Combating adverse childhood experiences (ACE) and building resilience

By Shelley Goldman

In light of increasing awareness around trauma and resilience, a groundbreaking study from 1998 is getting renewed attention. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in collaboration with Kaiser Permanente, conducted research on adverse childhood experiences (ACE). The study looked at 10 categories of childhood adversity, including abuse, neglect, and family dysfunction, and found that ACEs are related to lifelong problems in physical and mental health, poorer productivity, and even shorter life expectancy.

This toxic stress exposure can damage the structure and function of children’s developing brains. In addition, ACEs can alter DNA, affecting generations to come. Ongoing ACE research indicates that most people in the United States have at least one ACE. If you have one ACE, there’s an 87% chance that you have two or more. ACEs are linked to 7 of 10 leading causes of death. They are also cumulative—as the number of ACEs increases, so does the chronic health risk.

We now know that even if trauma like ACEs happened long ago, it can continue to play out in the mind and body. The brain can get stuck on hyper-alert and may react to normal situations and sensations with fight, flight, or alarm responses. Trauma can also cause problems in behavioral and emotional self-regulation, which can negatively affect relationships.

Now the good news …

Resilience can buffer trauma’s effects. We can build resilience-based interventions by combining what we know about the effects of trauma with current brain science. When used skillfully, yoga therapy interventions promote psychological and physical resilience in a number of key ways:

  • Yoga can help balance the nervous system to assist with decreasing trauma symptoms. When the nervous system is in balance, we have better control over our emotions and reactions.
  • Specially designed sequences can aid in transforming emotions. Building awareness of sensations and feelings can increase our tolerance of them and help us develop healthier relationships with triggers.
  • Yoga can also help to develop and strengthen positive coping behaviors.

In a world where stress and ACEs appear to be mounting, we can actively combat the negative consequences by enlisting a mind-body therapy. Yoga therapy is a perfect complement for trauma-informed and resilience-based care because it can assist with relief of symptoms, is extremely cost-effective, and has no known side-effects. Find a certified yoga therapist.

Shelley Goldman, RN, is a Psychiatric Nurse Care Manager at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. She holds an MS in yoga therapy and a Master Addiction Counselor certification in addition to being a certified yoga therapist (C-IAYT).

Read more from Shelley on yoga therapy in pediatric mental health, and learn more about ACEs from a yogic perspective with this article from Yoga Therapy Today.