After hearing how healing and peaceful yoga can be, I’ve had interest for years and spent a lot of time going to different gyms and trying yoga videos I purchased or found on YouTube, but none gave me the peacefulness I was promised. Sure they stretched my body, but there wasn’t the calm afterwards that I desperately desired. It all felt so body specific. For me, this was a problem and kept me from fully embracing the healing aspects of having a daily yoga practice.
One day I attended a class with a friend while out of town and my entire view on yoga changed. The instructor did a lot more with focusing on proper breath through the movements as opposed to the poses themselves, and I left feeling so euphoric and relaxed. The sensation stuck with me for hours, and as a person with high anxiety and Complex PTSD, this feeling of peace and relaxation was more than welcome.
Discovering trauma sensitive yoga
I went home and tried to find a class like that in my area, but the price was either too high or I couldn’t find what I was looking for. Because of my PTSD, I don’t do well with people touching me or in larger classes. So my therapist suggested I try Trauma Sensitive Yoga (TSY)—a type of yoga focused on people with mental trauma—created by a man named David Emerson: Overcoming Trauma through Yoga: Reclaiming Your Body. She sent me to a nearby studio that taught his methods, then helped me get a scholarship. For the next three months, my world changed for the better.
At first I thought I’d hate it. Trauma sensitive yoga was different than others. The instructor, Morgan Vanderpool, didn’t do fancy poses or show off like other teachers I’d seen. In fact, I learned very few actual yoga poses during the class. It was all about focusing on breath and being present in our bodies. One of the ways she’d keep us present is to tell us to focus on how it feels when our palm touches the floor. Or she’d ask us to be aware of what parts of our body were feeling the pose, then to breath to that area. I learned quickly that much of the reason I’d hated yoga was because I hadn’t been truly present. My mind was wandering constantly, so I never practised properly.
I also felt no pressure to take part in poses that were triggering for me, a problem I’d had in many other classes. Nor did I feel the need to talk to others. The class I attended had a maximum of eight people per session and we were able to leave at any time if we needed to. The trauma sensitive yoga instructor also had experience working in therapy, so she knew how to respond to my triggers. She was warm, always calm and used a quiet voice, and she kept my focus on listening to my body.
Respecting my body and listening to it
Respecting my body is difficult for me. I was so used to disassociating from it that I often ignored the pain in my body. I even ignored tiredness, hunger, thirst, and desire. My instructor helped me to be present in my body without fear. In fact, my first class with her helped me realize how little I was present in my body or in the moment. Her constant reminder to feel my contact points—hands on floor, feet on floor, butt on floor, pressure in each location—kept me re-engaging when I’d drift.
I remember after the first session, lying back on the floor and as I stared up at the ceiling, I felt like I could drift away in that moment. I’d gone into the class full of tension and fear and in that moment I didn’t want to get up. I wanted to stay there and feel all of that release.
The feeling was so strong that when I left the studio I called one of my partners because I felt too dizzy to drive yet. He talked to me about my experience and how I felt after coming through it and all I could do was cry. I had literally released so much that I didn’t want to stop. The more I let go of, the lighter I felt.
During the session, I let my body do what it needed. I pushed as far as I felt I should, got into positions that my body felt good in, and when I got overwhelmed, I sat in silence until I felt I could rejoin the group. I honoured my body and in doing so, took my first steps toward respecting my body and healing the trauma that I’d stored there most of my life.
The class changed me.
Now, I can participate many types of yoga and feel the benefits in a physical and mentally calming way. I even use the methods when I get triggered or full of stress. I stop, focus on my feet touching the ground, the pressure in my leg muscles, the tension in my back, then I breath it out. The more I’ve practised this, the more I’ve come to understand that in order to truly be happy in life, I needed to be present all the time.
Trauma Sensitive Yoga started me on my path to finding and creating my own practice. Some days I incorporate gentle dance. Other days I do more meditation than movement. It just depends on the day and what my needs are in that moment. And that’s what being present means. Honouring the moment.
While I’ve still had small bouts of depression or moments of stress and anxiety, I now have the tools to release those negative emotions and get back on track with being present. When I’m living in the moment, I’m not stressed. I’m not focused on the tasks that need doing in the following week or the annoying incident that happened last week. I’m focused on the moment.
When I’m present, I’m happy.
Trauma Sensitive Yoga helped me achieve this. I can’t recommend it enough, no matter your level of trauma or PTSD.
Happiness is achievable regardless of our circumstances when we are in the moment and not allowing ourselves to live elsewhere.