As I become more acquainted with the pioneering work of Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, I am impressed with the variety of approaches that he takes to trauma treatment. He is innovative in his thinking about how trauma affects the body and one of the main messages that I take away from his research is that trauma survivors need a way to be comfortable in their own skin. The challenge is how to help people achieve this, and traditional talk therapy is just one of the ways (although not entirely sufficient) to achieve this comfort.
Dr. van der Kolk developed a study on how yoga can help people affected by PTSD and trauma gain a greater sense of safety with their own physical bodies. He explains that traumatic memories can be stored in the body and that yoga helps people change their automatic physical responses to trauma triggers. Yoga is also helpful for affect regulation, a fancy way of saying that it helps us cope with our emotional and uncomfortable sensations. It also helps calm the mind and assists participants in observing themselves as they experience their bodies and thoughts. Through use of the breath, we can learn to change our autonomic nervous system. He cautions that for people who are sensitive to traumatic stimuli, it’s important to study with yoga instructors who know how to deal with trauma survivors. For instance, he recommends that yoga instructors check in with participants before making physical adjustments to their poses, or being aware that certain poses (asanas) are more vulnerable for trauma survivors than others.
I found it exciting that an ancient spiritual and physical practice that is often-touted as stress reduction in general, can be helpful for healing trauma as well.
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