Trauma and the Body

One of my favorite authors, Carolyn Myss, says, “Your biography IS your biology.”  The story of our lives, especially the undealt with emotions and/or traumatic experiences, can live on in our muscles and cells.  David Emerson talks about trauma and PTSD as being a disease of time; not being able to be present to what is happening now, and in many cases re-living and re-experiencing past pain and suffering as if it were current. Throughout fourteen years of teaching rehabilitative movement and movement therapy as both a Pilates and Yoga instructor, never have these ideas been more useful or more true than in the experiences I have teaching in our Living Yoga classrooms.  

To teach a trauma-informed Living Yoga class is inspiring.  I get to offer and invite students into an opportunity to sense themselves (feel their bodies and breath, see with present-minded eyes, hear with open ears) in real time.  And this is the antidote to unraveling the stories and pain that reside deep within our bodies, muscles, mind, and heart. When we can be present to the shifting emotions, thoughts and physical sensations, learn to discern what is truth in the present moment, even the suffering, especially the suffering, we can begin to dissipate stagnancy in the body and heal old wounds. Often the physical information is a more reliable source of truth than what we think in our minds.  

I get to see students become empowered and start to own and reshape their experiences through the body, one step at a time.  By offering students choices, they get to reclaim the part of themselves that has perhaps forgotten, or never knew, the power and strength that they truly possess. By giving them ownership of their bodies, telling them over and over again, “It’s your practice, you choose how to proceed” they get permission to create safe boundaries around themselves; to say yes, when appropriate, and to say no when appropriate.

As teachers, we have a chance to create a safe container within which students can explore how to respond to themselves, beit their pain or their joy.  In working with my own trauma and grief on the mat, I realize that forgiving myself is a choice. And If I chose to forgive myself, moment-to-moment, in the container of the practice, I begin to respond to my body with some sense of compassion and self-care. This relationship of self-care is exactly the empowerment and ownership that is needed to help ourselves heal and thrive.

This is the beauty of what we offer to our students in a trauma-informed yoga class.   Here’s how to create a safe yoga container:

● Keep it simple

● Provide lots of options and CHOICES!

● Use invitational language

● Promote ownership of body parts

● Offer predictability and safety

● Normalize the range of experiences

Avery Lewis