Healing Trauma With Yoga Therapy

By Jessica Gladden

If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re looking for healing of some kind, either for yourself or for someone else. As a Licensed Master Social Worker and certified trauma-informed yoga instructor, I’ve come to believe that you have everything you need for your own healing and wholeness within you, and that my role is simply to help guide you into this awareness.

Talk Therapy vs. Yoga Therapy

Puzzle PiecesYou are probably already familiar with traditional talk therapy. In talk therapy, a therapist sits with you, listens to what your struggles are, and helps you piece together the best way for you to move forward. This format of therapy works primarily with the cognitive part of the brain.

Although this is important and necessary, we often need more to reclaim our lives from issues like trauma, which involve non-cognitive parts of the brain, as well as the body.

It is very difficult for many people to heal from trauma using only thinking and talking methods. One somatic (body-based) method for healing trauma is yoga therapy. It isn’t the only method for healing trauma, but it is an excellent method. An abundance of research* indicates that when we practice yoga, we are using the same part of our brain that STORES trauma and stress. When this part of our brain is activated, we can actually release the energy that is stored there from past traumatic experiences, instead of cognitively processing it.

Cognitive processing can help you understand WHY you are feeling or acting the way you are, which can be a great second step for people seeking to recover from trauma. However, in order to be ready for this step, we must first be connected to ourselves and our sensations and have some control over our emotions and reactions.

What to Expect From Yoga Therapy

Childs Pose

Unlike a typical yoga class, where the focus is on holding certain physical poses for specific amounts of time, a yoga therapy session focuses on reconnecting with your own body and sensations in a safe and supported setting. A yoga therapist might suggest certain positions, but the purpose of each session is to help you to be grounded and establish a sense of safety in your body, not to build more physical strength, balance, or flexibility. After you are solidly grounded and feel safe in your body, you will be able to move safely into the cognitive processing of talk therapy.

Trauma-informed yoga therapy can have other benefits, too. Research indicates that in addition to providing a safe place to re-connect with oneself, it can help relieve some of the common symptoms of trauma. If, for example, you experience flashbacks as a result of past trauma, engaging in yoga therapy may help you have fewer flashbacks. The same goes for nightmares and other sleep disturbances. Yoga therapy may also help alleviate anxiety and depression, which are frequent responses to trauma. It does this by shifting hormone levels—particularly stress hormones like cortisol—in ways that allow our brains to release the stored energy of trauma and stop constantly reacting to it.

Open to Everyone

The most wonderful thing is that anyone can do this. All body types and levels of physical ability are welcome in yoga therapy. It doesn’t matter what you think you can physically do. The focus in yoga therapy is on becoming more connected to oneself and one’s physical sensations, and this is something any body can do.

If you think yoga therapy may be helpful for you, or you are simply curious and would like to learn more, please feel free to contact me. To schedule an individual yoga therapy session, or to join our Women’s Yoga Therapy Group (enrollment open until Monday, 7/23/18), please call the Fountain Hill Center at (616) 456-1178.

* Two excellent books that show some of this research are Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score and Peter Levine’s Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma.

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