At least 1/2 of adults have experienced trauma in their life according to the Harvard Paper. Some research estimates that 60-75% of people experience a traumatic event in their lives. Unhealed trauma is embed in our culture, experiences, mind, emotional state and bodies.
Add in the increase of daily stress from our lives and the increasing feeling of overwhelm from lives that are “overfilled” or busy and we have a constant experience of trauma happening to us on a everyday basis.
Trauma is the lasting emotional response that often results from living through a distressing event. Experiencing a traumatic event can harm a person’s sense of safety, sense of self, and ability to regulate emotions and navigate relationships. Long after the traumatic event occurs, people with trauma can often feel shame, helplessness, powerlessness and intense fear.-Candian Mental Health Association
There are several types of Trauma including:
Acute or Shock trauma: These can result from a single stressful or dangerous event.
Chronic or Developmental trauma: This results from repeated and prolonged exposure to highly stressful events. Examples include cases of child abuse, bullying, or domestic violence.
Complex trauma: This results from exposure to multiple traumatic events.
Collective or Systemic Trauma: This type of trauma refers to trauma against whole groups, or nations.
The symptoms of trauma can be mild or severe. Many factors determine how a traumatic event affects a person, including: their characteristics, the presence of other mental health conditions, previous exposure to traumatic events, the type and characteristics of the event or events, their background and approach to handling emotions.
Emotional and psychological responses: A person who has experienced trauma may feel: denial, anger, fear, sadness, shame, confusion, anxiety, depression, numbness, guilt, hopelessness, irritability, difficulty concentrating. They may have emotional outbursts, find it difficult to cope with how they feel, or withdraw from others. Flashbacks, where a person relives the traumatic event in their mind, are common, as are nightmares.
Physical responses: Along with an emotional reaction, trauma can cause physical symptoms, such as: headaches, digestive symptoms, fatigue, racing heart, sweating, feeling jumpy. Sometimes, a person will also experience hyperarousal, or when someone feels as though they are in a constant state of alertness. This may make it difficult to sleep. Individuals may also go on to develop other mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse problem.
The charity Mind in the United Kingdom lists the following as potential causes of trauma: bullying, harassment, physical, psychological, or sexual abuse, sexual assault, traffic collisions, childbirth, life threatening illnesses, sudden loss of a loved one, being attacked, being kidnapped, acts of terrorism, natural disasters, war. Traumatic events can be isolated or repeated, ongoing events. A person can also experience trauma after witnessing something traumatic happening to someone else. People have different reactions to traumatic events. For example, those who live through the same natural disaster can respond very differently despite experiencing the same event.
Trauma Yoga and the Stress-Response
Trauma-informed or Trauma-sensitive yoga is a researched based practice that introduces practices such as breathing, meditation, movement & self-regulation to help resource and discharge the trauma from our systems. The goal is not to focus so much on technique but more on the experience of each individual. A trauma lens works for the individual to give them practices that are most beneficial to their personal healing and well-being.
What does Trauma-sensitive yoga accomplish for the individual? It helps them to create a tool box, so to speak, of their own design. This tool box is filled with resources to help calm, ground, centre & balance the mind and body. It will also bring a sense of comfort and safety to the physical body and helps to regulate physical responses which will bring more of a balance to emotional and mental response.
For those experiencing trauma, we can hold on very tightly to the pain and suffering we are experiencing, which can result in our situation becoming chronic. In some cases there seems to be an inability to separate from the experience, a lack of control or a loss of hope. With Trauma-sensitive practices we achieve the ability to release and let go. Once this happens we find an opening for more positive experiences and space to breathe, heal and distance from our traumas. Instead of holding on to the suffering we start walking a path away from it. We become our own healers, teachers and support systems as we explore ourselves with a trauma sensitive lens. We figure out what we need and are able to allow the trauma be a map towards our healing and well-being.
What does unresolved trauma look like? People with unresolved trauma are more likely to be anxious, depressed, and angry. They live in a state of dis-ease which translates into many different things but it puts our mind, body and emotions into chaos. Yoga or movement practices puts a light on how we are feeling internally, it allows us to see and understand how that affects our feelings, thoughts, behaviors and physical sensations. Once we are able to recognize the results of our unresolved trauma through exploration of our inner self we can design an existence that supports a more positive inner being. This reflects outwards into our outer world. We begin to feel better, respond more effectively to help us live a healthier life.
WHAT IS YOGA?
Yoga literally means “UNION”, it is a connection, a sort of ‘plugging in’. When you plug in a lamp the light comes on and when we take part in yoga practices such as breathing, mediation and movement the light shines on the pain and suffering. We see the source of the suffering and are able to do practices that assist us in healing with safety and ease. We are no longer in the dark or disconnected. The mind, body and soul start to connect and reunite us so we begin to feel whole. In a general yoga class we deal with alignment, physical movement and mind body practices but in a Trauma-informed taught yoga class we go deeper. We approach the individual and guide them through the practices with their trauma in mind. Many of the courses taught in a trauma informed yoga class will not only address the physical movement of the body but also the movement in the breath, mind and emotions. To do so we need to be flexible not only in our bodies but also in our mind, body, heart and nervous systems.
Trauma activates our nervous systems. It puts us into a fight, flight or freeze response. This causes excess energy and gets stuck in our bodies. If that energy is not discharged we begin having negative experiences such as physical, emotional, mental, behavioral, social and spiritual symptoms. We can witness ourselves in a very reactive state, an avoidance state or a numb state. The goal of Trauma-Informed Practices is to self-regulate, ground and center the nervous system and in return the rest of the individuals system will benefit and feel more whole. We literally want to move this excess energy out of the body and give people the resources and tools to have the ability to self-regulate more often than fight, flight or freeze. We are resolving the experiences of trauma with these practices, unplugging from it-shining light in spaces that are dark. Trauma alters brain chemistry by triggering hormonal changes and increasing the production of adrenaline and cortisol. It affects the nervous system, which goes into an accelerated survival response, fight, flight or freeze. (Hala Khouri and Kyra Haglund, 2016.)
What types of practices help trauma?
Breathing, Meditation, Visualization, Self-regulation, physical Movement of the body and more.
The combination of the practices help you get in touch with your sensations and emotions so that you may have avoided. With practice you will feel less overwhelmed and more comfort. This is why it is important to practice with a teacher who can guide you safely through your trauma so we don’t feel re-traumatized.