Last night at our Rec Center yoga class, I mentioned my favorite neuroscientist, Dr. Caroline Leaf. She has been an incredible resource for my personal healing and growth, as well as learning more about the mind and the brain & how they affect the rest of one’s health! In her book, Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess, she talks about the difference between the mind and the brain in great detail.
We focused a lot on our thinking, feeling, and choosing in our practice. Dr. Leaf talks about how bringing our thinking, feeling, and choosing from our non-conscious mind (reactive) to our conscious mind (pro-active) can help change our neural pathways and, in turn, transform our health (even down to changing our DNA)!
A big piece of yoga for trauma recovery is building awareness around our inner experiences so we can take back the autonomy that trauma has stolen from us. A common misnomer is that trauma-sensitive yoga is all about avoiding trauma triggers. This is not accurate and, really, impossible. Everyone’s triggers are so unique to them. In trauma-sensitive yoga, the instructor strives to create a safe space for the students to encounter their inner world, even FACE their triggers, so they can learn self-regulation and no longer feel like they are at the mercy of their dysregulated nervous system.
The most basic definition of trauma, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. Our survival instincts kick in when we encounter a distressing situation. The most common is fight/flight. When fighting back or fleeing does not have the intended result, we can get stuck in fight/flight or even go into freeze or fawn. This creates a distress signal in the nervous system, a loop of constant alert. Ideally, our survival instincts would keep us from harm, and the body would not get stuck in this loop. So, even if you can logically think about the fact that you are no longer in danger, the body may still feel in danger. This keeps us stuck in our sympathetic nervous system. A body stuck in this state starts to experience more health problems because this stress response side of the nervous system is the opposing side of the healing response (parasympathetic/rest & digest). This is why so many people who struggle with anxiety can also experience gut issues! You cannot be in both at the same time; you are in one or the other.
We take time in our trauma-sensitive yoga to help the body remember what safety feels like. This helps reset the nervous system and turn off the constant distress signal coming from the amygdala (read more about that here).
If you would like to learn more about neuroscience and how you can improve your health by retraining your brain, Dr. Leaf’s book is a great resource!
Below are some other related resources that I’ve found valuable. Do you have some favorites? I’d love to hear!
E-RYT 500, YACEP, HYI 100, C-HYI Trauma Sensitive
Canyon Community Yoga's core values & mission were born out of my heart to support our underserved community with all the benefits yoga has to offer. Through my Trauma Sensitive Yoga Teacher Training (through Holy Yoga), and Size Inclusive Teacher Training (through Chubby Lotus Yoga), a passion was ignited to create an inclusive environment that takes the needs of individuals into account.
My own journey with Chronic Lyme disease and CPTSD (Complex PTSD) have continued to fuel compassion & empathy for those who struggle with their own grief, trauma, or chronic health issues. All my classes incorporate a trauma sensitive environment to help students practice from a place of autonomy, choice & finding an internal sense of safety.
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