First, trauma sensitive yoga is for EVERYONE. I strongly suggest all yoga instructors (advanced instructors or not) learn about how to teach a trauma sensitive class, regardless of the demographics. It will help you become a better instructor.
Trauma lives in our body. It is a physical thing that has psychological effects.
This past weekend I attend a Trauma Healing with Tantra Hatha Yoga Therapy for my advanced yoga therapy instructor training and learned so much. I am writing this blog post to share a little more information with you all about what I learned and how yoga can REALLY (backed by scientific evidence) help heal.
“Trauma sensitive yoga considers reclaiming the body to be a central goal that includes three steps: knowing viscerally that you have a body through yoga practice; befriending your body through patience and inquiry into your experience; and experiencing your body as a resource by, among other things, finding practices that calm yourself down”
– David Emerson.
What is trauma? There are various ideas and stereotypes around trauma. There is sexual trauma, PTSD, domestic violence, etc.. which trauma yoga therapy can help with. But what about us people who may not have had such a significant event? We could all be in the same car wreck and we would all experience it differently. Maybe some of us would never ride in a car again, maybe one of us will act like nothing happen, and maybe one of us decides that it was the worst thing in our life! Regardless, we ALL experience some type of trauma that puts us on defense. “The common denominator of all traumatic experience is that they involve some sort of threat to our physical, emotional, and/or psychological safety “ Holle Black, 500 RYT.
The science behind trauma:
Think about your nervous system as a seesaw. On one side of the seesaw is the PNS (para sympathetic nervous system) and on the other is the SNS (sympathetic nervous system). When one is turned off, the other is turned on.
PNS- Rest and Digest
SNS- Flight or Fight
Trauma makes our body go into either hyper-arousal (SNS activation) or PNS (hypo-arousal). Both of these systems, regardless of which one is turned “on”, are designed to be short-lived to help keep us alive during a stressful/trauma event. The problem arises when the traumatic residue remains in the body after surviving the event and is unable to “turn off.” Repeated exposure to the same trauma and/or a large traumatic event keeps our SNS or PNS system turned on. We simply are not able to “shake it off.” Our body gets “stuck.”
Did you know that trauma has been shown to passed on thru our DNA from our parents?
Here’s a little brain science for you (simplified, I promise):
There are two pathways that play a role in whether we develop or overcome fears.
- Amygdala- home to the brains fight or flight reflex. It processes our memory and emotional responses. Supports emotion, behavior, motivation, and long-term memory.
- Prefrontal cortex- helps us overcome our fears and worries, helps us with reason
An overactive amygdala will not send appropriate signals to our brains “thermostat,” which is the hypothalamus, and the person gets “stuck” in fight/flight (SNS) or hypo-arousal/freeze state (PNS). In both of these states we have little access, if any, to our frontal lobe. Our frontal lobe helps us overcome our fears and worries, helps with reason, executive functions, and choices.
Trauma is biological!!!!!
This explains why when someone has a history of sexual abuse, PTSD, childhood abuse, or other traumatic event(s) is very quick to react. Maybe you are having a conversation with someone and you mention something (not intentionally) and they become really defensive or mad. Or when a veteran hears a loud noise and runs for their gun or hides. They are acting from there overactive amygdala and have no impulse control, because they have no access to their frontal lobe.
Now that you are a neuro-biologist, let’s continue on how trauma sensitive yoga can help!
To help develop neural pathways to the frontal lobe (gain access to the frontal lobe) there are three ways to do this:
- Interoception- awareness of internal sensation
- Proprioception- situational awareness
- Extreoception – knowledge of orientation in space
In a trauma sensitive class, we work with interoception. There are certain cues we use and breathing techniques to help build neural connections to the frontal lobe.
This is just a quick and dirty basic overview of how to heal with tantra hatha yoga.
Don’t think you “need” a trauma sensitive yoga lesson? Try it out…you may just like it!
Other random research on trauma is heart rate variability. If you are interested in learning more about trauma sensitive yoga, let me know!
If you think you would like to try a trauma sensitive yoga lesson, let me know! You will be amazed at how centered, balanced, and grounded you feel.
In the future- I will be providing FREE and HUGELY DISCOUNTED yoga therapy sessions with a certain number of people for my advanced teacher training. If you are interested in signing up on the wait list, please sign up for my emails! More information will come in the next few months!
Until my next blog post!
Cody Reece, MSN, BSN, RN, RYT