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After hearing how healing and peaceful yoga can be, I've had interest for years and spent a lot of time going to different gyms and trying yoga videos I purchased or found on YouTube, but none gave me the peacefulness I was promised. Sure they stretched my body, but there wasn't the calm afterwards that I desperately desired. It all felt so body specific. For me, this was a problem and kept me from fully embracing the healing aspects of having a daily yoga practice. One day I attended a class with a friend while out of town and my entire view on yoga changed. The instructor did a lot more with focusing on proper breath through the movements as opposed to the poses themselves, and I left feeling so euphoric and relaxed. The sensation stuck with me for hours, and as a person with high anxiety and Complex PTSD, this feeling of peace and relaxation was more than welcome. Discovering trauma sensitive yoga I went home and tried to find a class like that in my area, but the price was either too high or I couldn't find what I was looking for. Because of my PTSD, I don’t do well with people touching me or in larger classes. So my therapist suggested I try Trauma Sensitive Yoga (TSY)—a type of yoga focused on people with mental trauma—created by a man named David Emerson: Overcoming Trauma through Yoga: Reclaiming Your Body. She sent me to a nearby studio that taught his methods, then helped me get a scholarship. For the next three months, my world changed for the better. At first I thought I’d hate it. Trauma sensitive yoga was different than others. The instructor, Morgan Vanderpool, didn't do fancy poses or show off like other teachers I’d seen. In fact, I learned very few actual yoga poses during the class. It was all about focusing on breath and being present in our bodies. One of the ways she’d keep us present is to tell us to focus on how it feels when our palm touches the floor. Or she’d ask us to be aware of what parts of our body were feeling the pose, then to breath to that area. I learned quickly that much of the reason I’d hated yoga was because I hadn't been truly present. My mind was wandering constantly, so I never practised properly. I also felt no pressure to take part in poses that were triggering for me, a problem I’d had in many other classes. Nor did I feel the need to talk to others. The class I attended had a maximum of eight people per session and we were able to leave at any time if we needed to. The trauma sensitive yoga instructor also had experience working in therapy, so she knew how to respond to my triggers. She was warm, always calm and used a quiet voice, and she kept my focus on listening to my body. Respecting my body and listening to it Respecting my body is difficult for me. I was so used to disassociating from it that I often ignored the pain in my body. I even ignored tiredness, hunger, thirst, and desire. My instructor helped me to be present in my body without fear. In fact, my first class with her helped me realize how little I was present in my body or in the moment. Her constant reminder to feel my contact points—hands on floor, feet on floor, butt on floor, pressure in each location—kept me re-engaging when I’d drift. I remember after the first session, lying back on the floor and as I stared up at the ceiling, I felt like I could drift away in that moment. I’d gone into the class full of tension and fear and in that moment I didn't want to get up. I wanted to stay there and feel all of that release. The feeling was so strong that when I left the studio I called one of my partners because I felt too dizzy to drive yet. He talked to me about my experience and how I felt after coming through it and all I could do was cry. I had literally released so much that I didn't want to stop. The more I let go of, the lighter I felt. During the session, I let my body do what it needed. I pushed as far as I felt I should, got into positions that my body felt good in, and when I got overwhelmed, I sat in silence until I felt I could rejoin the group. I honoured my body and in doing so, took my first steps toward respecting my body and healing the trauma that I’d stored there most of my life. The class changed me. Now, I can participate many types of yoga and feel the benefits in a physical and mentally calming way. I even use the methods when I get triggered or full of stress. I stop, focus on my feet touching the ground, the pressure in my leg muscles, the tension in my back, then I breath it out. The more I've practised this, the more I've come to understand that in order to truly be happy in life, I needed to be present all the time. Trauma Sensitive Yoga started me on my path to finding and creating my own practice. Some days I incorporate gentle dance. Other days I do more meditation than movement. It just depends on the day and what my needs are in that moment. And that’s what being present means. Honouring the moment. While I've still had small bouts of depression or moments of stress and anxiety, I now have the tools to release those negative emotions and get back on track with being present. When I'm living in the moment, I'm not stressed. I'm not focused on the tasks that need doing in the following week or the annoying incident that happened last week. I'm focused on the moment. When I'm present, I'm happy. Trauma Sensitive Yoga helped me achieve this. I can’t recommend it enough, no matter your level of trauma or PTSD. Happiness is achievable regardless of our circumstances when we are in the moment and not allowing ourselves to live elsewhere. Modelpictures: colourbox.com Written by Sienna Saint-CyrSienna Saint-Cyr is an author, advocate, and the founder of SinCyr Publishing. She speaks at conventions, workshops, and for private gatherings on the importance of having a healthy body image, understanding enthusiastic consent, using sexuality to promote healing, navigating diverse or non-traditional relationships, having Complex PTSD, and more. Sienna loves sharing her journey of healing and finding happiness with her readers. Along with writing erotica and romance, Sienna speaks at conventions, workshops, and for private gatherings on such sex-positive topics as a healthy body image, using sexuality to promote healing, and navigating diverse or non-traditional relationships. She writes for several websites. Find out more at https://siennasaintcyr.wordpress.com/.
Happiness, joy, bliss… these things aren't easy to find or maintain. I've worked for fifteen years now at this and only recently realised that being present is the key. But there is work to be done still. Being present is only the first step of many, all of which include being present inside the body too. Not just mentally and emotionally in the moment, but physically as well. Therapy, openness, and great friends indeed help me maintain joy with my mental and emotional states, but my body is more complicated for me. I’m still getting used to being present in my body and learning to listen when my body needs something is hard. Since I know yoga works well for this, I wanted to explore specific yoga practices like trauma sensitive yoga designed to bring joy, happiness, compassion, and gratitude. This marks the first of a three part series involving yoga for finding and maintaining happiness. Rather than do each practice just once, I’m repeating them during different parts of the day and when I'm in varying moods. Compassion Yoga The first practice I tried was called "Compassion Yoga - Yoga With Adriene". Some of her videos, including the one above, are free on YouTube. This is a fifty-eight-minute video surrounding compassion. Since the instructor has the practitioners set their intentions, I set mine for self-compassion. Self-compassion isn't easy for me. But I was already feeling great, uplifted, and my heart was full of gratitude. So setting my intent for self-compassion seemed the right choice. There were two things I was going to focus on for self-compassion: Keep trying, even when it’s hard Listen to my body Listening to my body is a struggle not only because I tend to push it, but also because when I’m stressed, I carry so much tension in my neck, shoulders, and back. It’s distracting and hard to maintain staying in my place of peace when I’m full of tension. The tightening of my muscles is a clear indication that I need to release something I'm holding onto. It might be an emotional, mental, or physical strain. No matter the source, tension makes me grumpy and pulls me from being present and feeling joy. By listening to my body, this enabled me to focus on my areas of tension. Adriene also asked that we focus on compassion, the highest form of love. Then she asked that we say ‘yes’ to our practice. She wanted us to be present and aware of our movements. Observations and Practice Adriene suggested exploring and to move slowly. Not rush. What I instantly noticed was that I began paying attention to the spaces between what I thought were the important poses. It was the movements from one position to another that I started to really connect with my body as opposed to just repeating what was on the screen. I found I moved differently than Adriene. She also kept repeating that she wanted those practising with her to have an experience, not just ‘do yoga’. This changed the nature of what we were doing for me. It gave me the freedom to explore my body and not worry about doing the pose exactly how Adriene did. This was helpful as I have hypermobility and shouldn't do certain poses for health reasons. Downward-Facing Dog As we moved through the practice, I discovered that poses that historically bothered me—like Downward-Facing Dog—weren't so unpleasant. Some of that was me taking my time getting into the pose, and the rest was really settling into the pose. I found so much tension in my back and shoulders released out through my hands and feet as I allowed myself to stay in Downward Dog. The burn moving through me was pleasant, like a phoenix burning up all the unwanted energies of my day. Compassion Yoga Warrior 1 Pose Warrior Pose We also did what Adriene referred to as holding a beach ball. There were several positions where we held our imaginary beach balls. Some as we sat, other as we stood tall—Mountain Pose—some while in Warrior poses, and I found that this really opened my heart and chest. I was able to breathe deeper and let go of more stress in my upper back and shoulders. One thing I noticed was that I kept smiling, even when the moves were more difficult for me. I was feeling the gratitude in my body, not just thinking it. I felt it move through me like a wave of pleasant energy and that’s what was making me smile and I couldn't stop myself if I’d tried. By the time I finished, my entire body was relaxed. I’d also learned during my practice that I had issues with my knee and hip, something I’d not been aware of before. Taking the time to hold compassion and stay present in my body made a huge difference in my result. I left the practice full of joy and self-love. I felt euphoric, which isn't something that I've historically felt after yoga. The second time I did the video, I wasn't in a good place. I’d dealt with some trauma and was genuinely sad. While I still felt grateful for all the goodness in my life and inside me, I was in pain, and it closed off that lovely flow of energy I’d been feeling move from my root chakra up through my crown. Boat Pose This time, I entered into the practice with an intention to release the sadness and trauma that had caused my pain. For me, releasing pain and trauma are the highest form of self-love and self-compassion. While I still moved slowly on my second go, because I needed to release emotional build-ups, I stayed in the tougher positions for longer. I kept my body active. My muscles and breathing active. One pose I found particularly helpful when releasing sadness was Boat Pose. I’m not sure why, but it seemed to keep all the parts of my core that like to hold onto trauma engaged. The longer my muscles were involved, the more I released when I left the pose. I also found Cobra pose particularly helpful during my state of sadness. Compassion Yoga - Boat Pose When I'm sad and holding onto trauma, it affects my core and heart chakra. So by opening my chest up and my entire body with Cobra, I was able to feel a lot of the negativity move out through my heart. I felt like a blast of sadness shot from my chest, and it pushed right through my open window and into the earth. After finishing a second time, I’d managed to release the negative emotions I was feeling. I couldn't explain why, though. My inner scientist wanted to understand how the sessions—which seemed to impact me more than shorter sessions I’d done—affected me so positively, even when I came into it full of sadness. Yoga Alleviates Depression and Sadness According to Science Daily, Boston University School of Medicine did a study in 2007 to find out if yoga alleviated depression and sadness. The researchers found that practising yoga may elevate brain gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) levels. GABA is a major neurotransmitter that brain cells use to communicate with each other. People with low levels of GABA often experience depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders that affect happiness. The study included testing nineteen subjects. All had their GABA levels tested before their tasks. Eight were sent to do an hour of yoga and eleven sent to read for an hour. After one hour, all the subjects were tested again. Those that read for an hour had no change in their GABA levels. But those who did an hour of yoga experienced an increase in GABA levels. After more research, the team came to the conclusion that an hour of yoga may help alleviate depression and assist with happiness. The study was more comprehensive than my summary here, so I do suggest the read. Conclusion – Compassion Yoga Works My research and experience explained why the Compassion Yoga video was so much more effective than others I’d done. Each time I came away with a feeling of being high, though still in control of my facilities! It seems that the length of this particular video weighed into my results just as much as my focus on compassion and releasing. While this video is longer than the other two in this series, it is my favourite when I have the hour to complete it! I highly recommend trying Compassion Yoga with Adriene. Be sure to watch for Part Two, Grounding Into Gratitude! - Namaste - Model photos colourbox.com Written by Sienna Saint-CyrSienna Saint-Cyr is an author, advocate, and the founder of SinCyr Publishing. She speaks at conventions, workshops, and for private gatherings on the importance of having a healthy body image, understanding enthusiastic consent, using sexuality to promote healing, navigating diverse or non-traditional relationships, having Complex PTSD, and more. Sienna loves sharing her journey of healing and finding happiness with her readers. Along with writing erotica and romance, Sienna speaks at conventions, workshops, and for private gatherings on such sex-positive topics as a healthy body image, using sexuality to promote healing, and navigating diverse or non-traditional relationships. She writes for several websites. Find out more at https://siennasaintcyr.wordpress.com/.
According to the Yoga Journal, there are 38 health benefits to having a daily yoga practice. They range from physical body health, like flexibility, draining lymph nodes, increasing circulation, lowering blood pressure, to the mental aspects of better focus, finding your calm place, and the Yoga Journal isn’t alone in their claims. Places like the American Osteopathic Association and Psychology Today share their views on yoga in relation to physical and mental health. There has been a massive surge in interest in western cultures due to all the benefits. The only problem is with this rise in interest, a 'Yoga industry' boom was born. Now there are so many types and styles that it can often be difficult to find one that works well for you. Healing Trauma with Yoga Yoga for people with PTSD I often say, “Yoga is as personal as underwear.” It either fits us and our needs or it doesn’t. For most folks exploring various YouTube channels or videos is enough. For others, it's going to gym classes or local yoga studios. But for anyone with trauma, especially if it’s something like PTSD, these methods of exploration become intolerable. If not impossible. For many people, it's difficult to find peace while being constantly worried about the people in the room who might potentially touch them. When it's suddenly too loud in the room. Or when getting too close is anything but relaxing. Having a panic attack in the middle of class isn’t the desired effect. Trauma Sensitive Yoga Thankfully, in 2002, a man named David Emerson discovered he could treat trauma using yoga. He reached out to Dr. Bessel van der Kolk about his findings and desire to do more in the field. Together, they created a platform that would later become Trauma Sensitive Yoga (TSY), specifically used to help people with trauma and PTSD. Over the course of several years, he brought in different yoga instructors with varying expertise to assist in the development of the program. The National Institutes of Health even funded their trial. Trauma Sensitive Yoga is different in many ways. Depending on the studio, the methods will vary, but usually, the classes are small. And unlike traditional yoga classes where you might get some evil eyes for leaving mid-session and disturbing the peaceful atmosphere, anyone can quietly come and go as they need during TSY. There is an understanding when you come to class about the sensitive nature of what is about to happen. The studio I went to, Samdhana-Karana Yoga, was very low pressure. The instructor was also a therapist and had worked with trauma patients before. She also had my therapist’s number and emergency contacts in case of triggering. The prep work that went into the class even before I began was like nothing I’d experienced prior. This encouraged me to feel like I was in a safe space. Normally you can just show up at a studio or gym pay the fee and take the class. It's all quite impersonal for someone with trauma, in need of assurance that if something goes wrong, they're still in a safe space. Your Body, Your Practice There is a lot of focus on ‘your body, your practice’. That helps the practitioner remember to honor their needs because it’s ‘their’ practice. Rather than performing traditional yoga poses, TSY encourages people to move as they need to, with minimal and gentle guidance. Attendees are asked to pay attention to contact points, i.e. the point where your back touches the ground, or your feet or hands, how much pressure there is, and so on. There are often no hard yoga moves or poses because the focus is on making it a safe space for those with trauma to heal and experience mindfulness with yoga. There are some great videos on the TSY website that give brief examples of what trauma-based yoga looks like. Neurogenic Yoga™ Trauma Sensitive Yoga isn’t the only option for trauma sufferers either. Another is Neurogenic Yoga™. While similar in many ways, Neurogenic Yoga™ stands out because it combines yoga asana and pranayama with the body’s natural, therapeutic shaking response. Why is that last part so important? Peter A. Levine, PhD, the developer of Somatic Experiencing© and founder of the Foundation for Human Enrichment, has spent his life researching and treating trauma in patients. Some of his groundbreaking research includes the practice of releasing trauma through the body. In one of his books, In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness, Peter discusses how the body has a natural response to trauma. When our fight or flight responses don’t get to finish their cycle, we enter into fawning or freezing, thus creating trauma and storing that trauma in the body. He believes that by allowing the body to finish out the cycle of trauma—meaning allowing the body to shake when it needs to until it stops on its own—that we can heal our trauma. His book and research are phenomenal and I highly recommend them to anyone with trauma. So Neurogenic Yoga™ including shaking into their trauma treatment is fantastic. While TSY helps, people that have trauma from car accidents, military tours, and violent attacks need a bit more than just the relaxation. They need to be allowed to shake and move the body in a different sort of way to release that trauma physically. Both practices are sure to help relieve sufferers of trauma. How trauma and a wandering mind relate Trauma and PTSD are tiring. The problem with trauma is that the sufferer is rarely present in their body. Pete Walker is another expert, specifically on Complex PTSD, and his studies into the Four F’s explain a lot about why people with PTSD can seldom find relaxation. Rather than experience healthy and balanced responses with fight/flight/freeze/fawn (because we all have these responses), people with PTSD have two responses that they lean heavily on. So sufferers can get trapped in constant fight and flight or freeze and fawn. This means we aren’t present in daily life. We’re stuck on the ‘spin’ of PTSD and trauma. And when we’re stuck spinning and unable to be present, we aren’t able to experience joy and happiness. Being present leads to happiness To dig into this a bit further, Science AAAS reported their findings on how being present leads to happiness, while mind wandering or spinning leads to unhappiness. This is different from a popular assumption that unhappiness leads to mind wandering. While mood can certainly lead to focusing on the past or future, it is not, in itself, the cause of unhappiness. It’s the focus on past and future that leads to the unhappiness. The article wraps with: "In conclusion, a human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost." For people with trauma, they mostly live in the past or in a place of fear surrounding the future. It is this lack of being present that directly relates to their unhappiness. The beauty of trauma-based yoga is that it takes you out of this place of fear. It trains your body to remake past experiences and to release them in a physically productive way. Trauma-based yoga can assist with pulling the practitioner into the present using gentle and non-threatening ways. No matter which method you try, taking part in trauma-based yoga can make a huge difference in your experience. It can also assist in finding your own breath. A breath that brings peace in with each in-breath and releases tension and stress with every out-breath. Trauma-based yoga teaches those who aren’t generally present in their own body, how to be in their body. If you have trauma, these programs work wonders and can lead to a life full of joy and happiness through a daily practice of being present and living in the moment. Model Photos: Colorbox.com Written by Sienna Saint-CyrSienna Saint-Cyr is an author, advocate, and the founder of SinCyr Publishing. She speaks at conventions, workshops, and for private gatherings on the importance of having a healthy body image, understanding enthusiastic consent, using sexuality to promote healing, navigating diverse or non-traditional relationships, having Complex PTSD, and more. Sienna loves sharing her journey of healing and finding happiness with her readers. Along with writing erotica and romance, Sienna speaks at conventions, workshops, and for private gatherings on such sex-positive topics as a healthy body image, using sexuality to promote healing, and navigating diverse or non-traditional relationships. She writes for several websites. Find out more at https://siennasaintcyr.wordpress.com/.