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How Yoga Heals Trauma

It's doesn't just affect Domestic Violence victims and soldiers with PTSD. Everyone has experienced some type of trauma they would do well to process and release. Trauma is defined according to, as a psychological, emotional response to an event or an experience that is deeply distressing or disturbing.

As a former social worker and domestic violence/rape hotline volunteer who overcame an abusive relationship, I started practicing yoga while doing this work, and I can attest to how yoga became a powerful element in healing trauma for myself and those with whom I've worked. Over the past 19 years of teaching yoga-- and especially the last five since focusing on yoga therapeutics-- I encountered many others who shared their stories and confirmed my view.

For me, the lure of yoga was that it has always brought me back to balance when I dealt with my own trauma or that of others.

"When I attended my first class close to thirteen years ago, it was in a difficult place in my life," said my former student Laura. "Having recently lost my mother to cancer and trying to cope with every day life, I was trying to find some sort of peace and stability. Yoga helped me find that."

Did you know that there is actual science to back up the use of yoga for trauma recovery?

Bessel van der Kolk, MD, is a clinical psychiatrist whose work attempts to integrate mind, brain, body and social connections to understand and treat trauma. He is the author of The Body Keeps the Score, which examines how trauma affects the brain and body, and looks at a variety of treatments, including yoga.

van der Kolk states, "Our studies show that yoga is equally as beneficial—or more beneficial—than the best possible medications in alleviating traumatic stress symptoms. In the studies we did involving neuroimaging of the brain before and after regular yoga practice, we were able to show that the areas of the brain involving self-awareness get activated by doing yoga, and those are the areas that get locked out by trauma and that are needed in order to heal it."

In a recent talk at Kripalu Retreat Center, van der Kolk said, [those who become stuck in their trauma] End up with their heads in the clouds [reliving it] while their body keeps the score. Getting into the body as a means of processing trauma helps people move past it. Also, the guidance of a good therapist in the process increases the chances of recovery.

And so I return to the mat again and again with the intention for all, that we befriend our bodies to release our sensitivities/trauma, known in yogic philosophy as samscara, we are enabling healing to take place. I believe this is the type of self awareness the practice of yoga offers as a powerful healer of trauma.

Want to learn more about trauma-informed yoga? Email me at

May you be happy, healthy, safe and at peace. Jackie

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