Reconnecting With The Body After Trauma
By Lauren Dummit, LMFT, CSAT,
Co-Founder & Clinical Director,
Triune Therapy Group
It seems as if every week there are stories and headlines breaking the news of abuses of power at the hands of rich, famous, and powerful men. From R. Kelly to Bill Cosby, and more recently Harvey Weinstein, there is clearly a monumental amount of sexual predation taking place in the world. When allegations regarding this type of abuse come to light in Hollywood it’s followed by an avalanche of media coverage and public outcry as to how and why this abuse is able to happen. Although news around sexual assault in Hollywood garners more media attention, sexual assault is a violent epidemic that affects every type of women and men. Sexual assault and rape are traumatic experiences that affect a harrowing number of 321,500 victims in the United States per year and 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape or sexual assault in her lifetime, according to Rainn. The guilt, shame, and fear that clings to the victims following a sexual assault can result in PTSD, suicidal thoughts and/or attempts, drug use, depression, anxiety, and more debilitating symptoms.
One silver lining to the staggering reality of the magnitude of sexual assault that occurs is the support and community built through social media. Following Weinstein’s allegations, victims of sexual assault started a hashtag entitled, “#MeToo,” as a way of showcasing just how many people are affected by sexual assault. Hundreds of thousands of survivors of sexual assault have courageously posted the hashtag and some have even shared their stories in hopes of shedding light on how profound the issue of sexual assault is in the country. Although many survivors have participated in the #MeToo movement, it does not make victims who wish to keep their experience to themselves any less brave. While sharing their experience may be therapeutic and empowering for one survivor, it may be triggering and traumatic for others. Trauma from sexual assault is not something victims have to deal with alone. Luckily, there are support groups, mental health providers, and self-care practices that can be utilized to fight the trauma experienced from sexual assault.
Trauma Sensitive Yoga Therapy is one particularly effective healing modality for dealing with trauma. Trauma Sensitive Yoga Therapy was developed by David Emerson in collaboration with Bessel VanDer Kolk, the world-renowned trauma expert between 2003-2006, to treat people suffering from psychological trauma. This type of therapy is ideal for those in recovery from addiction, disordered eating, a history of childhood abuse or neglect, sexual trauma, or abusive or codependent relationships.
Trauma often manifests itself in physical characteristic as a reaction to emotional distress, dysregulation, and hypo- or hyper-arousal.
Trauma survivors often display physical characteristics as a result of a somatic reaction to emotional distress, dysregulation, and hypo- or hyper-arousal. Survivors may find that their throat constricts or their shoulders tighten as a result of experiencing trauma. Core functions of sleep, digestion, breathing, and chemical balance become disrupted. The physical body slowly becomes the enemy which can result in significant feelings of shame and other uncomfortable emotions.
During moments when a person experiences trauma, the body automatically makes a decision to protect itself. This decision could result in a fight, flight, or freeze reaction. It is easy to become trapped by a sympathetic nervous system reaction. The adaptive response can become the new normal. In addition to physical reactions to trauma, one may also experience neurological changes as well. Trauma can damage the insula, a part of the brain that registers what is happening with the body. Insula damage impedes the ability to experience joy, love, happiness, and even the very sensations of what our bodies are physically doing. After experiencing trauma, it’s common for a survivor to experience feelings of depression, anxiety, and an inability to reorient.
A trauma-sensitive yoga practice can increase connection with the breath enabling the brain to become less aroused and relaxation to begin. Yoga can rebuild connections with both the insula and prefrontal cortex, strengthening the mind-body connection. The practice can help someone regain their sense of control and ownership over their own body and their own experience.
Life after trauma can feel isolating and lonely. Trauma Sensitive Yoga provides an opportunity to be physically in sync with themselves as well as others in a comforting and safe environment. Moving in unison with fellow classmates or with an instructor can help re-establish interpersonal (and intrapersonal) rhythms. Trauma Sensitive Yoga combined with a sense of community and like-minded survivors can be a significant help during the healing process.
Trauma impacts us on many levels. It also affects one’s relation-
ships, sexuality, body image, bodily sensations, parenting, etc. Trauma Sensitive Yoga can improve sensory awareness, provide a positive body experience, and help one get in touch with their personal boundaries, develop autonomy, and help one connect with their power of choice and decide what is right for them.
Trauma Sensitive Yoga helps one to address the treatment resistant symptoms of trauma, such as physiological responses to triggers. It provides an opportunity to establish self-trust and a way to nurture oneself. In addition, it offers a safe place for one to develop healthy friendships and support system.
If you’d like more information regarding Trauma Sensitive Yoga and how it can positively benefit your life, feel free to give us a call at 310-933-4088 to learn more about our 12-Week Revive & Thrive: Yoga for Survivors group.