June 20, 2016

Yoga: A Way to Find Healing for Trauma Survivors

A great number of childhood sexual abuse survivors experience dissociation. It means that some trauma survivors will disconnect their brain from their body because the memories are too painful. In their book Overcoming Trauma through Yoga, David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper say, “Dissociation is a coping mechanism used to create distance from emotions, cognitions, or somatic symptoms.”

Yoga is a technique that can help you make peace with your body and reconnect with it in a positive way. Practicing yoga regularly will help you become more grounded. Doing this type of workout will access the limbic system (the emotional part of your brain) and engage it in the healing process. This attention can help you unfreeze emotions that may have kept you stuck for years.

TYF Note: To experience some trauma-friendly yoga watch and participate with the video above.

What makes a yoga class trauma-friendly? Some may have it right in their description, but even a regular yoga class can still be trauma-friendly if you know what to look for, ask for, and expect. Below are a few steps to take to ensure that the class you attend is the best one for you.

  • Talk to the instructor ahead of time. Explain to the instructor that you are a trauma survivor or, if that makes you uncomfortable, explain that you have a few questions or requests that will make the class a better experience for you. This will include whether or not you’d like to be touched or physically assisted during class, whether tools like resistance ropes or restraints will be used, and if you are allowed to leave class if you are triggered or become uncomfortable.
  • Arrive a little early. Give yourself a chance to acclimate to the new environment, especially if this is your first yoga class. Place yourself near the door in case you need to leave early. Take a few minutes to practice mindfulness before the class starts, allowing you to begin the class on the right note.
  • Don’t push too hard. If something hurts you or brings up negative emotions, make a conscious choice whether you will pull back or breathe through it. This may be opposite of what the instructor says (especially if they are not trained in trauma-friendly practices). You don’t have to push your limits to benefit from yoga. That’s actually the opposite of what you should be doing.
  • You have options. Some trauma survivors can feel overwhelmed when they feel like they have no choice in a position. If you are uncomfortable you can stop. You can always stop. Put your mental and physical health first and you’ll enjoy yoga a lot more than if you do things out of pressure or obligation.
  • Count to yourself if the instructor doesn’t. Many trauma survivors can dissociate or lose time if they’re in pain or uncomfortable. To prevent this from happening in yoga you can slowly count to yourself to keep yourself grounded in the moment and in that particular yoga position.
  • Remember that healing is a process. Yoga is a tool on your healing journey. Make sure you are utilizing it in a way that helps you heal without hindering your progress. If you think your yoga class is not helping, switch to a different one. Do what you feel is best for you. Don’t allow yoga to become one more source of distress in your life.

Reconnecting with your body is an important part of healing from trauma. Yoga can help you do that in a positive, healthy way. Find a yoga class in your area, or, if you aren’t ready for that step, watch our trauma-friendly yoga video above and start practicing at home.