Yoga means “union,” in Sanskrit. Unionship is much more than the poses; it is a way of life. Not only does yoga release tightness in the body, it also is a way to let go of any blocks in the body to allow the flow of love and energy. The practice of yoga helps to release past issues, let go of any “baggage” you may be carrying, and free up your life by inviting more peace, calmness, and happiness. According to Sri Aurobino, the aim of yoga is to purify and change your being and break down your limitations so that you can transform your struggles into strengths. This transformation is the union with the divine knowledge or inner healing intelligence of will and love within you.
Trauma Informed Yoga for Anxiety & Depression:
Trauma-informed yoga is the practice of yoga that increases body awareness in a safe and controlled way, which can promote feelings of physical, emotional, and psychological safety. It addresses nervous system dysregulation from anxiety and/or depression, dissociation, and feelings of disconnection from the body or surroundings, which are common after experiencing trauma.
According to the American Psychological Association, trauma-informed yoga can help relieve anxiety, depression, and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by healing unresolved emotional wounds in the body.
According to Shakti Therapy and Healing Services, General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a medical condition characterized by persistent and excessive worry about a number of things for at least six months. This disorder is associated with a lower level of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate nerve activity. This form of anxiety leaves you feeling like you are in a state of disaster with all the unwelcomed thoughts and feelings stemming from stressful circumstances. A co-joint research study by Harvard Medical School and Boston University School of Medicine found that there was a 27% increase in GABA levels after completing an hour of yoga, which stimulated the parasympathetic nervous system, balanced brain chemistry, and reduced symptoms of anxiety.
Depression is a mood disorder that is associated with symptoms of sadness, irritability, feeling of emptiness, confusion, changes in behaviors of sleep and appetite, and/or isolative behaviors. A meta-analysis by Duke University School of Medicine, Indian Council of Medical Research Center for Advanced Research in Yoga, Patanjali Research Foundation, and Duke Institute for Brain Science, shared that practicing yoga was associated with statistically significant decrease in depression rates. Trauma-informed yoga has antidepressant effects and encourages the brain’s ability to change, known as neuroplasticity. Practicing yoga helps increase positive emotions and builds new connections in the brain, which helps reduce depressive symptoms.
As you can see, trauma-informed yoga has been shown to elicit the parasympathetic nervous system’s calming “rest and digest” response, which is helpful for reducing hyperarousal. It does this by improving emotional well-being: people reported feeling less negative emotions even after a single class. Additionally, trauma-informed yoga increases self-regulation and improves sleep, which are associated with mental well-being.
Trauma-informed yoga is also highly recommended to manage emotional health. Research shows that it helps with shame reduction and statistical reductions in self-reported feelings of shame around a traumatic event. It cultivates presence: Harvard Medical School found that yoga may even help reduce the intensity of symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), such as dissociation and flashbacks. In those instances, trauma-informed yoga can be an effective tool for helping clients like you return to the present moment through the practice of mindfulness.
Here are 5 poses you can practice today to help ease some symptoms of anxiety, depression, and trauma in the mind, body, and soul:
Child’s pose (Balasana)
How to do the pose: Sit with your toes together, in order to allow the energy to flow through your body, and spread your knees a little wider than hip distance apart. Hinge forward from your hips and place your forehead to the earth. Allow your arms to fall where they feel comfortable. Let your face relax. Allow your head to get heavy and your stomach to be relaxed and open. As you inhale, feel your breath move into your back ribs and lower back. As you exhale, allow any muscular tension to soften and let go.
How long to do the pose (time): remain in the pose for as long as it feels nourishing. 5 minutes of those poses can completely rejuvenate you on a mind, body, soul level.
Impact on the Body: This resting pose stretches your lower back, hips, thighs, knees and ankles. It relaxes your spine, shoulders and neck. It increases blood circulation to your head which can reduce headaches.
Impact on the Mind: This pose releases trauma from the body by calming the central nervous system, which helps to relieve stress and tension. This pose is grounding for a busy mind.
Impact on the Spirit: This pose allows the spirit to surrender allowing peace and acceptance for what is. A nurturing and safe place to rest your head and activate your third eye.
*For trauma and sexual assault survivors, this pose can trigger emotions. Please do this pose with the support of a yoga-informed therapist to safely process the triggers.
Downward facing dog (Adho Muka Svanasana)
How to do the pose: Begin with your hands and knees on the floor. Turn your hands so your index fingers point forward and spread wide. Press into your fingers to take the weight off of your wrists. Curl your toes underneath your body and lift your knees slightly. Keeping your knees slightly bent, send your hips up to the sky. Press your index fingers down and your forearms towards each other, then press your upper arms upwards to relax your neck. Keeping your spine long, straighten your legs. Stretch your hands though to your heels and bring your chin to your chest.
How long to do the pose (time): Sit in the pose for 5-10 breaths to about a minute long.
Impact on the Body: This pose energizes the body, stretches the shoulders, hamstrings, and calves. It strengthens the arms and legs, improves digestion by stimulating the organs and relieves headaches, insomnia, and back pain.
Impact on the Mind: This pose calms the mind, rejuvenates brain cells, and helps relieve stress and mild depression and anxiety.
Impact on the Spirit: Adho mukha svanasana is thought to dispel fear and insecurity stemming from anxiety. It stimulates perception and inspiration, and boosts confidence.
One legged King Pigeon Pose (Eka pada Rajakapotasana)
How to do the pose: starting from downward facing dog, bring your right foot forward to the front of your mat and place it by your left hand. Then lower your right knee down by the right hand. Your right foot will be either close to your left hip, or you can scoot your foot a little more forward towards the front of your mat. Your left leg will be straight back behind you, making sure that your even and your toes are facing straight back. Place your hands on the ground besides your hips for balance and support, lift your chest and heart high to the sky. Keeping weight equal in both hips, walk your hands out in front of you as you fold out over your leg. And then switch to the opposite side and do the same position. (please avoid if you have lower back or hip injuries).
How long to do the pose (time): Hold up to 5 breaths to a minute long on each side. Breathing through any unwanted emotions or feelings that you are holding in your hips.
Impact on the Body: This is a deep hip opener that stretches the thighs, groins, psoas and abdomen. It also stimulates the abdominal organs and opens the shoulders and the chest.
Impact on the Mind: This pose frees up stress, anxiety, and fear by opening the hip. The hips hold emotions and feelings. The free movement of the hip joint promotes the emotional state.
Impact on the Spirit: Sitting into this pose lets go and releases any unwanted emotions and feelings.
*For trauma and sexual assault survivors, this pose can trigger emotions. Please do this pose with the support of a therapist to safely process the triggers.
Seated cat cow pose (Marjaryasana-Bitilasana)
How to do the pose: This pose can be done either seated in a cross legged position on the ground or in a chair with your feet firmly planted on the ground. Place your hands on your knees. As you inhale, arch your back and bring your chest forward, opening up your heart and tilt your head back. Then exhale and round your back, bringing your chin to your chest (allow the breath to guide the movement, not the movement to guide the breath).
How long to do the pose: For at least three full breaths, hold your inhale for about 3-5 seconds before continuing to flow through the movement. Focus on the breath being even through the flow, aiming for 5-10 seconds for inhalation and exhalation.
Impact on the Body: This pose opens up the chest, stretches the abdomen, stretches the back, spine and upper neck. Collectively this pose improves posture and is good to do during work.
Impact on the Mind: The pose releases trauma from the mind by relieving stress, increasing emotional balance and stabilizing the mind.
Impact on the Spirit: This pose opens up the heart. It enhances creativity and the ability to focus and learn by activating the heart and solar plexus chakra. When you activate these chakra points, it evokes inspiration and the ability to experience joy.
Legs up the wall pose (viparita karani)
How to do the pose: Sit in close proximity to a wall. Lower the back and head to the floor. Adjust the body so that the sit bones press against the wall. Raise the legs so that the back of the legs are resting against the wall. Breathe as you hold the pose. To get out of the pose, place your feet flat on the wall and bend your knees and slowly lay down to the right hand side and then use your hand to push yourself up to a seated position.
How long to do the pose: For best results, it is recommended to hold the pose for 3-5 minutes.
Impact on the Body: This pose helps with balance and the endocrine system It relieves fatigue and increases blood flow to the pelvic region. By relaxing tired feet and legs, it also reduces swelling. The post improves circulation, relieves lower backache, and offers your body complete relaxation (do not do pose when menstruating).
Impact on the Mind: It helps calm your nerves, relieves anxiety, and relieves symptoms of mild depression and insomnia.
Impact on the Spirit: This is a good pose to release and bring inner harmony and letting go. union of opposites, such as the bloodstreams (arterial and venous), nerve impulses, through the use of gravity, and the masculine and feminine energy - evoking a sense of balance in your body.
You are not just the mind. You are mind, body and soul. Don't let this be forgotten.
The key is to connect with all 3 parts of yourself to truly know thyself.
Jill Smith is an experienced mind-body-spirit therapist at Shakti Therapy & Healing Services in Los Angeles, CA that integrates trauma informed yoga for anxiety in her sessions. Her desire is to help you connect to your true authentic self. People are far too often judgmental and unkind to themselves. Jill believes that compassion goes a long way towards success and empowerment. To learn more about Shakti Therapy and Healing services, please visit www.shaktitherapyhealing.com or email us at email@example.com.