WCA Introduces Pilot Program
In order to fully heal from trauma, a connection must be made with oneself, including one’s body. Trauma-sensitive yoga can help survivors by bringing the body actively into the healing process, allowing them to cultivate a more positive relationship to their body through gentle breath, mindfulness, and movement practices.
The WCA’s residential program will be offering a monthly trauma-sensitive yoga class as an addition to the on-going weekly Connections group. The yoga class will be offered as a six-month pilot program. Client evaluations will be collected after each class to determine whether yoga should be added on a more permanent basis to our residential program options.
The Journey to Heal: Understanding Trauma-Sensitive Yoga
This is an article by two practitioners from the Kripalu Center who are with The Breathe Network. Alexis Marbach and Zabie Khorakiwala share their experiences and insights gained from attending the Justice Resource Institute’s Trauma Center’s trauma-sensitive yoga teacher training.
Trauma can create both an emotional and physical imprint on the body. As Bessel Van Der Kolk explains, unresolved emotional trauma creates “issues in our tissues”, manifesting as physical symptoms such as migraines, nervous tics, clenched shoulders/neck/jaw, a sunken chest, and a heavy heart. Trauma survivors often display physical characteristics as a result of a somatic reaction to emotional distress, dysregulation, and hypo- or hyper-arousal. Students may find that their throat constricts, their shoulders move up, their range of motion becomes limited, all as a result of experiencing trauma. At some point, a trauma survivor must find a coping mechanism (healthy or unhealthy), because as Van Der Kolk states, “gut wrenching feelings are incompatible with being alive”. The physical body slowly becomes the enemy. Core functions of sleep, digestion, breathing, and chemical balance become disrupted. Traumatized individuals may also feel shame or become self-consciousness as they over-react to physical or emotional cues from the world around them.
The moment that a person experiences trauma, the body automatically makes a decision to protect itself. This decision could result in a fight, flight, or freeze reaction. It is easy to become trapped by a sympathetic nervous system reaction. The adaptive response can become prime and paramount, creating new chronic states of being.
Our brains change. Trauma can damage the insula, a part of your brain that registers what is happening with the body. Insula damage translates as the inability to experience joy, love, happiness, and to experience the very sensations of what our bodies are physically doing. Additionally, trauma damages the prefrontal cortex, which assists us in self-regulation. After experiencing trauma, an individual may feel lost [or] feel as though it cannot rely on itself to become reoriented. But this feeling must come from within.
While the experience of trauma and its aftermath can feel isolating, yoga provides an opportunity to be physically in sync with others. Moving in unison with fellow classmates or with an instructor can help re-establish interpersonal (and intrapersonal) rhythms.
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