What is Mindfulness & Trauma Informed Yoga?
In my experience working with trauma clients, I have seen first hand how our bodies hold trauma. We tend to disconnect from our minds-body because something has failed us and it’s too difficult to deal with. Processing trauma while combining the practice of mindfulness, breath work, body movement, etc, clients are able to reconnect to the mind-body in a healthy safe environment and create new patterns in the body.
Mindfulness is a conscious awareness of our present moment. This includes openness and non-judgment about the experience. It is often coupled with other types of therapy, such as Cognitive-based Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) or Trauma-Informed Yoga.
Mindfulness therapy is not concerned with relaxation, though that might be a result of certain practices. The focus is on increasing our awareness of the thoughts, feelings, and actions that hinder our progress. When we are better able to do that, we can engage with those aspects of ourselves, learn to tweak our language, and choose how to respond.
How is Mindfulness and Yoga Used in Therapy?
When taught from a trauma-informed perspective, mindfulness and yoga can be a vitally helpful resource. Trauma-informed yoga (sometimes known as trauma-sensitive yoga) and brain-based therapies such as Brainspotting and EMDR are widely considered to be the most effective body-based therapies available. It is important to realize that mindfulness and yoga are most effective in healing trauma when it is integrated into a larger set of therapeutic supports that have been specifically tailored for the client. Bessel van der Kolk explains,
“Trauma is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on the mind, brain and body.”
Mindfulness & Trauma-Informed Yoga can have both stimulating and soothing effects. This is true on both the physical and psycho-emotional levels. This type of informed practice can encourage a balance in the nervous system through sessions that incorporate both stimulating and sitting postures, breath work, mindfulness and meditations. Therapists encourage clients to notice when they feel safe, soothed and secure, helping them learn present-state awareness and offer opportunities for clients to choose what brings them balance. Over time, clients build coping skills and make choices that move them toward a more integrated mind and body.
One-on-One sessions allow for the client to have a more individualized approach and meet specific goals. Small Group classes are also offered as a “Series Class” throughout the year as a great benefit of experiencing a practice with peers and still receiving individualized attention. Check out the Groups page to see if we have one coming up!
Trauma and Healing the Body
Trauma can create both an emotional and physical imprint on the body. The moment that a person experiences trauma, the body automatically makes a decision to protect itself. This decision can result in a fight, flight, freeze or fawn reaction. Many suffer with long lasting effects from events like sexual abuse & assaults, childhood traumas, car accidents, PTSD, eating disorders, etc. This can manifest in the body as symptoms such as migraines, clenched shoulders/neck/jaw, chronic pain, anxiety, depression; and so on. Core functions of sleep, digestion, breathing and chemical balances can become disrupted.
Traumatized individuals may also feel shame or become self-consciousness as they react to physical or emotional cues from the world around them. Individuals may also use dissociating as an unconscious coping mechanism to disconnect from a traumatic experience and/or feelings.
Reconnect to Self
A trauma-informed mindfulness or yoga practice can increase connection with the breath, enabling the brain to become less aroused and relaxation to begin. It strengthens the mind-body connection, allowing the client to identify and experience emotions they may not have allowed themselves to explore before. The practice can help a client regain their sense of control and ownership over their own body and their own experience. Control is something that many trauma survivors have lost. Regaining this control is a very important and rewarding part of the healing process.
Benefits of Mindfulness & Yoga
The benefits of this work are unique from other types of trauma treatment. In addition to benefits such as self-care, it can increase your flexibility, but it also helps reduce stress and focus your mind. Researcher Catherine Woodyard (2011) found that in addition to these benefits, therapeutic mindfulness and yoga:
- enhances muscle strength,
- improves respiratory and cardiovascular function,
- helps people recover from addictions,
- reduces anxiety, depression, and chronic pain; and,
- improves sleep