In late July, I had the privilege of offering an interactive Zoom webinar: “Inspired Yoga as Trauma Informed Care: Yoga practice as a tool for healing, empowerment and self-care” for human service workers, survivors of trauma, and other advocates supporting people’s wellness. There’s no doubt that these times call for all of us to dig deep to find inner resources and resilience to support us through these challenging days.
While I’m happy to offer my own insights and story of how yoga helped me, as a survivor, reclaim an embodied presence in my life, (reduce numbing, disassociation, find more joy, etc.) I’m also mindful that these practices are not “mine” to offer. They belong to an ancient lineage of humanity with ancestral roots in the Global South. The wisdom traditions of the East, where ancient scholars of life developed the first Yogic teachings and traditions, must be acknowledged with gratitude, for the invaluable oral traditions, instructive writings, and generations of spiritual instructions, teachings and disciples who’ve inspired countless students (yogis) over centuries of time.
For me, one of the most humbling teachings is not simply the asanas (postures) that bring us greater awareness of our whole selves in this present moment- helping us to be grounded and aligned in our Highest Self. Equally instructive is the study and attention to the Four Immeasurables or Divine Virtues and the intentions of each. This practice “off the mat” teaches me as much about “being present” and whole as asana practice helps my body to be strong and flexible. Each of these “immeasurables”: Maitri (Loving kindness), Karuna (Compassion) Mudita (Joy in another’s success) Upeksha (Equanimity) offer an invitational meditation of their own.
Asana practice is a preparation for meditation. As such these postures call us to connect to our breath and our presence of Being. The power of breath and of meditation allows us to more deeply know ourselves as human beings, instead of human doings (always striving to achieve, excel, produce, or consume). How often do we catch ourselves holding our breath as we strive to make it through a stressful activity? Attending to this pattern of holding back our breath, becoming aware and allowing ourselves to experience a deep breath at that moment, might be just the thing to bring us greater ease in coping with any experience that disrupts our breathing flow.
Much has been written about survivor testimonials and clinical studies demonstrating how effects of trauma can be mitigated through yoga asana practice. (see links below)
The physical postures and focus on mindful breathing helps us to relax, re-center ourselves, and thereby, cope better with stress and anxiety. What the teachings beyond the poses can illuminate further is that we are not alone with these struggles for balance and alignment and each of us can continue to learn from these ancient teachings. They shine a light on what it means to be fragile beings in an ever-changing, unpredictable world. And what better time than now to practice these teachings, both on and off the mat!
Yoga means to unite, to join, to balance from the Sanskrit root, yuj. What more critical time to come to balance and to unite as humans than now, during the concurrent pandemics of corona virus and white supremacy backlash towards a global cry for respect and honor of Black lives? Our need for solidarity as humans together, joined to repair and renew our relationship with Earth and each other, and to balance our individual and collective needs as sensitive beings on a diverse living planet filled with myriad lifeforms, has never been greater. Perhaps ancient indigenous teachings such as those whose resilience has endured colonialism, genocide and terrorism are key to not only our survival, but a multidimensional roadmap to finding inner peace, and sacred right to bodily integrity and our fullest Highest Selves.