Yoga and Trauma

I found an article on PTSD and Yoga, which is an interview with Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk.   This article examines the importance of body oriented exercises but also talks about how one must be conscious of the feelings that occur during the practice.  Below are some quotes from inside this article.

“Trauma-sensitive people have their sense of time thrown off and think something will last forever. Their challenge is to learn how to notice what is happening and how things can and will shift, rather than running away or turning to alcohol or drugs to self-medicate.” Dr. Bessel Van der KolkI included the above quote because it reminded me of something a therapist once told me.  She said that I should feel the pain and experience it.  What comes up for you?  Often in our society we think we need to get rid of the pain by using medications over the counter and others choose to find an outlet with drugs or alcohol.  Our pain is telling us something.  If we can work through it with a mental health professional, at some point down the line there will be answers.  The answers will allow you to begin being able to live your life with more comfort.


“If we meditate regularly, this can modulate the fear center and help us be more focused. However, if you are traumatized, being in silence is often terrifying. Memory of trauma is stored, so when you are stilled, demons come out. Those with PTSD should first learn to regulate their physiology with breath, postures and relaxation and work toward meditation.” Dr. Bessel Van der KolkI included this quote above because I have often had clients ask me about meditation because they have had issues getting started, when they have been trauma survivors.  I did not have a good answer until now.  It makes a lot of sense that if one is exposed to trauma, shutting the eyes would cause us to be afraid.  This is why working with the breath in somatic psychotherapy can be a good starting point.  The other idea is to practice yoga, as mentioned in this article, in a safe place, with a teacher who is sensitive to the needs of students.  Generally speaking yoga is taught in a safe place with a teacher who is well-trained or has good intuition.  Though what is safe to me and what is safe to you, are two different things.  I have been in wonderful environments with yoga teachers I did not feel were sensitive.  If the teacher does not work for you, it won’t feel safe.  I have also listened to audio tapes of teachers during a yoga class and while I thought the voice was very interesting another girl in the room felt threatened and frightened by his voice.

Trauma is not the same for everyone.  It might be the same event but it effects everyone differently.  An example is 9/11 and how you reacted versus the way some of your friends did.  I am sure people, as a whole, in NYC will have various feelings that come up that are much different from people in California.  But at the same time there could have been someone in California with a family member in the WTC that would have just as intense feelings as someone living in NYC nearby.  It really all depends on the bigger picture.

Nonetheless, yoga and other types of body-oriented exercises are very important to practice for anyone but it can be a form of therapy for the trauma survivor.  Somatic support will help nurture the body and will encourage healing.


One thought on “Yoga and Trauma

  1. I can empathize with the point about silence bringing out the “demons”. Also it is difficult to turn all the ideas off long enough to get to silence. Going for the physical relaxation first sound like a good idea. Thanks.

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