Yoga’s multi-dimensional approach can be a powerful tool for healing trauma and there is growing scientific research to support this. Yoga helps us to reconnect with our body, which is an essential part of the healing process for anybody healing from trauma. It also builds capacity to nurture self-compassion- fundamental for trauma survivors who experience chronic feelings of shame and worthlessness.
The word trauma comes from the Greek word for wound and is a very frightening or distressing event that can be life threatening or be perceived as life threatening to physical or psychological wellbeing. Experiences of trauma can include childhood abuse and neglect, sexual assault and rape, intimate partner violence, experiences of war and torture, chronic homelessness, chronic physical illnesses, natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, car and fire accidents and can be experienced as a single or re-occurring event. Trauma experiences that have not been processed, or integrated into our physical, psychological and emotional landscape can have an intrusive impact on daily life. Some of the impacts of trauma include: difficulty sleeping, feeling agitated, anxious or depressed, difficulty concentrating and being around large groups of people, self-hate and worthlessness, feeling emotionally and physically numb, intrusive thoughts, nightmares, self-harm and a misuse of substances such as alcohol and drugs and prescription medications.
The Autonomic Nervous System and the Brain
To understand how yoga can assist in trauma recovery we need to understand how trauma- particularly how complex trauma affects the body. The best place to start is to understand the autonomic nervous system.
The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) consists of two branches – the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS). The SNS is responsible for triggering the flight or flight response when the body senses and perceives danger. The SNS moves blood to the muscles for quick action, partly triggered by the adrenal glands to release adrenaline, which increases the heart rate and increase blood pressure in response to danger.
The part of the brain that is responsible for alerting us to what is dangerous or what is safe is the amygdalla.
Internationally acclaimed trauma expert, psychiatrist and author Bessel van der Kolk in his book, “The body keeps the score” likens the amygdalla to a smoke detector. “The central function of the amygdalla, which I call the brain’s smoke detector, is to identify whether incoming input is relevant for our survival….if the amygdalla senses a threat…it sends an instant message down the hypothalamus and brain stem, recruiting the stress hormone system and the ANS to orchestrate a whole body response” (pg 60). The amygdalla’s danger signal releases stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline preparing the body to either run or fight back. When it recognises that the danger is over the body returns to normal. This is the job of the PNS. The PNS releases acetylcholine that calms arousal by relaxing muscles, slowing down the heart rate and returning breathing back to a normal rhythm. The PNS is essential for self-preservation, digestion, rest and wound healing.
In complex trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder the body and its physiology get stuck and the ANS becomes imbalanced. The amygdalla becomes hyperactive and starts reacting like it’s in constant danger. In response to this the body continues to secrete stress hormones, which leave a person in a hyper-aroused state. When the body thinks it’s in constant danger the risk of misinterpreting whether a situation is dangerous or safe becomes blurred.
One way to calm down the amygdalla is to strengthen the pre-frontal cortex of the brain. Van der Kolk refers to the pre-frontal cortex as the “watchtower”. The pre-frontal cortex enables people to observe what is going on and then predict and make conscious choices about what it observes. In trauma this system breaks down and becomes imbalanced making it challenging to control emotions and impulses. This is the part of the brain that is most affected by trauma.
On the most basic level, yoga gives people an opportunity to release tension in muscles that are chronically tight from the body’s constant feeling of danger- always alert to every sound in the room, every movement in the room.
With practice yoga helps us to reclaim a connection to our body, which increases opportunities to experience ourselves viscerally. To be able to feel muscles contract or extend or to feel our feet on the ground is an extremely important part of the healing process for those people who have become numb to feeling or for those who experience dissociation in an attempt to survive.
Yoga postures provide opportunities to explore mindfulness as postures help us remain connected to the present by focussing the mind’s attention completely in the body. Yoga postures cultivate an ability to observe sensations in the body and to become familiar with those sensations that evoke discomfort. By holding a posture we learn that discomfort can be tolerated and momentary and does come to an end. This is a powerful experience for those trapped in the memory of trauma. Mindfulness puts us in touch with our moment –to- moment ever-changing nature of our feelings and emotions. Van der Kolk notes that, “When we pay focussed attention to our body sensations we can recognise our emotions and with that increase our control over them.”
One of the core practices of yoga is breath awareness. Paying particular attention to the breath helps us experience the immediacy of the present moment. Mindful breathing techniques regulate breathing, activate the parasympathetic nervous system and calm the mind. Breathing techniques can be a powerful self-soothing tool for regulating heightened emotional states. Van der Kolk also notes that a growing body of research is showing that activities like yoga, meditation and mindfulness allows you to deeply access the “watchtower”. Research is showing that as little as one hour of yoga once a week over a period of eight weeks has shown thickening of the pre-frontal cortex. For more information about cutting edge research into the effects of meditation and yoga on brain activity and changes in brain structure check out Dr Sarah Lazar.
The body becomes the enemy because of the sense of helplessness, lack of control and self-blame felt during the time of the trauma. As the body’s physiology begins to be restored we come to slowly befriend the body. Reclaiming a loving connection to the body is central to the healing process and has a profound effect on our physical and emotional wellbeing. Developing self-compassion is the key to reconnecting to our body in a loving way.
Yoga is the ultimate practice for cultivating self-compassion because its teachings reveal that our innate inner essence is unconditional love and acceptance. Yoga calls this the True Self. Some western talking therapies like Internal Family Systems Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy often draw on a concept of a Self that is separate to our feelings and experiences. The True Self in yoga is both transcendent and immanent and is unaffected by our life story- it sits beyond our feelings, emotions and experiences and yet it contains them all! The True Self feels and holds and embraces the good, the bad and the ugly with total unconditional acceptance and love. Yoga teaches us that it is only when we move towards difficult sensations, emotions, feelings and memories with total openness and compassion that they begin to loose the power they hold over us.
If we can find our way to the True Self through practice and time we slowly unveil a deeper layer within our being that stands stronger than our life experiences and the emotional currents of our mind.
Yoga affirms that we are much bigger than the events that have taken place in our life. When we allow the armour of our heart that has ensured our survival up until now, to gradually crack open, a whole new desire to care and deeply know ourselves unfolds.
A practice for activating the parasympathetic nervous system
I return to the innate wisdom of my body to heal itself. I remain in restful awareness
You may choose to record this brief practice so that you can immerse yourself into it more easily.
Eleni Kidis is a certified Iyengar Yoga teacher and certified Amrit Method Yoga Nidra teacher. She is also a social worker/counsellor and provides private yoga sessions for trauma survivors. She is the founder of Yogahari Healing Art and will be running a 5 – week Restoring Balance Course for trauma recovery and mental wellbeing. Restoring Balance begins Saturday 5th November 2016.
For bookings please visit: yogahari.com.au or 0403 774 410
There’s so many people out there struggling with their sleep each and every night. And I’m not talking about parents of babies, toddlers or young children (though no doubt they would love a full night of sleep, but their situation is relatively temporary). I’m talking about people who either find it difficult to get to sleep, find it difficult to stay asleep or generally wake up without feeling refreshed – how sleep is meant to make you feel.
Last year, I was involved in a study with seven of my colleagues titled “An investigation into the efficacy of Professional Kinesiology Practice in improving the quality and quantity of sleep”. The study consisted of 67 people, 60 of whom completed 6-day sleep diaries before and after 3 kinesiology sessions that were specifically aimed at improving their sleep. The results were a 16% increase in the number of hours sleep each night, a 19% improvement on the self-rated quality of sleep and a 39% reduction in the number of times woken on average. These results came after just 3 to 3.5 hours of kinesiology with each person. Imagine what another few hours could achieve!
Personally, I’ve only had one instance of having sleep difficulties and that was when I went through topical steroid withdrawal a few years back. It was horrible to not be able to sleep and then trying to function at work, that was just hard work. So I can absolutely empathise with those who struggle with sleep. That aside my only problem with sleep was that my hours were all wonky. Going to bed at 2am and (when possible) getting up at 10am or later would be my ultimate day! Only I have a child and sleeping until 10am is just not possible, so I just wasn’t allowing myself enough sleep.
Recently I’ve been doing a great deal of research on circadian rhythms – otherwise known as your body clock – and their impact on healing. And for the last few months, I have been making a huge effort to reset some of my bad habits. You see, I’m a night owl – through and through. I love to sit up and work in the wee hours of the morning, the time that I have just to myself, feeling like the whole world is asleep except me (and the rest of the world on the other side of the globe of course). Oh the things I would get done! I would read, explore, research and be entertained. I would usually be freezing cold, but that’s what my trusty little heater would be good for.
But now I have changed. And the catalyst for my change was my child’s swimming teacher. She gets up at 5am… every day. Probably a habit she formed as a youngster who was in the pool at the crack of dawn. Then each night, she’s in bed by 9pm. And that was all fine and well for her, but when she discovered that I was often awake around 2am, she said the words that any health practitioner dreads, “Oh my goodness, but that is so unhealthy!”. She was right, of course, which is why the discomfort it caused me was so… unsettling.
So I’ve now made a very conscious effort to:
By taking these steps, I’m resetting my circadian rhythm to be more like humans were meant to be! And my skin is improving as a result. Evolution takes so much longer than a few generations (seriously, a lot LOT longer) and to think that my habits were good for me was just… wrong. So as I’m trying this out on myself for healing purposes, I am also advising some of my sleep-lacking clients to do the same and the results have been very positive. Perhaps I should be setting up another study on sleep? Interested??
Written by Phillipa Huynh. Phillipa is a kinesiologist working at Prana House who teaches you how to make your life ‘fit’ again. Previously working for 12 years in the corporate world, Phillipa knows all too well how stress can affect you and works with you to give you the tools to face life’s challenges head on and bring about a sense of balance. Phillipa also loves teaching you how to integrate meditation into your day seamlessly. You can contact Phillipa by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Finding constant tension in your body? It’s all in the Fascia!
What is Fascia and how do we release it?
Do you find yourself sitting at your desk with a stiff neck, or feeling unusually tight after a good dose of exercise from the day before? Myofascial release can help ease these tensions within your body.
Myofascial Release (MFR) is a specialised manual therapy used for the effective treatment and rehabilitation of muscular and fascial tension and restrictions. ‘Myo’ means muscle and ‘fascia’ means band. In other words, fascia is a spiderweb-like covering that surrounds muscle, organs, tendons and bones throughout the body. It has the ability to contract and relax, and plays a major role in the stability and mobility of joints. Through physical and emotional trauma, and things like poor posture and repetitive movements, the fascia can get ‘stuck’ around the muscles and joints causing dysfunction with the bodies natural movements.
So, what is it? MFR is a series of skin rolling, gliding and stretching techniques used on the muscles to help dislodge these adhesion’s, improving the bodies movement. It suits a wide range of issues, from recovering from an injury, bad posture from work (or play!) or if your finding certain movements aren’t performing at their best. I myself have increased my range of motion and improved my posture in my neck and shoulders with MFR, through regular treatments and by doing self-myofascial release exercises. Using a foam roller is a self-myofascial release technique you can do at home in-between treatments for a broader effect, however having regular massage treatments every 3-4 weeks, this technique can target your more problem areas.
It is one of my favourite techniques to use during a massage treatment due to its ability to be used with a broad range of issues, so come experience the benefits for yourself at Miranda Cathryn Massage Therapy.
Written by Miranda Wong. Miranda is a Remedial Massage Therapist who is now treating at Prana House. She provides holistic massage treatments, treating the mind and body, mixing remedial with relaxation techniques to get the best results. Reflexology treatments are also available to help relieve tension within the body through the pressure points on the feet. She is a member of the Australian Association of Massage Therapists (AAMT) and registered with most private health insurers for remedial massage rebates.
Recently I read about some research that found “fear, all on its own, triggers more than 1,400 known physical and chemical responses and activates more than 30 different hormones”. And I couldn’t help but laugh to myself. That’s a pretty horrible response, right? But I laughed because so many people don’t believe that emotions have such a huge impact on your life. I understand that most of you reading this have well and truly grasped this concept, perhaps even many, many years ago. But so many of us have been laughed at for believing such mind-over-matter ‘voodoo’.
Yet it is those of us who have taken the art of caring for our minds as well as our bodies who are thriving. We may still be perfecting our individual artwork, but we are aware that this journey is ongoing. We are aware that when we are having a tough time working through the confused mess, the irrational irritability, the frustration from left field and the whirlwind of emotions, we are wise enough to ask for help. Help to get us back on our path to our own self-discovery again.
So what sets us apart? I believe it is our ability to identify when our mind has become toxic. Not completely toxic, just the junk that has snuck into your Saturday night that has started to invade Sunday morning as well. When you are thinking clearly, allowing your mind to expand, not having judgement based on past patterning or issues you have an amazing ability to grow as a person. You also have a clearer understanding as to why eating foods YOUR body needs and exercising how YOU benefit is fundamental to the healthy triangle of mind, body, spirit.
We can’t always be on top of our game of course and not every area of our mind can become toxic. But occasionally we need to reflect and check in to ensure we are being true to our very best selves. Internal dialogue such as self doubt, self criticism can lead to anxiety, overwhelm and frustration quickly, the same way that physical toxic build-up can occur – usually starting small and then becoming significant enough to affect our lives each day.
So how can you conquer the toxins in your mind? Here are a few tips I give my clients:
Catch yourself. Identifying when you actually doubt or criticise yourself is a good first step in making change. You might be surprised at how often you are having negative thoughts about yourself or your actions.
Question yourself. Is what you are thinking about actually true? Or is it the result of a deep fear you have? Is it a long held belief system at play? Question every facet of the thought you are having and nut out if it really is justified. More often than not, you can replace the thought with a better thought that shifts the energy significantly.
Forgive yourself. Don’t take this one lightly. When someone on my table is given permission to forgive himself or herself, it generally leads to an outpouring of emotion. You are human. And humans are allowed to make mistakes. YOU are allowed to make mistakes. Stop being so hard on yourself. Right here, right now.
These 3 steps can really start to transform the way you think and eliminate those nasty toxins from your life. You just have to practice them enough until it becomes natural to you. So what are you waiting for?
Written by Phillipa Huynh. Phillipa is a kinesiologist working at Prana House who teaches you how to make your life ‘fit’ again. Previously working for 12 years in the corporate world, Phillipa knows all too well how stress can affect you and works with you to give you the tools to face life’s challenges head on and bring about a sense of balance. Phillipa has teamed up with Prana House Naturopath, Erika Wiseman, to bring you the program: “Detox or Not Tox” during September 2016. You can contact Phillipa by emailing email@example.com
Our Amrit Yoga Teacher Training begins September 26th, and we wanted to share with you why we think it’s so special (to say the least!)
What is Amrit Yoga? To put it simply, Amrit Yoga is Meditation in Motion; a practice where you are guided through a dynamic asana sequence and mindful meditation simultaneously. It is a practice which offers the perfect platform for deep transformation.
Each class begins by exploring yogic philosophy uncovering areas of unconscious patterns, followed by the experience of uniting as a purposeful group in meditation in motion. The deeper & subtler inner dimensions of yoga are revealed as shifts in consciousness & healing are experienced. Witness consciousness is used as a primary tool to experience the rich tapestry of sensations in your body which progressively guide you deeper to states of absorbing inner stillness. Here, the entrapments of mind lose their power and the space of Being arises as a pure potential. This sublime prana (energy) based practice is grounded by dynamic postures, breath work & consciousness, merging form & formless to create something special, beautiful and unique for each individual.
Julie Gargano is the the Founding Director of Prana House and also a Pioneer of Amrit Yoga in Australia. She has been fortunate to be trained directly by Yogi Amrit Desai and she masterfully embodies the depth & energetic qualities of this lineage’s fine teachings. Julie’s classes offer the practitioner an opportunity to consider more than just the physical world and physical practice, but rather a deeper world and truer understanding of what exists in and around us all. Fortunately, Julie shares her knowledge and love for this sublime practice through not only courses and classes, but also in Teacher Trainings; so that we can continue sharing the wisdom and love that comes from the roots and lineage of Amrit Yoga.
Amrit Yoga explores the subtler, deeper and transformative dimensions of yoga which are not commonly practiced today. What we call yoga has become popular but what is yoga is not popular. To truly be experiencing yoga is to enter integrated states of your being through both movement and stillness. To become integrated as we perform postures, is a process of removing the modifications of mind through reaction, comments, judgements and pre-programmed conditioning and to step into the ‘yoga zone’. It takes a conscious entry into the non doing, non mental parts of your being where both movement and stillness occur simultaneously.
Amrit Yoga carefully & systematically takes you from thinking & doing to feeling and being, where you are no longer performing yoga postures like a gymnast, but rather you have entered an integrated state where your postures, in combination with witness consciousness, merge into a state of unified Presence. Amrit Yoga combines Hatha & Raja Yoga together where you move from the ‘posture of ego’ to the ‘posture of consciousness’. It is a rich and sustaining approach to yoga where it will serve every level of your being far beyond the yoga mat, assisting you in living consciously.
Built on authentic yoga teachings, the Amrit Method has enormous relevancy for today’s world. This unique approach to yoga transforms philosophy into a living reality that will take you to the direct experience of integration. It can empower you as never before, enabling you to manage your thoughts and emotions, and initiating deep and lasting transformation that will forever change your understanding of your Self and your relationships with others. The trainings offer you the opportunity to learn masterful techniques while you gain the knowledge and confidence to share these teachings with others.
Whether you are already a practitioner of hatha yoga or are just beginning your yoga journey, the Amrit Method of Yoga offers a dimension of yoga training you won’t find anywhere else. Because it is easily accessible and adaptable to different levels of strength and ability, it is ideal for spiritual seekers, health and therapy professionals, and teachers of any style of hatha yoga and meditation.
Amrit Yoga embodies grace & bliss, strength & fluidity, form & formless and is innovative in serving the deeper meaning of yoga and the deeper qualities of you.
Click the Play button below to hear more about Amrit Yoga from Kamini Desai. You can also visit the Amrit Yoga Teacher Training page on our website for more information or click here to download the full prospectus.
For monthly updates on Prana House yoga, wellness, events and courses sign up to our mailing list. Also, follow us on Instagram @prana_house for other fun things!