Me Too: Yoga for Trauma
Me Too: Yoga for Trauma
There is currently a "me too" campaign happening on social media where those who have been sexually harassed or assaulted are posting "me too" in order to demonstrate how widespread this problem is.
I didn't know whether to join in as it's not something that I have discussed with many people in my life. There are many people who are very close to me, friends and family, who might be surprised to see me post "me too". Then I realised that being sexually harassed is unfortunately an unhealthy and detrimental social norm. It almost seems to be a "way of life"! And many, perhaps most, women have been sexually harassed in some way. But to be sexually assaulted is another level and this campaign is picking up on everything from inappropriate wolf-whistles to repeated rape. As someone who has experienced trauma from sexual assault I feel the need to respond to this campaign with a gesture of support for those who have been deeply affected by sexual assault: a few simple tools that can help with trauma.
But, even as I write, I hesitate: what an awful way to find out that your daughter, your niece, your sister, your mate has been sexually harassed or assaulted. What if people who read this feel horrified and possibly angry that I hadn't shared the fact of this traumatic experience with them. They might feel embarrassed - shamed in association or perhaps even embarrassed that they didn't know and "should" have, or guilty that I "couldn't" or didn't tell them about it. Perhaps they would feel sympathy and want to know more, to support me and to be part of my drama.
And then I realised that my concern for these people is what has stopped me talking so openly about "it". And my concern for those who come after me - those who find themselves in a situation similar to mine, is what drives me to talk about "it".
I found support in many places: counsellors, therapists, friends, blogs, articles, books. So I am now offering up a tiny drop in the ocean to contribute to the support network for those who need support: for sexual assault, or actually any trauma. I hope that if you find yourself in a similar situation that you are able to do what feels right for you - to talk about it without shame, to pay it forward and help others or help to prevent sexual assault from being so prevalent in our society. (There are some great campaigns directly working to teach children how to respect each other, in an attempt to stamp out inequality of sexual identity or orientation.)
There are many books and articles and sources of information about how yoga can help trauma. My goal here is to offer a few exercises that are simple and easy to integrate into your everyday life. I hope these ideas may lead you to looking deeper into how yoga can help you. If you would like more information from me then please do not hesitate to get in touch with me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Yoga means "to yoke": to connect body and breath; mind and spirit; self and everything else.
When we go through trauma a common reaction is to dissociate in some way. To numb oneself either physically or emotionally; to hide behind a "smiley face" facade; or to stop being so open to human connection with friends or strangers. This is a great survival technique as it stops the pain being so overwhelming and stops us from getting into the same situation again. But as you heal, physically or emotionally, it is important to work through these mental, physical and emotional scars and allow them to heal so that you can move on with freedom, joy and peace. And you can begin to do this gently yourself with a simple Yoga practice.
By committing a simple daily physical, breathing or sitting practice, you are committing to honouring yourself. And by honouring yourself you are acknowledging your self worth. Acknowledging your self worth is the first step to loving yourself unconditionally and being able to forgive yourself, to know you deserve to be treated well and to be loved and respected. So start with a daily routine that feels right for you.
So here I advise three options that come under the Yoga umbrella. Pick one and find time to do your practice daily - EVERY DAY! Commit to yourself! Find time and space and commit to doing this at a time when you will not be disturbed. (If you have young children you might want to involve them in your new daily practice but make sure that they understand that this is "quiet time" and if you can, find time when you do this alone too.) After a week of doing your practice you might want to expand the time or introduce another one of the techniques below or other techniques that you know.
1 - Breathe
A simple breath practice can bring stillness, can reduce the "fight and flight" response and switch on the "rest and restore" functions in the body.
Try this 5-minute exercise or just try parts of it until you can build up to the whole practice:
- Be somewhere where you wont be disturbed, switch your phone to airplane mode and then put an alarm on to go off in 5 minutes (a nice gentle one - not one of those shrieky ding dong ones!!)
- Sitting comfortably with your back straight (against the back of a chair is OK if you can't sit comfortably without leaning against something) and close your eyes or gaze at a single spot.
- Notice your breath - the speed, where it moves, how it feels as it passes through your nostrils
- After a minute or so, slow your breath down and see if you can move it to different places in your body - into your shoulder, back, under-arms, side ribs, belly
- After a minute find a smooth, slow, steady rhythm with your breath, breathing deeply and fully but easefully and without any tension
- Now count your breaths - inhale 1, exhale 2, inhale 3, exhale 4, inhale 5 and so on up to 10. Then start at 1 again.
2 - Mindful Movement
A fluid and conscious movement practice every morning can really help to work out physical tensions that accumulate over night. Keep it simple and slow and really notice every movement that you do and keep the movement gentle and pain free.
- Arch and Flatten:
- Lie on your back with your knees bent
- Breathe in and dig your tailbone into the floor, making an arch under your back
- Breathe out to slowly lengthen your back muscles, spreading your back back to the floor.
- Repeat this breathing and moving very slowly
- Notice if any emotion comes up as you move. If anything comes up, acknowledge that and then slowly allow yourself to release the physical effort and let the emotional feeling dissolve with the movement.
- See here for a simple Sun Salutation flow
- If you know any Somatic exercises these are great for really bringing your awareness to your body and to allow physical and emotional tension to release. Contact me or any other Somatic Movement coach if you would like to know more about this type of physical work.
3 - Sit
Being able to sit still and meditate may sound an easy options, or it may sound daunting or boring. But the benefits of being able to sit still and start to quiet your mind are manifold.
- Make sure that you will not be disturbed and then set an alarm for your desired time. Start with just a couple of minutes and increase slowly according to your comfort.
- Find a comfortable place to sit with a straight back and close your eyes or look with a soft focus at a single spot
- Sit still and notice your breath - how it moves, how deep or shallow it is, how it feels as it passes through your nostrils
- Every time you notice the commentary that your mind creates, congratulate yourself for noticing that your mind is active and then see if you can just notice your breath - each and very breath
- If troubling thoughts come up then notice them and acknowledge them - like you would wave to friend across a busy room, and then, without pushing that thought away, allow it so sit at the other side of the room whilst you sit and notice your breath.
- This is WAY harder than it sounds so be patient and check here for more tips
The physical, mental and spiritual practice of Yoga has helped me to heal myself but it is a continuing journey and I still look to all of these practices for daily balance and healing. Yoga for me is about finding the stillness in a single moment whilst connecting past with present and future. Noticing past pains and traumas and watching myself integrate these experiences along with experiences of joy and strength and loneliness and gratitude and everything in between that makes me human and makes me me and connects me to "everything else".