“In order to change, people need to become aware of their sensations and the way that their bodies interact with the world around them. Physical self-awareness is the first step in releasing the tyranny of the past.” Bessel A. van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma
Trauma creates both an emotional and physical imprint on the body. Traditional talking therapies focus mostly on what can be expressed verbally. These can be very effective but we now know from the vastly growing area of neuroscience that the impact of trauma extends beyond emotional distress and pain. You might have found that trauma and the physiological symptoms and somatic complaints that are associated with it, are often hard to treat with “top-down” talking therapy.
We know that our response to traumatic events is initially a physical one. The ‘Fight, Flight or Freeze’ response is activated in times of stress, as the body perceives stress as a threat. Unfortunately long after stressful events are over, our bodies can continue to react as if threats are continually present.
- Repeated exposure to trauma overwhelms our self-protective capacities
- Survivors find themselves trapped in a cycle of hyper-arousal and dissociative numbing
- A lot of survivors complain of feeling ‘out of control’ in their life and in their own body
“Suffering is the ground out of which wisdom arises.”
Deirdre Fay, ‘Attachment-Based Yoga & Meditation for Trauma Recovery’
How can Yoga help?
Stress and trauma can damage our capacity to emotionally self-regulate. Yoga can help with this. Purposeful attention alongside asanas (physical postures) and pranayama (breathing) improves the capacity for present moment awareness. This can help with dissociation, when we disconnect from reality. Trauma and stress can damage the insula in our brains, responsible for sensory experiences. Yoga strengthens the connections with both the insula and pre-frontal cortex so strengthening the mind-body connection.
(RCT trial 2014 Bessel van der Kolk et al)
Yoga helps to:
- Build connections between the mind and body, increasing our capacity for present-awareness
- Staying with, rather than getting rid of or defending against difficult feelings
- Build greater tolerance for difficult emotional states and bodily sensations
- Learn how aspects of our early experiences and our characters are discernible in our bodily states and that these too can be changed
Therapeutic yoga can be combined with talking therapy and is suitable for adolescents as well as adults.
6 minute meditation
Be here, be now and present to everything that arises.
I wrote this chapter, Therapeutic yoga and psychotherapy for facilitating post-traumatic growth for the book, Complex Trauma, The Tavistock Model.
Edited by Jo Stubley and Linda Young. It will give you an idea of the Yoga4Trauma model I have developed for the Adult Trauma Unit at theTavistock, run by Jo Stubley, and why yoga can be helpful, alongside talking therapy, for processing trauma and leading a fuller life.
THERAPEUTIC YOGA COURSES
I teach 1:1 and group courses in a specially adapted space at my practice in Hampstead, London.
I also teach one-day ‘taster’ courses and workshops incorporating Mindfulness and breath work and yoga where appropriate to professionals and organisations.