In trauma therapy, asana practice is a proven effective complimentary tool. Following is a letter to her therapist from Anne, a woman in her 40’s undergoing therapy for the sexual abuse she suffered as a child.
She writes: “I don’t know of all the reason that yoga (asana) terrifies me so much, but I do know that it will be an incredible source of healing for me and that is why I am working on myself to try it. Yoga is about looking inward instead of outward and listening to my body, and a lot of my survival has been geared around never doing those things. Going to class today my heart was racing and part of me really wanted to turn around, but then I just kept putting one foot in front of the other until I got to the door and went in. After the class I came home and slept for four hours. This week I tried doing yoga at home and the words came to me ‘your body has things to say.’ I said back to myself, ‘I will try and listen.'”
Given her past experience, Anne suffers from a dissociation from her body. Sexual abuse patients generally disconnect from the body which hides the guilt and shame of what they feel they caused, they detach from the body that betrayed and was unable to defend them. Furthermore, abuse patients often remain, as a protective and preventive mechanism, in the submit mode of the parasympathetic system where all feeling is numbed out as a way to deal with the attacks and the physical and emotional pain they entailed. Asana is used as a means to reconnect with the body and to the messages and information that is hidden within.
All of us, have information hidden in our bodies from past experiences. Fears, hopes or stress also find their place in various parts of the body as seen through the chakra system. Also, asanas are known to bring about joy, pleasure, sadness or fear. On the other hand, modern culture is shaped in such a way that it disconnects us from this ‘vessel’ which carries us though this life and enables us to follow a chosen path. We numb it with drugs, we starve it to be skinny, we over feed it as an escape, we reshape it, pierce it, we keep it inert as we are connected to devices or we over exert it. Asana forces us to reconnect – it forces us to stop and feel the sensations in each part of the body, to become aware, accept and work through our physical strengths or weaknesses, our flexible or non flexible areas. Asana builds a mind body connection.
As our mind tells our body what to do – “right foot forward”, “relax your head” – a ‘top down’ connection is established. This in turn opens the pathway for the ‘bottom up’ connection – so that our body can send the mind messages “That hurts, stop”, “Doing this makes me scared, breathe”, “This makes me calmer. I can use this.” and we can learn how to listen to it, and take the appropriate action to work through each issue. In trauma patients, such as Anne, just this is a tremendous step forward in recovery. For all of us it means a path to “sthira sukham asanam” – a connection to not only the earth and all other beings but also to ourselves and our body – that is steady and joyful.
– Maria Macaya