Practicing Yoga to Heal Trauma
Written by Sharon Brooke Uy
One early evening yoga session, as we all transitioned into Warrior 2, a woman in front of me fell down. I thought she’d simply fallen out of the pose and decided to stay on the floor. But moments later, we realized it was more than that. She was going into cardiac arrest.
There were about 12 of us in class that night, and we all sprang into action. CPR was administered, an ambulance was called, and what seemed like an eternity later (but was really 4 minutes) she was whisked away, unconscious, her heart still.
We found out a few hours later that the doctors were able to revive her, and that thankfully she’d be fine. But while her fate still hung in mystery, we who were left remained at the studio to talk and to meditate, the heaviness of what we’d just experienced together palpable and stifling. That night, I couldn’t sleep. Every time I closed my eyes, I’d see her blue lips and her rigid body. Even though I knew she’d survived, I couldn’t shake the feeling of fear in my own body.
It is said that trauma lives in the three yogic bodies – karana sharira (the causal, or emotional, suksma sharira (the subtle, or mental body), and sthula sharira (the gross, or physical body). Psychological trauma is defined as injury to the psyche following a distressing event. Studies have shown that practicing yoga can reduce symptoms of trauma in victims of post-traumatic stress disorder. Perhaps this is because yoga addresses healing of the three bodies through the asanas (physical), meditation (emotional), and showing up to practice (mental). But what about yoga healing yoga-related trauma?
The next morning I flew to Scotland, and alone in my hotel room, I knew that if I didn’t get into downward dog that instant, there was a chance I might never get back on my mat.
Connecting to my breath with each pose, my brain became less aroused, and I became more relaxed. I was regaining control over my body, diminishing trauma’s physical effects. Placing awareness on sensations in my body paralleled how I might bring awareness to the trauma-related sensations that manifested in the body.
That I showed up to face that which was directly associated with the trauma (my yoga practice) strengthened my mind’s ability to overcome trauma’s power to keep me in a perpetual state of fear. Otherwise, I might remain in a state of being triggered every time I think about or attempt yoga.
The meditative aspect of yoga provided an anchor against which I could safely allow the sensations of my traumatic experience to surface and dissolve. Sitting in silent meditation, facing my worry and fear of death, I could feel the trauma dissipate.