5 Ways Yoga Helps Trauma Recovery

The last thing someone who has experienced trauma wants to do is think about or talk about the experience. Avoiding traumatic memories is a temporary way of fending off immense emotional pain, but distress often finds its way back home. Suppressed hurt does not go away; in fact, it can manifest itself in a number of destructive ways. Trauma survivors may become severely depressed, acutely anxious or develop substance use issues to dull the pain.

Yoga is a proactive way to confront pain without having to relive the trauma or even have to talk about it.

Dark memories might make you feel helpless, but empowerment is within reach. Yoga is a proactive way to confront pain without having to relive the trauma or even have to talk about it.

Rest and Digest

Dangerous scenarios often elicit appropriately visceral reactions within us. Behaviorists refer to this phenomenon as “fight or flight” and it has a solid foundation in our intricate inner workings. Human beings have a sympathetic nervous system responsible for the familiar “fight or flight” response. But just as yin has its yang, so too is there a counterpart to the sympathetic nervous system.

Our parasympathetic system balances “fight or flight” with a more calming “rest and digest” set of mannerisms. When you ignite the power of your parasympathetic instincts, you can calm your nerves, slow your heart rate, and even relax the tension of certain sphincter muscles. “Rest and digest” is a wonderful byproduct of yoga, and it changes your narrative from being the victim of your own physiology to being the creator of your destiny.

Promoting Mind-Body Harmony

Post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) affects everyone from soldiers on the battlefield to children in abusive households. No matter how a person is hurt, trauma has a way of stealing their sense of control.

Adult survivors of abuse may regress to a sense of childlike helplessness in response to a trigger. Painful memories can bring a person directly back to the source of their trauma, making them forget themselves and become scared kids once again.

Yoga is a disciplined way to regain control. Even if someone exploited your body for their own violent or sexual needs, you can say “enough.” Each pose you achieve is autonomous. Nobody else has dominion over your movements. Your body is in charge, not your memories, no matter how upsetting they may be.

Sensitivity is Strength

Overcoming trauma does not mean forgetting it. In fact, confronting pain from your past requires bravery, control, and structure. In other words, healing demands mindfulness.

Mindfulness is a way of taking inventory of your experiences. Many people exercise their cardiovascular system, but they sometimes ignore the supercomputer that runs their lives: the brain. Trends are changing, however, and over 20 million Americans now practice Yoga. These numbers are encouraging, especially when you look at the age demographics.

The Power of Silence

Young people are often the most vulnerable to trauma. When you lack the life experience to put pain into proper context, you have very few skills to cope with it. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) affect the way we see the world in formative ways. Individuals who encounter multiple ACEs are more likely to develop behavioral and psychological issues, even as they embark upon adulthood.

Trauma is like noise for the soul. It disrupts our overriding sense of calm and focus. When kids are unable to turn down the volume on childhood trauma, they may become rambunctious or even reactive. A groundbreaking study showed that silence is often the best way to quell a troubled adolescence. Kids detained in a juvenile detention facility were introduced to yoga, and the results were transcendent. Violent incidents decreased, mindfulness increased, and quiet ruled the day.

By disconnecting from the chaos of daily life, yoga practitioners are able to provide thunderous serenity to the world.

By disconnecting from the chaos of daily life, yoga practitioners are able to provide thunderous serenity to the world. Two parallel studies bolstered the findings of the juvenile detention project. The girls and young women who practiced yoga reported a surge in self-esteem. In turn, their dynamics between immediate friends and family shifted, resulting in a cycle of beneficial behavior.

Yoga is like an upward spiral of benefits, swirling from the tips of your stretched toes to the top of your cleared mind.

Positivity Flows

When a person experiences traumatic events, the distress occupies space in their psyche. Pain is like luggage; the more you pack, the harder it is to actually achieve forward motion.

In order to overcome trauma, you can’t simply erase it; you must release it. The baggage you carry is significant, but yoga can lighten the load. Instead of allowing hurtful memories to dominate your mind, try to transform them into art or poetry or music.

I try to live at the intersection between mindfulness and positivity. I often turn to a wonderful quote that sums up the synergy between experience and expression:

“Gratitude is the shortcut to creation.”

The mantra is simple, but it echoes through every pose and breath that you experience as a yoga participant. Be grateful to yourself for surviving trauma. Build upon your strength as you progress to the next stage in your self-realization. Create the reality you want to inhabit. And please, share your gift with the world.