We don’t need to look far to see that as a society we are suffering—just look at increasing rates of mass shootings, homelessness, addiction, and suicide. For many, trauma is part of the root cause of this suffering and we have learned that untreated trauma has lasting effects. Trauma not only affects individuals; trauma is a systemic and societal. It often begins in childhood and is then perpetuated and passed on through intergenerational trauma. Collectively, we lack good support systems and training on how to effectively navigate our emotional landscape and implement healthy coping mechanisms for stress. Addressing the root cause of trauma, dealing with its residual effects, and implementing tools for healthy nervous system regulation are all essential for healing trauma with yoga.
Trauma varies from person to person and the path to healing is a wide one. Fortunately, we are now engaged in more urgent discussions about trauma’s prevalence and the powerful role trauma-informed yoga can play in healing. This is why YogaFit has been committed, for the past six years, to expanding the YogaFit for Warriors Program (developed by Lt Col USAF Shaye Molendyke), which teaches trauma-informed yoga and yoga tools to veterans, families, mental health professionals, first responders, and everyone interested in healing. This is also why I wrote Healing Trauma with Yoga.
Writing this book was a challenging and confrontational task, as I am still connecting the dots on some of my own childhood trauma and how it has affected and continues to affect my life. My own approach to living with trauma, depression, and emotional dysregulation is simple yet complex. It involves constant vigilance and being the witness to my body, mind, and emotions.
I am grateful to the practice of yoga; it has directed my life and kept me on a steady path of growth and transformation. I readily admit that when I have abandoned my yoga practice, poor choices have led to some additional adult trauma. Developing the skill of being the witness in these situations has allowed me to course correct, to find deeper places in my yoga practice, and to learn more about healing through using myself as a test case.
When we practice with sensitivity and awareness, Yoga meets us where we are, allowing us to witness our body, mind, and emotions. As the witness, we can make choices with clarity, seek appropriate treatments, and experience a healthier lifestyle, positive moods, better relationships, and improved quality of life.
Asana (posture), is just one of the many yogic tools supporting healing. The eight-limbed path of yoga includes self-control, positive habits, asana, breath work, turning awareness inward, focus and concentration, contemplation and reflection, and experiencing oneness. This path is a roadmap guiding us to be present, to feel the divine, and to experience greater stillness and even peace.
Practicing these eight limbs helps trauma survivors become more centered, grounded, and better able to connect with their own strength and inner resources. Going from survivor to thriver involves befriending the body through a trauma-informed yoga practice.
When I teach, I remind students that yoga allows us the opportunity to get comfortable being uncomfortable. We can learn to sit with trauma, mitigating the associated symptoms through mindfulness and witness consciousness. Healing is a one day at a time process. And awareness is key to managing the day-to-day shifts and storms. When practiced with intention, yoga allows us to exercise our muscles of awareness, helping us recognize how to choose and use healthy coping mechanisms to thrive.
I’ve done a lot of experimenting. I can honestly say that taking the power into your own hands for your own healing is your most empowered course, always. Yoga gives you that power.
Beth Shaw C-IAYT is the founder of YogaFit and the author of Healing Trauma with Yoga. Healing Trauma with Yoga combines a discussion of trauma from the perspective of modern neuroscience with empowering teachings from yoga philosophy and yoga practice. In the book,13 people share their inspiring stories of how yoga is an essential component of their own path of learning to heal and thrive. Order the book and learn more at: bethshaw.com.