As we explored in Part I of this series, there is good reason for yoga’s growing popularity in recovery centers and mental health facilities across the globe. Yoga can help us learn how to breathe, regulate energy, bring balance to the nervous system, and provide space to process emotion. The benefits do not stop there, however! This article will discuss two more important ways yoga can help with trauma recovery.
1. Layers of Being
Yoga can help us learn to regulate the breath and become more aware of shifts in our energy. One helpful aspect of this practice is that it incorporates many levels of awareness and encourages us to cultivate awareness of our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual selves. Yogis call these layers koshas.
Think of a Russian Matryoshka nesting doll (with progressively smaller dolls nested inside). The yogic model is similar in that it sees not just a physical body but layers that interact and are part of our human experience. Yogic theory names each kosha its respective function, but for today I’d like you to simply explore your own sense of the layers of yourself—physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. Of course, there is no specific, measurable boundary where the body ends and the mind begins, but the helpful thing about a yoga practice is that you can start with any layer and allow yourself to explore layers less familiar to you.
Many yoga classes focus on the body and the movements of the poses. One reason for this is that we all have bodies; another is that they are tangible, meaning we can see and feel the placement of a foot, while we cannot see or feel a thought in the same way. The body is a direct way to experience ourselves and our choices and, as we discussed last time, a wonderful window into the world of mind and emotion. Another reason is that the body gives us a point of focus, and as we develop focus and concentration, we can become more attuned to subtleties and to the less tangible aspects of ourselves.
Consider the layers of your being today—physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. Which do you feel most connected to? Which are harder for you to have a sense of? Which feel that they could use more care? This can help you make choices in your life that feed the aspects of yourself that may be neglected in your daily life or culture at large. In fact, many believe part of the increasing popularity of yoga lies in its ability to provide space for spirituality to emerge where it might not otherwise.
2. Building Connection
As our culture pace seems to quicken and we are increasingly linked through technology, our need for direct human interaction can become neglected. As attachment theory outlines, it is important for us to experience attunement—a sense of connection, emotional mirroring, and shared experience—in relationship to ourselves and to others. The earliest experience of this happens between parent and child, but attunement also happens in friendships, relationships with colleagues, and with romantic partners.
Yoga gives us the opportunity to attune—to our own feelings and ourselves. It also gives us an opportunity to be seen—to have a witness to our process of self-attunement and discovery. A good teacher seeks to attune to students and understand the experience they are having in class. While there is no such thing as perfect attunement, the effort to connect and to make amends if there is a lack of communication is a central part of the human experience.
Building a relationship with a yoga teacher can feel vulnerable. Simply entering a yoga class can bring up feelings of self-consciousness. The fitted clothing many wear and the variety of shapes we put our bodies in (which can be uncomfortable, to say the least) are inherently exposing. Being in a classroom can bring up memories and projections of how we were parented and educated, and we may find ourselves performing, competing, or trying to please the teacher. Many yoga teachers are aware of these experiences and can assist students in releasing old ways of thinking that do not serve their growth. Having a teacher you believe supports you in this process in a nonjudgmental and compassionate way is crucial.
Many yoga studios work to build a sense of community as well. As human beings, we thrive on connectedness; however, in Western societies it is easy to feel isolated, even when surrounded by people. While you may not want to participate right away, the deepest healing benefits come from being in a community that offers opportunities for connection. Having experiences of relationship, joy, and play can be deeply healing in trauma recovery, and this is one way to access these benefits.
These are just some of the ways yoga can help with trauma recovery. Do you have experience with yoga and your own healing process? If so, please share your experience in the comments below. If you are curious about yoga, consider seeking out a teacher and community you feel you can connect with, and developing a practice that serves your health, healing, growth, and happiness.
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