"It is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on mind, brain and body." Bessel van Der Kolk
Before we can explore Trauma Informed Yoga I think we first need to talk about what trauma is.
Trauma is defined as a deeply distressing or disturbing mental or physical experience that overwhelms our ability to cope, diminishes our sense of self and the ability to feel the full range of emotions or experiences in everyday like.
There are 3 types of trauma and they can be physical, emotional or both. 1) Acute: this would be a singular experience. 2) Chronic: this is an experience repeated or prolonged and 3) Complex: which is multiple experiences over time.
Whew! That seems like a lot to take in and also seems to suggest that in order to be "traumatized" the experience would have to be awful. While that is often the case, its not always the case.
What do I mean by that? Societally we label pretty much everything and with those labels generally comes a hierarchy of good through bad, or happy through sad. For instance a car accident might be scored as bad maybe even sad where as winning the lottery might be scored as good and happy, and of course the list of comparisons goes on. But what if we compared the car accident with chronic stress ( the response to pressure for a prolonged period of time in which the individual perceives they have little or no control)? SO both these experiences would likely be scored as bad and/or sad, they are both experiences in which the individual might have felt or be feeling that they had little or no control. So I would ask why is one so easy for us to see how one could be traumatizing and the other we often hear people say things like "suck it up" or "it could be so much worse"? And again there are many more comparisons of seemingly unrelated experiences that have the same scoring of bad/sad and yet we often consider one to be traumatizing and the other not.
I think its important for us all to get past the stigmatism of the word "trauma" or "traumatized". These are all encompassing words for a physiological reaction to something that has happened. The "something" can be anything that leads us into or through the stages of fight, flight, fawn and freeze. These stages are hardwired into the nervous system and are in place to help protect us from harm. And the "something" that causes the nervous system to respond with these defenses can be anything, is often very different for each individual and in fact is traumatizing.
This is not to say that every bad/sad experience we have in life leaves us permanently traumatized. We can often cycle through our defenses and process the experience moving through to safety and letting go. Someone startles you, cuts you off in traffic, you slip on an icy sidewalk or even a car accident, these are frightening, your mind and body reacts and you cycle through the defense stages and then its over.
The trauma that we address in yoga and meditation are the traumas that evoked the nervous systems defense phases and were not processed and released. Causing us to become "stuck". Stuck where? Stuck continuously cycling through or in one phase. Most often our mental body and our physical body land on a stage that feels like it can get us though anything and thats where we are, where we stay in all life experiences. This manifests as Hypo (less alert, reduced emotional and cognitive capacity) or Hyper (increased levels of alertness and anxiety) arousal. Either one of these perpetual states can manifest into a variety of illnesses in both the physical and mental bodies.
Through yoga and meditation we hold space to process and release these experiences and the effects they have on our bodies. With a deep understanding of the impact trauma has on the entire mind-body system, we follow 5 key elements in our Trauma Informed yoga and meditation teachings. 1) Consistency: helps the student become more insightful to what happening in their body. 2) Choice: as the student becomes aware of the body they can begin to discover what feels good or not in the present moment. 3) Sensing: as the student begins to sense their body from the inside out, this is interoception and is a key factor in recovery from trauma. Combating the survival strategy of disconnection to the mind and body experienced from trauma. 4) Safety: Never wondering around the room as this can be a trigger for some traumas. 5) Compassion: allowing space for the student to make the choices that feel best for them.
"Trauma is not what happens to us, but what we hold inside in the absence of an empathetic witness" Peter A, Levine