Yoga India Foundation

How yoga can help you overcome traumatic experience

How yoga can help you overcome a traumatic experience

In this essay, I am going to explain how yoga can help you overcome a traumatic experience. Many people experience a traumatic situation at some point in their life. Often this is not really looked at and integrated into the biography leaving blockages and emotional wounds inside of you that don’t heal. You can move on with your life but you will never be balanced and happy. It may show in insecurities, unexplainable behavior in some situations, or health issues. You can adapt and pretend that everything is alright, but you won’t be whole until you heal that trauma. That is why I want to write about this topic.
From my own experience, I can say that yoga can really help in this healing process. Because yoga can give you strength and help you regain your inner balance. It reconnects you with your body, a connection you often lose when you are shaken by a traumatic event. All the thoughts, the fear that the same thing might happen again can slowly be removed by committing to yoga. By that, I don’t mean just doing asanas but also learning what is behind it. For me, yoga is not a workout to tone my body. It is a way of really getting to know myself, really studying myself. When I do the asanas I quickly find out what state I’m in, physically and emotionally, I can not hide from myself. Also, the philosophy of yoga taught me, that everything happens for a reason and I get to decide if something is good or bad, if I suffer from it or not. That is why I think yoga is a good way to help in the process of working through a trauma.
For the asanas, I want to give one example each for building strength, balance, and relaxing. All of these three things are imported when working on trauma. Please keep in mind that when doing these asanas you should never force yourself. Yoga is a process, not something you can perfectly do the first time. Just like your healing is a process. It takes time and small steps to get there. But when you keep going you will improve.
So the first asana is one to build strength: Utkatasana or chair pose. Stand in samasthiti and with your inhale bend your knees, move your buttocks back and lift your arms up. Knees should not go over your toes, as you might injure them. Keep your spine straight and the arms parallel to the ears. If you can, put the hands together in namaste mudra, but keep the shoulders relaxed. The feet stay flat on the ground. Breathe normally or with Ujjayi breath*. Hold as long as comfortable. It will strengthen your whole body and until you’ve built the strength to easily hold the pose, it will also strengthen you mentally to hold yourself though you struggle.
*(Ujjayi breath is a breathing technique that is also called victorian or ocean breath. As you breathe through your nostril you bring your focus to the throat and imagine the breath coming in there through a small hole. It will make a sound like the ocean. It has a very calming effect on the mind and will help you in challenging postures.)
The next asana I recommend is a balancing posture: Eka Pada Pranamasana or a one-legged prayer pose. Standing in samasthiti shift your weight to one foot without collapsing in your hip. Lift the other foot up and place it on your other thigh, your knee pointing outside. The heel should be close to the perineum, but if it’s not possible, place it lower on the thigh or the calf. But never on the knee! Focus on one point in front of you, so you can balance. When you’re in balance, lift your arms, bringing the hands together in front of the chest in namaste mudra. Keep the spine straight. Breathe normally. If it is difficult to find the balance, you can start close to a wall. So if you fall you can hold yourself there. Sometimes knowing that it’s there is enough for you to keep the balance. Trauma is a very extreme experience, throwing you out of your life balance. So it is important to find your balance again. Doing balancing postures will help you with this. Through the physical practice of balance, you will also balance your mind and strengthen your focus. So you can try to get back to a normal life, instead of staying in the extremes.
The third asana will be Shashankasana or rabbit pose. Sit in thunderbolt pose and lift your arms up straight, then bend forward, head and arms in line and rest them on the ground. Stay there and breathe normally. In this posture, you can relax in a safe place. Being traumatized it can be difficult to relax in Shavasana, as your anterior body might feel very vulnerable and unprotected. But to relax and calm down is very important in this emotional state, so I would recommend Shashankasana. There you may feel safe to let go and relax, connect to your breath and calm your mind. Feel your forehead on the mat and realize that you are held and protected. Stay there as long as is comfortable for you. Make this your safe place, feel that nothing and no one can hurt you here.
To quieten your mind and putting your thoughts in the right order again I would recommend meditation. But because of the risk of flashbacks, I would recommend an active form of meditation. That way you relax your mind, slow down your thoughts, but don’t stay in complete silence, being totally unprotected from the horrible thoughts and memories. I suggest a walking meditation. You connect your walking to your breath and by that really slow down. But still, you’re walking like you’re getting somewhere. You just do it really mindful and slow. By connecting each step to one breath you also concentrate, not giving the thoughts too much space to come up. Also, I feel that it resembles your journey of healing. You need to take one step at a time and take it slow. Concentrate on every step you take. It will teach you to be patient with yourself because if you want to do something right you have to do it slow and with awareness. Just like the healing of the trauma. You can’t just do these things and expect to be healed. It takes time, it is a painful process. And most of all it takes a lot of courage and honesty.
Another practice I would like to add is a Shatkarma practice. It is called Vaman Dhauti or regurgitative cleansing. In this practice, you drink about 2 liters of water. It should be lukewarm and salty. You have to drink it very fast and when the stomach is full you will have the urge to vomit. As you standing over a bowl, toilet, or else, you bend forward and put your fingers in your mouth on the back of the tongue, making yourself vomit, until the stomach is empty. This should be done in the morning with an empty stomach and if you‘re a beginner you should be doing this with a teacher, as there are more details to keep in mind to make this a safe practice. Contraindications are for example hernia, high blood pressure, and heart diseases. The physical benefits of this practice are removing of excess mucus and stimulation all the abdominal organs. But the reason I recommend this practice for someone who is traumatized is the emotional benefits. It helps to release built-up emotions, blockages, and heavy feelings from the heart. This is very important in the process of healing. When you remove the blockages your energy can flow freely again, letting happiness and love flow through you instead of fear, pain, or hatred.
All of the things I described here are simply recommendations. They can possibly help your healing, but it won’t work unless you do. And you need to have an honesty about how strong you are. If you are seriously traumatized this might not be enough to heal you. So don’t hesitate to seek psychological help if needed. The goal is to become whole and happy again. For that, you might need more help than just yoga, and that is okay. Actually, that is what yoga will teach you. To honestly see where you’re at and what you need. And to accept that.
So in conclusion I think yoga is a great way to assist you in your healing process of trauma. It can stabilize your body and your mind and help you to integrate your experience in your biography. So you can live a healthy and happy life despite or maybe even because of your trauma. Healing yourself is a powerful process that will make you stronger than you were before.