Feel to Heal: Yoga for Warriors

Hi Yogis! Today’s post is from Stephani Kolevar. Stephani recently attended a Yoga Warrior Training and wanted to share some of her important takeaways from the powerful weekend regarding working with Veterans and other trauma survivors. This post is geared especially toward other Yoga Teachers, but can be helpful for anyone working with this population.

FEEL TO HEAL! That is my summary from the Yoga Training that I attended last weekend, targeting those brave men and women who are returning from overseas service with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Traditional Western medicine focuses primarily on learning how to manage symptoms of PTSD, usually through prescription drugs. While helpful, many PTSD sufferers are seeking remedies for the cause of PTSD, and not just the effects. Recent neuroscience breakthroughs combined with yoga’s acknowledgement of the energy systems in the body creates a place where healing can begin for these trauma sufferers.
The fundamental belief is that through slower, focused movement, and heightened sensory awareness (sounds like yoga to me!), the individual can go back to the source of the trauma and actually release it where it can no longer do harm. Current research shows that trauma gets stored in the body through the neural pathways, and yoga can help us access those pathways and release the stored trauma over time. Think about following a river from the mouth of its opening, all the way to its source somewhere high up in the mountains. We are trying to find that source of trauma stored somewhere deep in our brain.
Traditional therapies focus mainly on cognitive approaches to healing trauma by examining behaviors from a standpoint of logic. However, during the traumatic event, new research has shown that the person gets “stuck” into a primitive brain processing system of either freezing (parasympathetic), or fight/flight (sympathetic), and often cannot comprehend the higher-level brain processing needed for cognitive therapy. We need to literally, and somatically re-experience the trauma from a feeling standpoint to get the trauma “unstuck” from our neural pathways. For each person, this will be a very personal and intimate re-engagement with their bodies that they need to take at their own pace. As yoga instructors, we can use a 9-step guideline presented by Dr. Peter Levine in his book “In An Unspoken Voice – How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness” to help with these efforts.
The first point that needs to be addressed when working with Warriors, or anyone who has undergone a severe trauma in their lives, is to create a sacred space. We can do that though our voice, the music, the physical environment of the studio, and by our personal connection with the student. We then move into a somatic awakening through simple movements of the body, making that mind/body connection. Also focusing on expansion and contraction of our breath (pranayama) and through the use of physical postures (asanas). Practice the use of titration, bringing in tiny doses of movement. One or two poses might be enough for some people the entire class. Offer alternatives, allowing them a choice in what they feel comfortable doing or not doing. Slow movements and simple cuing will help uncouple the fear from immobility, help discharge and regulate a high arousal state, and allow the person to self-regulate, finding relaxed alertness and dynamic equilibrium. Lastly, re-orient the person into the here and now through a constant stream of words. Prolonged silence often leads to the mind wandering into dangerous territory. Be present on the mat!
The effects of PTSD are like a roadside bomb, random, uncontrollable, and ultimately devastating to those who lie in its path of destruction. If not addressed, these recent long years at war have the power to impact multiple generations. It is only when we shine the light of truth on our own wounds that we can help shine the light on the pathway toward healing our community. FEEL TO HEAL!

About Stephani: Stephani took her first yoga class from Baron Baptiste in the late 1990’s at a local fitness convention, and immediately became hooked on yoga. She quickly incorporated several yoga classes a week into the group exercise schedule where she was working for an employee fitness center in Bethesda. After several years of watching videos and taking multiple classes on her own, she decided to pursue a yoga certification through YogaFit. Two kids, and six years later, she finally completed her 200 hour RYT in 2011, and is currently working toward her 500 hour certification. She enjoys teaching to students of all ages. While living in Michigan for the last three years, she taught yoga camps for young kids, yoga clubs for teens, yoga workshps for couples, and restorative classes for the aging population. Her favorite style is a slow vinyasa, but she has also led power yoga classes, hot yoga classes, and yoga classes with weights. Stephani currently works as a Physical Education Teacher for a local PK-8 school. When she is not playing “taxi driver” to her two kids, she enjoys gardening, reading, and walking her dogs. In addition to a monthly Teens Class, Stephani currently teaches the following classes at Allay:

Yoga for Tweens (Ages 8-11), Wednesdays, 4:30-5:30 PM

Level 1, Thursdays, 8:00-9:00 PM

Open Flow, Fridays, 9:30-10:30 AM

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