Some thoughts on trauma…

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trauma

I’ve questioned myself many, many times about writing a post on trauma. It feels too heavy. Too big. Too scary of a topic to even contemplate talking about. But I think it’s also something we need to start talking about. Especially when the research says that the simple (or perhaps not so simple) act of talking about trauma is an important part of how we can start to unravel the effects that it has on us . We need to be heard, empathised with and accepted. Without this we end up in a shame spiral around our trauma, which as you can imagine, just makes everything a whole lot worse.

 

So I went to a Yoga for Trauma release Teacher Training a few months ago. It was both incredible and incredibly heavy. Rather than talking about what works, she taught by taking us through various techniques and I walked away from the weekend feeling like a whole lot had been shaken and stirred up inside me.  (This is possibly why I’m only writing about it now. It’s take a few months to process.)

 

Up until about six months ago, the word trauma to me made me only think of the big stuff – a reaction caused by war,  horrific car accidents, sexual assault or heinously cruel acts.

 

It had never even occurred to be to consider that losing a baby was a trauma.

 

I remember the exact moment this changed. My counsellor said to me. “I can see that this has all been very traumatic for you. This is a trauma and we’re going to treat it as such.”

 

Up until then I’d been passing off some of it as ‘well it’s not that bad.’ ‘others have it worse’ ‘you should be over this by now.’

 

But there really was something about having my experience recognised as trauma that helped me to start to feel like I could find a way to move on.

 

I think it’s important we talk about trauma for what it is – anything that leaves us feeling traumatised. Which means, like anything it’s entirely personal and subjective.

 

What’s interesting is how trauma affects our bodies and if you’ve been reading here recently you know that a lot of my research has been into how stress affects the body. This is literally just the next step.

 

Trauma is caused by a stressful situation that for whatever reasons causes such a reaction in the body that is messes with the way the body handles stress going forward.

 

That is, it alters the way a person’s nervous system responds to both regular every day events AND other stressful situations. The way a person copes with a traumatic event often comes back to how they learnt to cope in childhood. EG. If you were the child who learnt to stay quiet and keep it to yourself, you’re probably more inclined to shut down after a traumatic event. Or if you’re the stand and fight type, you may find that your reaction to a traumatic event is to try and fight your way out.

 

Interestingly they’ve also found that your ability to get away or escape from a traumatic event has a huge impact on your ability to heal from it. So in the instance of a natural disaster, the actual act of running away, is, in itself, healing.  Somehow movement allows the body to also process the traumatic event, rather than it getting stuck and held in the body.

 

So on the other side of that, those who felt like they were unable to escape the trauma actually need a physical modality to help them move the trauma from the body. They’ve found that talk therapy on its own is simply just not going to do it.

 

This made me think of things like birth trauma, where some women experience being held down and felt like things were forced on them, is an example of a trauma that can get stuck in the body. I guess this is also why the types of trauma caused by those who are closest to us (and from whom we feel like we can’t escape) are often the hardest to overcome.

 

So I guess the question then is how?

 

How do we move trauma out of the body?

Like everything, there is (unfortunately) not going to be one-size-fits-all answer to this sort of question and I guess that’s where yoga therapy or psychotherapy comes in.

 

I was asked a couple of times after the course, am I going to be running workshops on trauma? My response is a resounding ‘no’. While there may be an element of trauma release in any yoga class (you’ve probably seen or experienced this before when the tears just start flowing in a certain posture and you can’t really explain why), it’s not something I would want to tackle in a group environment.

 

Trauma is personal and individual and even as someone facilitating a one-on-one yoga therapy session, I don’t have all of the answers, nor do I believe anyone actually does. I have tools that can potentially help a person release feelings that they’ve been holding, but only they can decide what will or won’t work for them and if they even want to release it.

 

So what does yoga for trauma actually look like?

A whole bunch of things, really.

Simple, gentle movement with breath. (When you’ve experienced trauma, distraction is usually your best friend. Yoga might be the only place you allow yourself to get quiet enough with it to deal with it.)

Poses held for a long time until the body literally shakes out what it needs to let go of.

Chanting.

Meditations.

Meditations with movement and chanting.

Journalling.

 

I guess the most important part is that it’s not a quick fix. Instead it’s about slowly allowing yourself to process what has happened, and teaching your body and mind to react to stress and things that trigger stress in new and healthy ways.

 

If you’ve experienced a trauma of some kind, I strongly encourage you find the support you need to process it. It’s crazy to me how we’re happy enough to hire a personal trainer when we need to lose weight or get fit, yet it still feels less than normal to work with a counsellor or therapist when we’re struggling with the mental / emotional stuff. If you’re Sunshine Coast based or want to talk to me over Skype, shoot me an email and we’ll organise it. 

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