Yoga for Emotional Trauma
By creating a healing environment for your body through yoga, you can transform emotional trauma into well-being, release suffering, and come home to your body’s natural capacity for health and joy.
Emotional trauma can have a profound and lasting impact on health and happiness. It permeates life experience more deeply and heals more slowly than physical injuries that leave bruises and break bones. Fortunately, yoga can help heal the wounds of emotional trauma.
Therapeutic yoga is enjoyable and easy to do for most people. You do not have to be athletic, flexible, or experienced in yoga. If you have physical limitations, simply do the poses that are appropriate for you.
Yoga is a profound ritual of self-care. Performing self-care is not something you earn the right to do. You need not justify self-care or think that you have to do good acts to be worthy of it. You respond to self-care the way water lilies respond to water and sunny skies. They bloom, not because they deserve to, but because it is their nature to. So, when you practice physical yoga, you do far more than just stretch your muscles. You transform body and emotions into an environment that promotes healing and well-being.
When carefully designed, your practice also gently releases old emotional pain because emotions are utterly intertwined with your physical body. Since yoga postures work with your body, a faithful practice of yoga cleanses your body from long-held painful emotional patterns, allowing you to feel increasingly at home in your body and relaxed.
A compassionate physical practice makes you conscious of your spiritual nature. Going to your yoga mat, regardless of your size or shape, sends a message deep inside that you matter.
Important Considerations for Your Yoga Practice
Nonviolence is central to yoga. Most important, do no harm and do not force your body. Yoga is a practice that unites body, mind, and breath. Listen to your body and energy. When you are tired, go easy on standing poses and stay longer in floor poses. On other days, when you have more energy, remain in the standing poses long enough to feel heat. This is purifying, as it burns up stored tension. Afterward, give yourself sufficient time in seated or supine poses to reset your nervous system. This allows you to fully relax and remind your body that ease is a natural state of being.
The biggest clue about the benefit and appropriateness of any particular pose is your breath. Breathing comfortably is fundamental, so practice in a way that promotes deep, even breathing. If you experience exhaustion or sharp pain, stop and rest. If you have injuries or physical limitations, consult with your physician before attempting these poses.
Adapt the practice to suit your needs. If you are in the aftermath of recent trauma, be especially sensitive to your energy. Go to your mat to take care of yourself. Some days you may only feel up to doing two or three seated or lying-down poses. Conclude your practice by covering yourself with a blanket and resting with your eyes closed.
Do poses that promote feelings of safety and being supported. Give yourself some recovery time. Then, when you are ready, try some standing poses to determine if you are ready to build stamina. It is very empowering to develop muscular strength if you feel beaten down by past trauma. You might also benefit from a vigorous practice that builds resolve. If your heart feels broken, begin gently and gradually increase the time you spend in the heart-opening poses.
Comforting Seated Pose
Begin your practice by connecting to yourself and your breath. Sit upright on your yoga mat or a blanket with your legs crossed comfortably in front of you. Place one hand on your heart area and one hand just above your navel. Notice the warmth of your hand on your chest and on your belly. Begin to be aware of your breath. Sit quietly and focus on taking five easy breaths.
Get on your hands and knees, with your knees wider than your hips and your feet close together. Then rest your hips on your heels in the pose of a child. Rest your chest on a folded blanket, if you like. Position your arms comfortably in front of you. Place your head gently to one side. Notice where your body touches the floor. Let yourself relax. The floor will support you. Begin to be aware of your breath. Rest quietly and focus on taking five easy breaths.
Kneel with your knees together; place a folded blanket under them if needed. Follow the movements of the arms demonstrated in the photos. Repeat the arm flow a few times. Breathe into and out from your heart center. Let your heart feel receptive.
Purpose: To accept your emotions and your innate goodness and to receive divine intervention.
Mantra: “I feel.”
Begin by reading or chanting “I feel.”
Intention: Work with your arms and your heart to reach out and receive.
Reprinted with permission from Yoga for Emotional Trauma: Meditations and Practices for Healing Pain and Suffering, by Mary NurrieStearns and Rick NurrieStearns. New Harbinger Publications, Inc. 2013.