By Sangeetha Saran
The practice of Yoga can be tremendously helpful for trauma survivors. Trauma can come in many shapes and sizes. An individual may have experienced a trauma as a one-time event such as a car accident or sexual assault. A trauma survivor may have also experienced chronic trauma throughout his or her childhood or in the context of a long-term abusive marriage or other abusive relationship.
Both chronic and isolated traumatic experiences have a similar psychological and physical effect on an individual. Trauma experiences that remain lodged in the body and mind can cause a survivor to be in a perpetual state of hyper-arousal, emotionally numb, dissociated and disconnected from his or her body. The physical postures of Yoga and Yogic breathing exercises are tremendously helpful for connecting the survivor to his or her body and emotions like grief and anger over being traumatized.
Somatic dissociation and emotional numbing are very common among trauma survivors of all types. When one is terrorized by an experience, one of our primary defenses against being overwhelmed is to “numb out.” This is what trauma specialists refer to as somatic dissociation. Active standing postures, especially the Warrior Poses, will help to breakthrough the wall of numbness. Yoga practices that utilize a vinyasa flow series with Ujjayi breathing are especially effective at helping to move energy through the body by dislodging emotions and difficult experiences that are somatically held in the body tissues.
One of the primary symptoms of trauma is a constant state of hyperarousal. Hyperarousal is classically known as the flight-or-fight state of being. Just imagine that a jaguar is about to pounce on you! Your heart starts pounding, your palms sweat and your mind becomes super alert. This is a great state to be in, if it is limited to an occasional run in with a jaguar. However, trauma survivors often live in a state of unremitting hyperarousal. The high levels of stress hormones coursing through their bodies have a deleterious effect on both the body and mind over the long run.
We are not designed to constantly be in a hyperaroused state. Restorative Yoga poses that support a trauma survivor in feeling nourished, supported and safe can help to turn the engine off of overdrive. A vigorous practice of standing postures can also help to release stress, tension and anxiety while re-balancing the endocrine system. Yogic breathing exercises such as Durga Pranayama and pranayamas that elongate the exhale portion of the breath also help to calm down an overactive nervous system.
© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
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