Healing Physical and Emotional Trauma Through Yoga

Hi Yogis! Today’s post is from the lovely Stephani Kolevarl! Stephani subs all kinds of classes at Allay and teaches a variety of workshops, including Yoga For Teens and Partner Yoga! Find out More about Stephani here.

I recently attended a workshop that addressed using yoga to help heal trauma in our students’ lives.  I was in awe at the many stories that were shared by a group of yoga teachers, also strangers who had just met: childhood abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), medical trauma.  And I realized that trauma has touched most of our lives in one way or another.  Some of us have experienced it directly, while others of us have been exposed to trauma indirectly through the experiences of friends or loved ones.  But one thing was clear, we were all there to help ourselves, or to help others, get through these hard times by using yoga.

Clinicians have begun to realize that traditional psychotherapy addresses the cognitive elements of trauma, but lacks the techniques that work directly with the physiological elements.  This is despite the fact that trauma profoundly affects the body in many ways: heart rate, breath, muscle tone, to name a few.  It has also been proven that emotional pain and traumatic memories can be “stored” in the body long after exposure to a traumatic situation had ended.  Therefore, the treatment of trauma must be thorough – considering the person as a whole, mind and body, and addressing the broad-ranging effects of trauma on an individual.  This is where trauma-sensitive yoga classes can be a helpful tool in a therapist’s toolbox.

Trauma-sensitive yoga classes are designed with four main themes in mind that are particularly important for trauma survivors: experiencing the present moment, making choices, taking effective action, and creating rhythms.  As I listened to these themes being discussed in my workshop, I kept thinking about all the times I have said these words to my students, but not fully realizing what these words mean to a trauma survivor.  “Being in the present moment” means shifting the orientation from the trauma to the now, possibly experiencing one’s breath for the first time.  “Making choices” about their arm or leg position in a pose, when many trauma survivors did not have a choice when it came to their trauma-causing incident.  “Taking effective action” by simply coming to a yoga class when it could have been so easy to not come.  The latter point reinforcing the idea of no escape for some trauma victims.  And “creating rhythms” through breath that can reconnect a trauma survivor back with their body, instead of dissociating themselves from their bodies or the world around them.

I do not know if I have ever had a person come to one of my yoga classes who was currently undergoing a physical or emotional trauma, but now I feel that I have a better mindset to handle the situation if someone does share that fact with me one day.  There are so many “triggers” that can arise during a yoga class (lighting, music, straps), but I do believe that being more aware of these triggers can help me be a better teacher not only for trauma-survivors, but for the general population as well.   Partnering yoga with traditional therapy makes perfect sense for reclaiming the “whole person”, not just a part of the whole.

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Opening Our Hearts as Wide as the World

Hi Yogis! Today’s post is from the lovely Andrea Creel! Andrea teaches Level 2 on Thursday evenings at 7:00 PM and is leading an Inversions Workshop THIS Sunday, 12/16 from 2-4 PM. Find out More about Andrea here.

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My theme for teaching this month is “Opening our hearts as wide as the world.” Each week in class, we will be exploring practices that open our hearts from the physiological, physical, emotional, and spiritual perspective. In this blog post, I’d love to share a little bit about some of the physiological benefits to the heart that are cultivated through a consistent yoga practice.

In January, I had the great privilege of attending the Medical Yoga Symposium in Washington, D.C. where yogis, doctors, and researchers from all over the country presented on the latest research linking yoga practice to positive health outcomes. I have always been a great believer in the healing powers of yoga, but we are now in an age where medical science is able to scientifically prove these benefits. It is such a joy and blessing to see the worlds of western medicine and yoga coming together in this way!

One of the most exciting areas of study is research into how yoga improves cardiac function and how it can actually prevent and REVERSE heart disease. One way to measure heart health is through something called Heart Rate Variability (HRV). HRV is our body’s ability to modulate our heart rate from beat to beat. In the case of HRV, it is desirable to have high HRV, which is a sign that our hearts have increased flexibility and adaptability to stress. Conversely, low HRV is highly correlated with sudden death, poor cardiac health, and depression.

 A well rounded yoga practice is always beneficial to our overall health and well-being; However, here are 2 yogic practices that have been scientifically proven to increase HRV:

  1. Yogic Breathing (pranayama) – deep breathing, especially lengthened exhales, activates the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the “rest and digest” system that lets all parts of the body know that everything is safe and okay. Deep yogic breathing has been shown to increase HRV through the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system and the strengthening of the nerves connected to the heart. In effect, this means that the more you practice deep yogic breathing, the more you are able to consciously control your body’s physiological state, switching into a state of relaxation with greater ease, and increasing cardiac function.
  2. Inversions –  Inversions mean any pose where your head is below your heart. This means that technically poses like Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) and Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana) count, but when we are talking about inversions that lead to higher HRV, it is variations of Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana), Headstand (Sirsasana)  and Shoulderstand (Salamba Sarvangasana) held for several minutes that really contribute to this physiological change in a meaningful way. In a small study published in the journal BMC Research Notes, it was found that students brand new to yoga who practiced inversions, including modified handstand and shoulderstand, resulted in increased HRV measurements. 

 A quick side-note: for those of you who would like to incorporate inversions into your practice but don’t know where to start, I am teaching a workshop this Sunday that will help you get there, step by step! If you already have a solid inversions practice, the workshop will offer you new options and variations to deepen your practice! 

Through yoga, we can actually train our heart and nervous system to respond more effectively to stress.

The next time you are in yoga class, know that by breathing deeply, going upside down, and staying connected with your breath even when in challenging poses, you are strengthening and opening your heart, leading to a healthier body, and a more open heart, mind, and spirit. May our hearts open as wide as the world this month, and always.

Namaste,

Andrea

 

Valentine’s Day

Hi Yogis, Today’s post is from Debi Schenk, one of the fabulous teachers on staff at Allay! Want to practice with Debi? Join her for Making Friends With Your Core, a 2 hour workshop geared toward getting to know your core and reshaping your practice! Saturday, 2/15, 1-3 PM. Register HERE Today!

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When I was a little girl, my Mom made a really big deal out of Valentine’s Day. She would always get us cards, gifts, and chocolates (the ones that we’d bite in half to see what was inside – you know what I’m talking about). I remember Valentine’s Day 
so fondly because it was simple, fun, and filled with love. 

My Mom also read love poems…she was a bit of a poetry junky. She had books and books of poetry that stayed by her bedside. I would sneak in to her room, sit on the floor, and sift through them, wondering what magic they possessed. I can’t say I understood the complexity of them then, or even now, but they always made me yearn for true love.

My parents were married for almost 50 years so clearly my Mom got this right. But she made every day Valentine’s Day. She truly kept an open heart. She loved us all unconditionally, with admiration and respect. She didn’t judge us or our decisions (even the poor ones). She  supported us with an extraordinary smile, a calm voice, and a wondrous steadiness. 

If she were here this Valentine’s Day, I’d thank her. We often say we don’t want to turn out like our mothers. I beg to differ. Maybe in a way she led me to yoga…maybe I began yoga as a quest to open my heart, to be more like her. So in her honor, I will strive to make every day Valentine’s Day.   

Debi Schenk 
www.trueUyoga.com

The Second Gift of Being Sick

A few days ago, I wrote about the gift of being sick. The gift of taking time to slow down and reboot. Today, finally feeling mostly back to myself, I’m experiencing the second gift of being sick–rejuvenation. Before getting sick, I was starting to feel worn out and a little unmotivated to do the things that needed doing. It’s probably not such a wonder that I ended up so depleted! But, today, having taken a longer “break” than I can really remember ( I say “break” because as any business owner knows. a full break doesn’t truly exhist 🙂 ), I feel excited about all the things I need to do today. I’m filled with ideas and can’t wait to figure out how to implement them. It is clear to me that I needed this slow down, needed to get off the merry-go-round not only for my sanity, but for my productivity. It’s never fun to be sick. But it really can be a gift…one that can keep on giving.