Practitioners of yoga in modern times may start yoga with simple reasons such as toning, keeping fit, developing more flexibility, or as a way to help deal with stresses of life. These are all good reasons to start yoga, and yoga will deliver all this, and so much more. If one will let it.
In the past 5 years, there has been increasing awareness of somatic work and trauma-informed models of care. The recognition that past traumas are imprinted in our nervous system and stored in the body to be dealt with at a later time. When we are exposed to an event or circumstance that is too much for the person to deal with, the primitive brain takes over as a form of protection. This results in the body storing that trauma as physical blockage, postural distortions, spinal or muscular tension, and reduced breathing. It can also result in the person living with anxiety, poor sleep, fear, feeling disconnected from self and community, and being out of touch with their true self. These walled off parts of oneself are there to protect us, but eventually can stop a person from living their best life. At worst, it will lead to health breakdowns over-time when this stored trauma is stuck in the system.
Why does this happen? The brain is designed to keep us alive, that’s it’s job. The brain is constantly receiving messages from the environment and making decisions about whether you are safe or at risk from harm. When you are in a safe environment, the brain can relax and the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in. When the body is in safety, breathing deepens, digestion, rest, and growth happens. The body is able to repair and regenerate itself.
However, when there is a threat, whether it’s a real threat to physical safety or a perceived threat from an unsafe emotional environment, the brain’s trauma response kicks in. This is referred to as the Fight/Flight response, and now it is recognised that there are actually 5 trauma responses; Fight/Flight/Freeze/Flop and Friend. The chart below can help you identify if you may be in some of these trauma responses in the future, or have been in the recent past.
|Response||Common Thoughts & Feelings||Common Behaviors|
|Fight||“It’s all your fault!”, feeling anger or rage||Talking back, storming out, showing aggression towards self or others, showing defiance, blaming others|
|Flight||“I’ve got to get out of here!”,
Feeling anxious or overwhelmed, feeling the urge to flee
|Leaving the class unexpectedly, spacing out or seeming not to listen, being intentionally or unintentionally distracted, missing class or work|
Feeling panicked, overwhelmed, or numbed out
|Giving up quickly, spacing out/seeming not to listen, showing frustration or overwhelm|
|Flop||“It’s all my fault” or “It’s not worth it”,
Feeling sad, depressed, hopeless, apathetic
|Appearing disengaged, showing little emotion, missing class or work|
|Friend||“Please help me! I can’t do it.”
Feeling helpless or powerless, low confidence
|Not taking responsibility for oneself, relying on others to help solve problems|
Yoga, when practiced with regularity and dedication, will liberate these parts of oneself that have been walled-off, stuck, and blocked. Over time, with regular practice, these trauma responses will dissolve and a person will experience re-integration and wholeness. Yoga, which includes the practice of physical postures, deep breathing and breath retention practices, chanting sacred sounds, meditation, purification techniques, and a philosophy of life – will cleanse a person physically and emotionally, and discipline the mind. Yoga, when practiced correctly, will re-connect a person with life energy. It will awaken both internal life force energy (prana or chi) and connect one with the forces that make up all of creation. Ultimately, this re-connection, or remembering, leads to experiences of joy, and bliss, and the ultimate goal, inner peace or self-realisation.
Yoga Sutra 1.2, is; åraddhâ-vîrya-smëti-samâdhi-prajõâ-pûrvaka itaresam
åraddhâ = faith
vîrya = energy, vigor
smëti = memory, mindfulness
samâdhi = oneness, integration
prajõâ = wisdom
pûrvaka = preceded by
itaresam = others
Which means, “For all others, faith, energy, mindfulness, integration, and wisdom form the path to realisation.” Healing oneself takes time, and often it starts with a real feeling of helplessness. All it takes is starting, showing up with humbleness to practice, and a willingness to break these patterns. Yoga is a system that can take you there, to help a person develop faith in themself and the world, to cultivate energy in the body/mind system, to live with more mindfulness, to integrate all parts of one’s being, to live with wisdom by listening to the subtle inner workings of one’s soul, to bring you back home to the wholeness of you.