Yoga Therapy For Trauma
To work with trauma one generally needs a multidimensional approach. Many conventional approaches are only part of the therapy needed to support those who have experienced large traumatic events. While talk therapy lets us understand our story in a cognitive way, yoga therapy can help reshape our response to triggers on all levels of our being. Both parts are important for healing. But working with all aspects of oneself is essential to healing.
Dr. Bessel van der Kolk has done studies on trauma that make this case fairly clear. In one study which used gentle yoga classes to help women with PTSD, participants had a 30% reduction of symptoms. More striking to me is that several of the participants no longer qualified as having PTSD after just 10 weeks of yoga.
In my yoga therapy practice, I have found the 5 kosha model to be extremely effective with those suffering with trauma based issues. The samskaras, or patterns, left in the body, breath, mind, and heart need to be worked with in order to shift an overactive response to triggers. What this means, in my experience, is that all trauma survivors need some sort of body-based approach in order to shift these samskaras. This can be asana or other body awareness approaches like body scanning in yoga nidra.
Additionally, trauma survivors often need practices to move the patterns of the unconscious mind to the conscious so that they can be reduced. This often involves meditation practices that reorganize the energy of the unconscious mind. These practices don’t need to address the event itself, but rather give the person an opportunity to connect with themselves on the unconscious level and allow patterns to shift. As yoga therapists, we often use meditation practices that allow one to move deeply into meditation without focusing on conscious thoughts or storylines.
Adding some pranayamas (breathing practices) to stabilize and tone the parasympathetic system including some form of ritualized surrender to allow the safety that comes with consenting surrender. When these practices flow together, symptoms are reduced and the strength of the samskara is lessened.
Working with a Yoga Therapist is often very helpful because the story can be held in a safe environment. This allows the client to work with these practices with the knowledge that they are not alone when difficult emotions or states arise. It also provides them with—maybe for the first time—the ability to build experience working with difficult states and continue to work to lessen their effect on the system.
I have seen this numerous times with big shifts happening in session. We then follow up with practices that stabilize and build confidence in one’s ability to recognize and then lessen reactions at the edge of their comfort zone. Over time as with all practices, the individual shifts and becomes empowered to change themselves.
Yoga therapy is positioned to be a perfect choice for those looking to reduce trauma. There are already Yoga Therapists around the world using these techniques to alleviate this kind of pain. I’m looking forward to more studies confirming the results that have helped and changed so many lives, and in turn, the world at large turning to and accepting yoga therapy as an effective intervention for those who suffer.
If you are suffering from PTSD or trauma based issues, I encourage you to find a Yoga Therapist to help. There are also trauma-sensitive yoga classes available in many areas that can put you on the road to a more easeful experience of living.
May we find a moment of bliss today—it is our birthright.