You may be asking, why yoga? How can adding yoga, as a personal tools or professional recommendation, help people work through Trauma? Trauma sensitive yoga, under the care of a well trained and experienced teacher, is a profound way to work from a fight or flight, or freeze response, back up to social functioning. There are scientific reason why it works, here are just a few:
Slow yoga accesses the limbic system, releasing held or stuck places over time and moving us toward rest and equilibrium. Yoga also increases our bodies GABA (Gamma-amino butyric acid) which is the primary substance that calms and reduces activity in the limbic system.
Breathing practices vibrate the upper palate and the Vagus nerve, signaling peace to the body and helping to improve vagal tone which increases stress resilience. We use various focused types of breath to care for our Vagus nerve and engage social function. Our studio is story focused and we consider our yoga practice to be a type of worship. The opportunity to tell our story and to worship together calms the Amygdala and grows the Hippocampus in our brains, increasing an overall feeling of peace.(1)
Yoga has a profound effect on our brains and our emotions. Certain poses and sequences increase neurotransmitter release, decreasing aggression and impulsive behavior. Neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin help us to feel good. Yoga also helps us to integrate left and right hemispheres, reset the nervous system, and helps us restore a sense of control through body awareness. “Yoga resets the nervous system and helps the trauma survivor to: reestablish a connection with the body, cultivate self-awareness and self-regulation, increase emotional and physical resiliency, and become present and reconnect to daily life and loved ones.” (2)
Poses are specifically used to signal to the retina, adrenal glands, and nervous system that it is safe to move out of fight or flight and into relaxation mode.
Ushering ourselves into opportunities to shake allows us to give our bodies another chance to react, even years later, this time with our own choices intact, in a safe environment. We slowly work with held areas, or frozen places moving our way gently back up the chain, finding healing and wholeness along the way. Peter Levine describes this shaking as “an oscillating between fear and exploration” (3). Levine also describes how we reengage agency and mastery, instead of feeling the rage of pent up trauma:
“Empowerment derives directly from expelling the physical attitude of defeat and helplessness and restoring the biologically
meaningful active defense system- that is, the embodied triumph of successful protection and the visceral actuality of
competency. Such renegotiation also helps to dissolve the entrenched guilt and self-judgement that may be byproducts of
helplessness and repressed/dissociated rage. By accessing an active and powerful experience, passivity of paralysis and
collapse is countered.” (3)
Thank you for considering the addition of yoga to your personal tool box, or as a professional recommendation. We are happy to talk further with you regarding Polyvagal Theory, Meta Cognition, and the Science behind what we teach at Haven. Visit our blog for more articles, or contact us directly with your questions.
1 Bessel VanDer Kolk
2 YogaFit, Healing Physical and Emotional Trauma, p 415.
3 Peter Levine, In An Unspoken Voice, p 77
The Science of Trauma Sensitive Yoga as a tool for life