Re-Growing Our Wings: Practice Notes from 7/29
Re-Growing Our Wings: Notes from 7/29
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.
This session, Jennifer started off talking about creating a feeling of safety in the body and what happens in the vagal system in response to a trigger or traumatic occurance.
Our practice was focused on ways to create a sense of boundaries and self-trust.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 to move the sitting energy-
Option to change place in room. (You choose the boundary of your space.)
Used Orientation, to give the body cues of where it was in space via neutral sensory information.
2. Grounding. Feeling Feet. Mountain pose.
We used the yoga balls on the feet to help ground ourselves. Our feet can hold a lot of tension and have connections to every part of the body; more importantly, the feet can help us literally connect to the ground and start to move stuck energy in a gentle way that is less likely to be overstimulating.
3. Warm ups moving with the breath: Standing cat/ cows, lifting one arm and turning the head; tiny head circles, side bends, gentle twists. The poses are not what is important in this practice. At home you can experiment with what movements feel right to you. You can play with moving with your breath. The gentle rocking sensations tend to both gently release stuck energy and soothe the nervous system.
Once your nervous system gets the message that it is ok to move this way, you may find your body wants to engage more deeply. It is important to let this be different every time you practice. Sometimes you may feel yourself caught in a fight or flight place, and you may want to play with discharging the energy by feeling the muscles engage and then release. Sometimes you may feel frozen or dissociated or simply depleted. At these times, you may want to simply let the body move with the breath. The most important thing you can do with practice is to listen to the messages your body is giving you. You can trust yourself.
4. Warrior 1:
We did this pose first softly, moving with the breath, opening bent arms to the sides on the inhale and forward on the exhale. Then, some chose an active variation, maybe staying in the shape and lifting the arms and some chose to stay with the soothing variation.
5. Chair pose:
Same principles as above
6. Forward bending, moving with the breath.
Then the option to stay, perhaps with hands on the wall, blocks, legs, or floor.
7. Seated, we worked with moving the arms and shoulders. Then, some chose to stay seated and some came to hands and knees. We did cat/cow and movements of the spine side to side in either position.
8. Seated again, we did a seated twist:
9. The option was given to repeat the movements or to come to childs pose:
Or Seated cross legged forward bend.
10. Options to sit or lie down. Gentle movements for the hips.
11. Relaxation: This can be done in any position that feels most comfortable.
We practiced a body scan, just noticing body sensations in whatever amount is comfortable. We practiced relaxing.
12. The “yoga cocktail.”
The most important thing you can do with the breath is to notice it. It is crucial to never force the breath. While our lungs are indeed a link to the nervous system that we can have some control over, the body- and especially a body that has experience of trauma- can have a reaction triggered if it feels it has to fit an imposed pattern. Empower yourself by making your choices with kindness. The gentlest work here will be most powerful.
I had you notice the breath and the sensations of breathing to the degree that felt right. Then, you had the option to play with counting your inhale and exhale. Next, you could start to drink in the breath and/ or let go of the breath a little more slowly each time.
The inhalation, which stimulates the body and can bring in energy, can be lengthened a little if you feel depleted or frozen. It is very important to work slowly, as the inhale stimulates your sympathetic nervous system. Gentle is the key. One count at a time. Think slow rather than deep.
The exhalation stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and will generally calm and relax you, so it can be gradually lengthened when you feel anxious or activated.
You can also gradually draw the inhale and exhale towards evenness.
There is not a ratio or place you are supposed to get to. Your breath is a resource, and you can choose the way you are using it, and most of all listen to the way your body would like to use it.
We ended with a brief meditation, feeling and visualizing the boundary of the body.
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.
Thank you so much for sharing this practice with us.
Please feel free to contact Jen or I with any questions or comments or requests.