Written in the body
At some point in our lives we experience trauma. An event that overwhelms us and during its happening our bodies freeze, we are unable to respond with our normal skill set of words, actions and strategies.
In survival mode we may fight or flee trauma but also in our most basic survival ‘being’ we freeze. The act, the history of the trauma not only creates a memory, it is also left in our body. It becomes written there. We are left with ongoing symptoms and physical reactions to the event.
There is no hierarchy to what we find traumatic; from the tangible trauma of an accident or attack, to the powerlessness of a child trapped in a dentist chair, to flying consumed with fear but silent in embarrassment. The trauma women experience through childbirth when their lack of support leaves them without a voice, within a birth state which inhibits cognition and self-advocacy. Even when there is an opportunity to reason and to cognitively explain, a memory, a shadow of varying hues remains in the body. Written in shapes of tension within our frame, in the response of our breath and heartbeat to the mirror of smells and sights that reflect and echo the trauma.
It can feel like it’s ongoing effects come from no where, that we are stuck. A separateness and dislocation from ourselves occurs. Healing from trauma goes beyond thinking and talking it through. Along side talking therapies the experience can be reintegrated and disempowered by finding a safe way to work with the body. With support, when we return home to our bodies, move and unravel from the shapes that trauma leaves in our muscles and in the way we hold our frame, we can provide a pathway to healing that goes beyond words. We can create safe incremental opportunities to work and release the traumatic energy from our bodies so that the replaying and the symptoms left in our body lessen. We find a pathway to re-becoming whole.
We become friends once more with the body that to survive froze, was passive and overwhelmed. Where we were squashed we can re open and reclaim the space our bodies wanted to occupy. We can re-establish boundaries that were blurred or lost. Not as a project to be fixed, but as a body a person, full of continued growth. By finding the language of movement and breathing, reclaiming awareness and connection to our body through yoga we can grow from the trauma. Through finding the right asana practice, we can find connection to our bodies, slowly, without being overwhelmed. Through meditations on gratitude and forgiveness, especially self-forgiveness, if we feel we did not protect ourselves and can not understand why we froze, we can learn to be re-present in the now. The toxicity of fear and anger can leave the body.
Self love teaches us to normalise trauma that it happens not to us alone, we are not singled out. Yoga offers an approach to personal integration, a safe unfolding space where we can sit with feelings and sensations to allow them to mature from the body. It is the opposite of relooping the trauma it is about becoming fully present to now.
The opposite of reliving; in this moment, now, I am alive, I am whole. Yoga can give you the tools to become unstuck from where you were and allow and guide that part of you to time travel into the present. We can soften the armour we created, we can give stability to the boundaries that we lost. Through practice in time, we can enjoy being in our bodies without distraction and welcome stillness in our thoughts so that we can really begin to notice where we are. Safe and sound.
As a teacher I work to teach what I know as it applies to you, as an individual. When I support people through yoga my own experience gives me skills but it does not occupy your space. Observation and listening to you can only occur deeply when the space we share is not about me, so I offer my following experience to break down barriers of feeling alone in trauma and to offer some light for you if sitting within your body sometimes feels dark.
I have lived beyond traumatic events, one of which was diagnosis and recovery from breast cancer. These have shaped my practice on the mat and my teaching. They are the story of who I am. Reflecting on the latter experience with distance I now find intriguing and sometimes use elements of it as signposts with those I work with. During diagnosis and treatment from cancer I was resilient, focused and in every cancer cliché ‘strong’. I was in fight mode even though I find analogies to battling breast cancer incongruous. Cancer was my body gone wrong. I was never battling myself. I was fighting the fear of illness and death and it’s impact for my family and my children. Following a mastectomy, When treatment finished and the prognosis couldn’t have been better, after an initial euphoria I became undone. The physical trauma of amputation, treatment and the emotional trauma of fearing death had left their story in my body and in my actions. The reality of the level of what I had experienced could only now find a safe space to unfold. What was frozen now began to thaw. Your body and mind protects you and gives you healing in stages, when you are ready. I at times felt irrationally angry and exhausted. holding the experience I was able to unravel and heal through movement, breathing and meditation on my mat. I could make friends again with my changed body and my changed expectations for mortality. I am for ever grateful to the years of yoga practice prior to this that gave me the skills and language to heal in this most integrated way. It’s interesting to look back at a poem I wrote during this time I had a dream and I wrote a poem about it, about how the body tries to talk to the mind about what it experiences about hurt but also about healing. We just have to create the space to listen.
it’s not missing I know where it’s gone
I was just sleeping on it’s exit
A part parted but still whole
It’s not my body that has changed but my soul’s framework
The rawness is a gift and a monster of mortality
I dreamt about my part
I dreamt and felt it’s weight separated
I saw the bin
I felt the weight in her hand as she lifted it to the steel vessel
In my waking I do not mourn it’s missing
And yet when I dream my body talks to my mind
It talks of being immobile
My body tries to retell
My visible missing a legacy of reminding