As the Director of a trauma-informed yoga teacher training, I’m grateful that awareness about trauma is on the rise. There was a time when the general social attitude was that a person simply needed to “get over it” if they experienced a traumatic event or series of events, and many popular movies and shows toss out traumatic experiences on the regular, perhaps inadvertently normalizing them. But while we can turn off the video or show we are streaming, trauma is not a switch we can simply “decide” to switch off in our own bodies.
Beginning to loosen the bonds of trauma held in the body takes awareness, acknowledgement, patience, and time.
Trauma is generally defined as a distressing or disturbing experience or series of experiences that supersedes a person’s ability to cope with it or them. A trauma experience generates a sense of overwhelm that shows up in a number of possible ways, primarily centered around sympathetic nervous system engagement (“fight or flight”) in the body. As an example, someone who was bitten by a dog as a child may experience sympathetic nervous system engagement whenever they see a dog, even if it’s under “safe” circumstances, such as in a movie. The sympathetic nervous system doesn’t readily know the difference between a real threat and a theoretical threat. Moreover, even if the person no longer consciously remembers the dog bite event, or has rationalized it as “no big deal” in their head, the sympathetic nervous system still engages. Its job is to respond to any potential threat with readiness by screaming “not safe.”
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), “Initial reactions to trauma can include exhaustion, confusion, sadness, anxiety, agitation, numbness, dissociation, confusion, physical arousal, and blunted affect . . . . Indicators of more severe responses include continuous distress without periods of relative calm or rest, severe dissociation symptoms, and intense intrusive recollections that continue despite a return to safety. Delayed responses to trauma can include persistent fatigue, sleep disorders, nightmares, fear of recurrence, anxiety focused on flashbacks, depression, and avoidance of emotions, sensations, or activities that are associated with the trauma, even remotely” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/
So how can you begin to address trauma? It’s ideal to seek the assistance of a licensed health care professional, especially in cases of severe or ongoing trauma, and here are two ways you can also begin to create a sense of “safe enough” space on your own:
- When you arrive for yoga class (or anywhere, ideally), take a moment to make note of where the exits are, and, yes, look right at them. Remind yourself that you can walk out at any time. Because you can. A safe enough space comes with permissions, and that means being able to leave anytime, even at the “wrong” time.
- Make consistent time to notice how your body and breath feel. As Alice Miller so aptly stated, “The body never lies.” In yoga class, this is a natural experience, one your teacher may cue, but I also suggest that you take it with you everywhere you go, stopping occasionally to ask yourself how you are feeling, and taking a moment to scan your body. It may have something to tell you, and while it may be as seemingly simple as – “I need to go to the bathroom, please don’t make me wait any longer, I don’t care that we are shopping right now, please take care of me” – when you begin to listen to your body and its needs more frequently, your body will respond by trusting you more, communicating with you more clearly and directly, and ideally, beginning to feel “safe enough” with greater regularity.
It is said that Lao Tzu defined enlightenment in this way: “When hungry, eat. When tired, sleep.” (I’ll just ask you to add, “when it doesn’t feel right, leave.”)
Could enlightenment be this simple? I truly feel it could be. Sending you love and support as you navigate a deeper level of self-care and creating “safe enough” spaces.
Our unique all genders, all bodies, inclusivity-oriented Trauma-Informed Kundalini Yoga Teacher Training helps you take care of yourself while undergoing incredible transformation (yes, you can have both!) as well as building awareness around and sensitivity to the variety of students who will unroll a mat in front of you. We are is already taking a limited number of early bird reservations for next spring.