Words Are Not Enough: Yoga & Meditation
As we discussed last time, recovery from trauma is both a mental/emotional process and a physical process. Key to the latter is deactivating the somatic cues that trigger the troubling emotions and autonomic memories.
In fact, this is something experienced by the millions who have benefited from yoga’s calming poses, breath techniques and mindfulness practice. Clearly, this works for dealing with everyday stress, but for severe trauma? Absolutely, says PTSD expert Dr. Bessel van der Kolk.
Yoga is one of the Asian traditions that clearly help reintegrate body and mind. For someone to heal from PTSD, one must learn how to control bodily reflexes. PTSD causes memory to be stored at a sensory level – in the body. Yoga offers a way to reprogram automatic physical responses. Mindfulness, learning to become a careful observer of the ebb and flow of internal experience, and noticing whatever thoughts, feelings, body sensations and impulses emerge are important components in healing PTSD.
We’ve observed as much when applying Yoga Calm in clinical settings such as Amplatz Children’s Hospital at the University of Minnesota and St. Mary’s Hospital of the Mayo Clinic. Creating safety, going slow and providing opportunities to reflect, process and integrate, Yoga Calm instructors help children and teens reconnect with their bodies, learn to modulate arousal and gain a sense of self-control.
Shake It Off
Which brings us back to the revolutionary work of Dr. Berceli, which evolved through his years as a trauma intervention and conflict resolution specialist in war-torn areas of the Middle East and Africa.
Currently used by military personnel, victims of war and natural disaster, as well as therapists, social workers and laypersons around the world, TRE uses six yoga-like exercises to evoke self-controlled muscular shaking that releases the deep chronic tension created in the body during stressful or traumatic experiences. The shaking originates deep in the core of the body, with gentle tremors that reverberate outward along the spine, releasing tension from the sacrum to the cranium.
Many who have tried the exercises report immediate benefits. TRE can be led by a Certified Level 1 trainer and is another tool for practitioners of other somatic techniques such as Hakomi, Somatic Experiencing and EMDR, as well as traditional psychotherapy, counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Preliminary research (2009) has shown it to reduce anxiety by statistically significant amounts.
Anecdotal accounts lend further support. Time and again, those who use TRE describe its effects as powerful, profound and, indeed, life-changing. As Dr. Berceli writes,
Resolving past traumas delivers us into the future. Through the unending cycle of trauma recovery, the human species learns how to adapt to life threatening situations. This process of adaptation makes the species stronger and wiser to protect it from future traumatic episodes. If we did not possess this natural evolutionary instinct, we would have died as a species shortly after we were born. Trauma recovery is as natural and common as trauma itself. Accepting this sometimes unpleasant fact of life allows us to see trauma in a new light… Only by letting go can we unlock ourselves from the past, be delivered into the future and prepare ourselves for our next evolutionary experience.
Once a trauma befalls us we are forced, whether we like it or not, whether we want to or not, to follow its life-altering path. At times, this process often leads us through episodes of helplessness and hopelessness. It can terrify us by unveiling the fragility, precariousness and vulnerability of our humanity. It exposes us to the rawness of life as a living species on this planet. It tears at the very fabric of our identity and radically redefines our view of life. However, it is precisely because this experience has burned the bridges of our past ways of thinking that we are forced into a new way of being in life. The old ways of thinking and relating no longer suffice and a new way of being begins to emerge. We discover that on the other side of this frightening journey we have the potential of emerging into a new life of maturity, compassion and wisdom.
Yoga Calm TRE public workshops and class series. Contact us for information.