Trauma, Who Has It?
It would be rare to find someone who has not experienced some form of trauma in their lifetime (acute/chronic stress, developmental, impact, shock, race-based, generational, etc.)
- Dealing with trauma does not mean you are broken or hurt.
How does Trauma show up in the body?
Vagus Nerve: Longest nerve of the Autonomic Nervous System
a) Vagal System (Porges, 2007): Reading cues from both the external and internal environment; determines what is safe and what is dangerous
- High Vagal Tone: Ability to regulate
- Flexible Vagal Tone (Cozolino, 2010): Ability to be excited or upset and still stay engaged
- Poor Vagal Tone: Inability to self regulate (often those who have experience trauma are found to have poor vagal tone)
b) Autonomic Nervous System
- Fight or Flight: Cortisol and adrenaline are charged into the body
- Freeze: Third response; not often talked about. If we don’t have the ability to release the cortisol or adrenaline as with the Freeze response, then it can store in the body. Often times a high level of shame derives from this response
c) What happens when traumatic events are unresolved?
- Capacity to self-regulate is damaged and one responds reflexively and impulsively (immediate reaction rather than being rational).
- Intense emotions drive action or there can be a complete shutdown/repression of thoughts. • The rational and survival parts of our brain have difficulty talking to one another.
- Our body will process a perceived threat and a real threat the same way physiologically.
What is Somatics?
Somatics looks at change, both creating and sustaining it, from an integral framework. Its principles and practices are grounded in the interdependence between mind, body, spirit, and relationship, “collective shape” and the social and historical context in which we live.
This interdependence is key to personal, community, and social transformation. A somatic theory of change helps us understand how personal, collective and societal systems perpetuate themselves, can be opened and leveraged to transform, and can purposefully be moved toward radically new ways of being, new practices, and structures. Somatics purposely elicits resilience and pragmatically builds a “new shape” through body-centered transformation.
- Unification of mind, body, and breathing can be restorative and transformational.
- Trauma disrupts our concept of time (Van der Kolk, 2014) therefore yoga can help to restore a sense of linear time that has a beginning, middle, and end.
- Moving slowly through postures can help students get acquainted with their physical sensations and help to calm an already overactive nervous system.
- Slow is fast, less is more (Levine).
- Yoga helps reestablish a flexible nervous system, creating a window of tolerance (feeling emotions without raging or disengaging).
- Yoga provides the ability to Orient, Center, and Resource
- Yoga provides the ability to restore balance and restore trust in the body’s signals/understand the language of the body.
- Breathing aids with stimulating the parasympathetic relaxation response. This helps someone tolerate discomfort without becoming stressed and brings them back to the present.
In The Body Remembers: The Psychophysiology of Trauma and Treatment, Rothschild recognizes the need for therapy to consist of helping people to stay in their bodies and to delve deeper into understanding these important bodily sensations. Yoga's focus on self-acceptance provides survivors with tangible benefits that will become noticeable throughout their practice. This gradual integration can be transformational and healing.
"Yoga allows survivors to regain a sense of comfort and ease within their own shape, to process nonverbal feelings that transcend language, and to experientially cultivate gratitude towards the body, which serve as a reminder of one's resilience" (Boeder, 2012).
From the book by Dr. Gail Parker, Restorative Yoga for Race-Based Trauma
Restorative yoga specifically helps us to meet life situations with composure by teaching our nervous system how to release contractions and feel safe coming into a deep state of rest and repair
Other Resources that are found to be a support
Narrative/journal/storytelling, community engagement, chanting (vagal nerve), aromatherapy (not medically proven, but found to be helpful with mood and anxiety).
Informed Yoga Train Manual (concepts, tools, and skills), Hala Khouri (MA, SEP, E-RYT) Kyra Halglund (MSW, SEP, E-RYT)