Keys to healing trauma

Yoga therapists understand that trauma is stored in the body and that healing trauma therefore necessitates working with the body, especially the nervous system. Yoga therapy uniquely supports the development of somatic awareness—that is, awareness of our physical selves: Over time we can learn to feel our nervous systems’ responses to events within a safe, exploratory environment and build a compassionate, accepting relationship with our inner world.

A recent study in the International Journal of Yoga Therapy (IJYT) analyzed the existing research on yoga and trauma to articulate more specifically how yoga helps people heal.

The study found that yoga brings four key elements to healing:

  1. stabilization skills, 
  2. inner attunement and self-acceptance,
  3. equanimity, and
  4. safe connection with others.

 

  1. Stabilization skills are practices that help us to manage emotions—and triggers—more effectively in the moment. The study mentions breathing practices (pranayama) as well as understanding when to use such practices to manage emotional responses.These skills are the basis of the next healing element: inner attunement and self-acceptance. 
  2. Becoming aware of our internal states and gaining skills to manage them supports a sense of agency. Attuning to our emotional and physiological states and being able to avoid overwhelm is a pivotal healing experience for trauma survivors. With practice, management skills and a sense of agency can blossom into a steadier state of mindfulness and the feeling of balance and equanimity. As one person quoted in the study remarked, 

“every time I go to yoga class, I feel better—more presence, more confidence, more secure in my body.”

  1. Feeling balanced and calm, and knowing that we have the ability to manage our emotions, engenders confidence. When we are confident, we are more likely to be hopeful and seek connection beyond ourselves. 
  2. When we do this healing work with others, such as in trauma-sensitive yoga classes or with a yoga therapist, we start to build a community of mindful, balanced, present people.

Yoga therapy can offer survivors many practices that include each of these elements. As we learn more about trauma and how we can heal from it, practices that do not require a retelling of trauma stories are critical.