Chronic stress, loss, trauma, addiction, accidents, abuse and the many everyday challenges of daily life leave an imprint within the body. You can’t always access a yoga mat and class but you can choose simple, mindful practices for managing moods. Therapeutic yoga addresses emotions from the doorway of the body rather than the brain.
Move it to lose it
Remembering and retelling the story of what happened may be helpful in understanding, on an intellectual level, why the tendency to feel and behave in certain patterns arise and play themselves out. To actually interrupt and change those patterns though, it is necessary to move the body. Typical exercise or sports are a great idea but may not reach deeply enough to uproot trauma that has occurred preverbally such as while in the womb or in early childhood. It may not touch the kind of shock trauma, when the fight or flight hormone cortisol floods the limbic brain and disrupts the usual memory-arranging function of the hippocampus. Some traumas cannot be remembered chronologically and the person experiences scenes, smells and sensations arriving haphazardly.
Yoga is a science
Current scientific research on yoga has attempted to pinpoint why therapeutic yoga works for so many who experience a wide variety of mental/emotional conditions and physical pain . Yoga is not just one thing. Guided breathing, meditation, self-inquiry, relaxation, simple postural adjustments, imagery, hand gestures and sounds are simple, soothing elements that do not require a mat or any special equipment or level of fitness to quickly return to a calm place within your own body.
Practice before you need it
The best way to access the benefits is to practice before you actually need them. When you are triggered, it can feel like you’ve hit a wall. When you are feeling neutral or well, these elements can gradually create a home-base that you can return to in moments of difficulty. Bessel Van Der Kolk, founder and medical director of the Trauma Center in Brookline, MA, and a pioneer in the trauma field, has said the he will not works with a trauma survivor who is not practicing yoga. “If you really want to help a traumatized person, you have to work with the body and then the mind will start changing.”
A first step
Grounding in the here and now is a great way to come back home to a place of ease in your body. This can be done anytime, anywhere. When a stressful thought or unbalanced state arrives, become aware of your breathing. Use your breathing to meet your mood. For example, if you’re feeling lethargic and unmotivated to move, take a few slow paced breaths and after a few cycles, reach your arms up over head as you inhale and lower them while you exhale. This can provide a little more energy. Observe the location in your body where you feel your breath most prominently. This helps develop body awareness. Pause and note any changes in your body after several breaths. This help you recognize small changes and can keep you on track. If you’re experiencing a bit more balanced, you might explore continuing for a few minutes several times a day. Be aware of places in your body where you are contacting other surfaces and allow your weight to shift to those areas. For example, if you are standing, you can rock a tiny bit forward toward your toes and back into the heels to create a stronger sense of contact with your socks, shoes, floor or earth. This helps establish a sense of security and stability.
The act of observing something actually changes its behavior
Once you are curiously witnessing your breath without judgment, you are in your body; away from stressful thoughts, images and story-making that often results in anxiety. You have arrived in the present moment, where you have the power of choice. You can choose to believe the stressful thoughts or question them and choose another line of thinking. It takes practice to pause and observe your own experience but well worth the effort and it works!
Wayne Dyer has wisely stated “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”