yoga certificationBy Jenny Park 

A new niche in the field of Yoga instruction is working with trauma survivors. Since trauma survivors often experience residual physiological effects from a traumatic experience, body based healing modalities are becoming more and more important for therapists, counselors and other practitioners who work with trauma survivors. The practice of Yoga asanas, breathing exercises and meditation techniques offers healing practitioners a wide range of therapeutic tools for this population.

Trauma survivors often experience a constellation of symptoms that keep the traumatic event constantly cycling in their minds and bodies. Replaying the traumatizing incident over and over in their minds also keeps the body in a constant state of hyper arousal. The body maintains a state of hyper arousal by increasing levels of adrenalin and cortisol in the blood. On a short-term basis, these hormones are tremendously helpful for analyzing, preventing and getting out of dangerous situations. On a long-term basis, high levels of cortisol and adrenalin wear the body down and even negatively impact memory and concentration.

On the other end of the spectrum, a trauma survivor’s primary psychological defense mechanism may be to dissociate or numb out from painful, intrusive memories. Again, in the short-run this defensive strategy may prove beneficial to protecting the trauma victim from additional pain, but in the long run it is maladaptive. Dissociating from painful memories will prevent an individual from integrating and understanding traumatic experiences, which will keep the traumatic memories continually simmering in their body and mind.

The practice of Yoga can be tailored to reducing anxiety and hyper vigilance that is often seen in trauma survivors, or it can be tailored to rectify dissociation, somatization and hypo arousal. Vigorous and activating standing postures will help to break through dissociation and raise energy levels. As an intermediate Yoga practitioner, practicing vigorous standing postures, linked together by the movements of the Sun Salutations, will help to increase the flow of chi or life force energy throughout the entire body. This practice will offset hypo arousal and balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

The psychologically therapeutic aspect of a strong practice of vinyasa linked standing poses is to remember to be aware of the feelings and images that arise as you or your students practice the Yoga asanas. Maintaining Ujjayi breathing will help ground you and support you and/or your students in developing affect regulation. Affect regulation is the ability to allow feelings to arise without pushing them back down under conscious awareness. This is one of the key skills for beginning the healing process of remembering, understanding, integrating, and resolving painful traumatic events.

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