma can cause emotions to be stored in the body. Here is a simple description of a complex process: trauma creates a protective survival reaction by engaging (turning on) certain parts of the nervous system while also disengaging (turning off) other parts, such as where language is processed. Somatic therapies, or therapies that include the body, help to connect and re-integrate. Yoga can help foster re-integration of the mind and body facilitate the healing process. (Peter Levin and Dan Siegel)
Although yoga in the west has emphasized the physical, yoga is a complete mind body experience. Consider that the first posture or “asana” began with seated meditation and all other physical postures developed over time were to support meditation. The original yoga teachings are a philosophy for well being not physical postures. Yoga is more than our bodies and is an entire mind-body healing process that can be taken at your own pace. (Indira Kalmbach, Pavones Yoga Center)
For some, yoga may seem an intimidating process. Somethings that may contribute to this are: media mis-representations of yoga; lack of diversity in bodies; shame, anxiety and struggles with body; ideas about meditation such as “i cant stop my thoughts”; as well as the natural protective trauma reaction of disengagement from the body creating resistance to awareness of the body. Trauma-informed yoga classes and instructors are mindful of the impact of trauma and how to help foster re-integration with sensitivity. Most importantly, know that you are the expert on yourself. When participating in a yoga class, adjust as needed to take care of yourself, if you need to take a break allow yourself to do so. For trauma survivors, noticing and taking care of the body is an empowering and essential component of healing.
To start including yoga in your self-care and healing, give yourself permission to simply observe your expectations of yoga and meditation and begin to experiment with mind, body, movement, and stillness. It can be as simple as laying on the floor observing breath, thoughts, feelings, sensations, mind, and body; connect with yourself and this moment. This is yoga. “Breathe in deeply to bring your mind home to your body.” Thich Nhat Hahn
About the Author
Christina M. Sprayberry LCSW, RYT is a psychotherapist trained in yoga and mindfulness meditation. Her training includes 200 hour yoga training at Pavones Yoga Center Costa Rica; Certification in Integrating Psychotherapy and Yoga with Live Oak/Bloom Yoga; and Mindfulness Meditation at the University of Chicago. She provides individual yoga and meditation sessions in a safe affirming space combining mindfulness meditation, gentle yoga movements, and stillness in restorative positions that emphasize connection with mind and body.