Re-Growing Our Wings: Practice Notes from Yoga for Healing Trauma 6/24

Re-Growing Our Wings: Yoga for Healing Trauma practice notes and basic concepts

Thank you so much to those of you who joined Jen and I this Sunday. It was wonderful to have you in the room. We both loved the integrity and thoughtfulness you brought into the room, and we felt honored to be there with you.
Here is a link to Jennifer’s info on the nuts and bolts of the way the bodymind system experiences trauma:

The basics of practice:
1.    Honoring the individual. 
You are a unique human, not a cluster of symptoms or a cookie cutter! What works for each person will be completely different in their needs from the person next to them. Investigate to see what works for you. You are already whole. We are seeking ways that you can have access to feeling that wholeness, not dictating a shape for your body to fit.

2.    Honoring the messages of the body.
This practice allows us to connect the parts of us that feel fragmented back into a sense of dialogue. For those of us who have experienced trauma, this can be complicated. The first precept in the 8 Limbs of Yoga outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is the concept of Ahimsa, translated as non-violence or non-harming. I like to think of it as the creation of peace, and as the creation of gentleness. If we can approach ourselves with the same tenderness and gentleness as we would a child, an animal, or a plant that we love, (to paraphrase master meditation teacher Thich Nhat Hanh), we will have mastered the most crucial part of the practice.

That is not to say this is easy! For many of us, bringing the mind into the body can be difficult and even excruciating. If this is so for you, you are not alone. Do not use force. Simply give yourself permission to feel whatever it is you are feeling, and also to take breaks. Every day will be different.

You may feel messages from your bodysystem in the form of sensation, or in symptoms you recognize. It is crucial to pay attention. Sometimes these messages are to stop or back off. Sometimes to stay with it or experiment. Those of us who may experience symptoms related to trauma can have a hard time trusting our signals for many possible reasons. We may have been talked out of our instincts or lost touch with them due to an extended freeze state. Or we may get extra fear messages, for example, where we respond to a safe stimulus as though it is a threat. Listen anyway. This way we can understand that the adaptations or systems made to the trauma had a purpose and are not because we are broken but because as Jen said, we are adaptive. Once we can stay with that listening and our bodysystem trusts that we will keep listening, we start to have more choices about our reactions.

3.    Resources
In practice, we are seeking resources that work for us as individuals. A resource is a tool we can use to meet our triggers with so that we can heal our nervous system’s response to a trigger or a traumatic situation.
Generally, we want to meet ourselves where we are and then shift into more balance. For example, if our system is revved up and ready to flee or fight, it is possible that settling into a restorative pose, for example, will be impossible. So we can choose to find an action to release the energy first. Then we can gradually move to a calmer state. If we feel very disoriented in a form of dissociation, we could do some slow movements with breath to gently draw ourselves back to our bodies and then ground ourselves.

A.    Boundaries and Choice
Sometimes establishing a conscious boundary with a physical manifestation can give us the cue that we are safe enough to let go of the trigger response. In class, I invited you to choose and change your space in the room. Later, I invited you to close or open your eyes to let in the amount of visual stimulation that felt right. Through the practice I provided choice and reminders to follow your own cues. Another way of giving yourself a sense of a boundary is to engage your muscles and release them. We did this in some of the poses when we held them and used muscle resistance and then released.

The next 4 resources are using the language drawn from Hala Khouri and Kyra Haglund, although the concepts appear in most yoga approaches to healing trauma:

B.    Orienting
Orienting is simply using your senses to take in what is present physically here and now. At any time, you can stop, look around you and take in what is there. Noticing physical details of the present can help release a trigger response.

C.    Grounding
Grounding is literally inviting ourselves back to earth. Orienting can help. Standing or pressing your feet into the ground, swaying a little to feel the connection to the earth, are simple ways of grounding. Standing poses also tend to be grounding. Restorative, supported poses can be grounding if the position feels right to you and the stillness feels safe. We did work with the feet on the yoga balls as a grounding tool.

D.    Centering
When we become aware of our center of gravity in the belly we are centering. We can do this with awareness, and also with learning to engage the core muscles in a balanced way. In yoga, as we learn to draw strength though the body’s midline, we can begin to let go of the chronic holding in places like the shoulders and hips. As we begin to feel stronger at center and trust the ability of our core to “catch” us, we may begin to find that we don’t need to wear as much armor- except when we choose to put it on. I like to imagine all the threads that are pulling energy from me into other things are winding into my own center.

E.    Breath
Breath is one of the most powerful resources we have. The most important way to work with the breath is awareness. Sometimes the breath can be hard to feel, or being still to feel the breath can be triggering. Often moving with the breath can be more accessible and grounding. This can be very simple, an arm or a finger moving. The rocking movements that evolve out of moving with the breath tend to be calming to the nervous system. 

Breath tells us how we are using our energy. It is important never to force the breath to change but to invite it to gradually shift. 

The exhalation tends to calm the nervous system, and is the process of letting go and releasing. The inhalation is stimulating, and also the process of receiving and creating space.

Ok so what did we do?
This is a basic outline:

1.    Stood up because we had been sitting. To ground. Then used orientation.
2.    Choosing space. Some of you moved to another place.
3.    Grounding. Feeling feet. Mountain pose.
4.    Simple somatic movements with arms and neck, breathing and moving.
5.    Feet on yoga balls.
6.    Simple soft somatic variations of standing poses
Examples: Chair pose with arm movements


                    Warrior 1 pose with arm movements

8. Warrior.jpg


7.    Seated poses. (I might usually start and or/ end seated but with this group, it felt like settling the energy we began to release from the first standing poses would be best before standing again.)
Some examples:
Seated  spine and arm movements and gentle twisting and head movements:


(Generally, we want to twist with the exhale.)

8.Then we came back to stand for more active variations of standing poses as possibilities with possible holds:
Warrior 1
Warrior 2:


Extended Side Angle:




Standing poses are grounding and can also help open the muscles that restrict the breath. Connecting to and using the feet also centers us.

9. We did a simple forward bend at the wall to relax the back: (this figure’s hands are on the ground, which is fine; we used the wall to feel a little more stability.


10. Then an optional restorative, supported pose to calm and ground.
Some chose cross-legged forward bend (I encourage pillows or bolsters so you can feel fully supported- (our stick figure is propless)




 or supported Child’s pose:


Relaxation can be as brief as you need. You can be in any position you like. Lying down on you back or your belly works well for some, but sitting and even standing are also possibilities. If it feels right, you can cover with a blanket.
You can choose to close your eyes, or keep them open, maybe finding a point to focus on. You can also try half closed. This is another boundary you can create- what feels right? What gives you the sense of most safety?
To the degree that feels right for this moment, play with scanning your body and simply noticing whatever sensations are present. There is no way you are supposed to feel- see if you can let yourself be as you are and stay with that.

Breath: The most important thing is your awareness. If it feels right, you can gently begin to simply let go of the exhale a little more slowly each time. One way to deepen the breath without forcing is to see if you can savor it a little, like the feeling of drinking water when you are thirsty.

It is important to ground and orient yourself during practice, between poses and especially afterward.
We stood to orient and ground.

This is the poem by Rumi I read you:

Expecting the worst, you look, and instead,
Here’s the joyful face you’ve been wanting to see.
Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes.
If it were always a fist or always stretched open,
You would be paralyzed.
Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding.
The two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as birdwings.
—- Rumi

Thank you so much for sharing this practice with us!

Deborah KingComment