Using Yoga to Treat Traumatic Stress
Since 2020 we have all been traumatized in one way or another as a result of the Covid-19 Pandemic. On the West Coast and in Lake Tahoe as well as the surrounding areas the trauma has extended beyond our homes to our businesses and community. In 2021 we were, again traumatized, by devastating fires. The effects of these events will not dissipate quickly. Through the practice of Yoga we can recognize them and learn how to move forward as changed people.
Stress Can Be Good
Every time we use our brains and move our bodies we are stressing ourselves out just a little bit. Those of us that live more athletic lifestyles or engage in thought-provoking work are activating a higher level of stress. Stock traders, body builders, professional athletes, and adrenaline junkies are on a whole other level. Stress that keeps our bodies active, our systems functioning healthily, and our minds engaged is good.
Trauma effects us all differently. While in the moment, there are some people who jump into action knowing what to do and getting it done. Others may move more slowly, dawdling and waiting to see if the moment will end until they are forced to act. After the traumatic event ends we are all effected differently.
Svadhyaya is the practice of self study: Identifying how you behave when faced with minor stresses like physical activity, problem solving, engaging with others, and when tasks have to be completed can help you to understand how you might respond to trauma.
It has been interesting having conversations with everyone as we've begun spending more time together. The way in which we all handled the lock-downs is not the same among my friends. I have found that there are a few general groups we can be sorted into.
One of my friends feeds off of social engagement. She travels constantly. Being stuck at home, alone, was a big challenge for her. She responded by reaching out with social media video conferencing. Groups of us would gather virtually to chat and hang out for as long as we, or she, needed.
It appeared that my introvert friends were happy to be at home and not having to deal with social engagements. It was a welcome shift for them. I recall seeing a variety of memes with images of happy introverts in their homes cozy on their sofas with their pets or a good book.
Luckily, I live in a place where the forest lies just feet from my front door and the population is small. I found that, as much as I enjoyed the video chat groups and time alone, getting outside is a necessity. A daily walk, run, or cross country ski outside was enough to help me feel myself.
Sadhana is your spiritual practice: What fills you up? Is it socializing with others? Peace, quiet and alone time? Or do you require connection to nature? Whatever helps you the most is one part of the remedy for reducing stress and calming the effects of trauma.
Tell Your Story
No one can take away the experience you've had or how you feel about it. Others can listen, sympathize, and some can empathize. The experiences you have are yours and no one else's will be exactly the same. There may be similarities, though, and that is what is most important.
While we were evacuated from our home the conversations we had with outsiders were mostly about what it looked like in Lake Tahoe and how bad the fire was. It was difficult to grasp how severe the situation was and even more of a struggle to imagine what those who had lost their homes were going through.
As we began getting back to life after repopulating it seemed like the only topic to discuss was where we went and what we did while we were evacuated. Everyone had their story. Some people had "evacucations;" they viewed their time away as a "forced vacation" and enjoyed every moment. Some of us never got a break and worked the entire time. Others couldn't wait to return because they had no where else to go.
Satsang is like minded conversation: Sharing our stories and experiences helped us to connect with each other and to recognize that we were not alone in our experiences. Even though none of had the exact same one, we are still able to relate to one another. Telling my story didn't take it away nor am I able to take anyone else's. It did help me to know that someone heard it and knows what I went through.
I know, this is what every Yoga teacher says all of the time. It's so true, though. Being present with the people, at the place, in the moment is incredibly valuable. Dwelling on what was and how things were traps us. Change is going to continue to happen and practicing Yoga helps us become more comfortable with this fact.
Dharana is mindful focus: Yoga is a practice of observation, awareness and intention. It's okay to experience joy while spending time doing something fun with people you love. If the moment is one of sadness, quiet, or reflection be there, fully. Just don't get stuck there. Just as you are always observing what happens physically, energetically, emotionally and mindfully during a Yoga asana practice so can you do so in every moment.
Be Your Self
Every experience we've had, all the things we've learned, the culture in which we were raised, the places we've lived, and the people with whom we live our lives shape us to become who we are and will be. I often refer back to my upbringing in New England to explain why I communicate directly, have little patience for lateness, and don't mind the cold. There is trauma in my life including my parent's divorce following the deaths of my grandparents and trauma related to alcoholism that I know continues to effect me and the way I live. I can't eliminate those aspects of myself, but I can own them.
Aum Tat Sat means "I am that:" Own who you are and practice observing when you act in a way that was shaped by trauma, experiences, upbringing, etc. If you don't like your own behavior then keep practicing to change it. You have control over yourself. Choose who you want to be and be your Self.
Join classes at Lake Tahoe Yoga to learn more about Yoga and to engage in practices that reduce stress and can help you manage the effects of trauma. For individualized support check out Jenay Aiksnoras, BS, MS, ERYT for Realignment Coaching: personalized life coaching and therapeutic Yoga.