Yoga Through A Trauma-Informed Lens

Aneta Idczak
Oct 15, 2022 2:00:00 AM

Invitation to cultivate 3 vital qualities in your yoga practice

One of the things I've heard over the past few weeks from my students and yoga teachers I mentor is how tired and overwhelmed they are feeling right now. The summer is over, and as we shifted into autumn, it has become clear that we might be heading for another difficult winter. 

After the past two years of challenges with the pandemic and economic instability, many of us are feeling worn out. Our bodies and minds are showing the impact of the ongoing and accumulative stress responses and, for some of us, the increase in mental health problems.

As a long-term yoga practitioner and a teacher, I know first-hand the healing power of yoga practices. In my early 20s, yoga offered me a safe oasis in the chaos of my daily life and the high level of anxiety I was experiencing. After almost three decades of practising yoga, mindfulness and somatic practices. I know how much I love returning daily to my yoga mat - sometimes to simply lie on my back with my knees supported by a bolster, softening into the support and stability underneath me and breathing softly into my belly. 

Mind, UK Mental Health Charity, states that "1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England", and "1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (like anxiety and depression) in any given week in England". This is important to understand because if you are in a room with 10 people, statistically, there might be at least 2 people experiencing mental health challenges.  

Mind Charity states that anybody can experience mental health problems. Still, some groups are more likely to get them than others, including minority groups like LGBTIQ+, Black or Black British People, and younger women. 

Mind Charity also states: 

"It's important to know that your identity does not give you mental health problems. The causes of mental health problems can be very complicated. Higher risk for these groups is linked to several factors, including:

  • facing social inequality and disadvantage
  • facing discrimination and social exclusion
  • going through traumatic experiences
  • differences in physical health. "

As a trauma-informed teacher and trainer, and somebody who's worked with trauma and mental health for over 20 years in Social Care and the community, I understand how prevalent mental health and trauma are within our society. And how important it is for all practitioners who support others to understand it and have skills to work with it effectively and within our remit.  

I love that over the past couple of years, the subject and understanding of trauma and trauma resilience has shifted from being solely a domain of Social Care and Mental Health workers and Therapists to a wilder reach within our yoga community and society in general. Because as the quoted stats show us and various Charities inform us - mental health problems are common and on the rise. 

Within yoga teachings, there are many yoga poses and practices that might be supportive of our mental health and trauma resilience that I could suggest to you. And there are many articles and blogs you can find online sharing various practices – and I would encourage you to do your own research and see what works for you.

But today, I would like to shift our focus to something slightly different – I'd like to invite you to cultivate 3 qualities in your practice – however this practice looks like for you.  

Those 3 qualities are: curiosity, openness and kindness. 

I want to share these 3 qualities with you because I've seen again and again the significant shifts within my students and clients when our focus shifted into cultivating these qualities during their practice. And I witnessed further positive changes in my client's daily lives as those qualities became more familiar and embodied. 

Curiosity

Cultivating a quality of curiosity allows us to arrive in the present moment. We shift our focus from the wanted outcome into a more embodied experience - experiencing and sensing what's present and possible for us at this moment. Because curiosity is our door into the present moment, and without it, we can end up too focused on a perfect practice or pose rather than what feels right for us at this moment. 

When you cultivate curiosity in your practice, you can allow yourself to connect with your own rhythm and move forward at the right pace for you. You can notice which practices feel nourishing and welcomed and which practices make you feel more uneasy or disconnected. You can try the practices knowing that you can explore what kind of practice is right for you at this moment – which practices helping you feel more connected, calm and stable.

Openness  

Cultivating a quality of openness creates space for whatever is here to be here. So often, we reject or deny what is already here because it feels uncomfortable or uneasy or simply not what we want it to be. We try to fix our experience by forcing and making it into something different. This creates a sense of inner struggle and conflict and often brings up the feeling of not being good enough. 

Instead, we can start by creating a little more space for what is here to just be here. We can show up to our practice however we are – happy, sad, energised, hyper, tired, calm, anxious or depressed. There is space for the wholeness of you in your practice, and all is welcome. 

Kindness/compassion

Cultivating a quality of kindness allows us to bring a gentler approach into our whole experience. It can soften the edges of our awareness because awareness without compassion can be very painful to be with, and compassion can ease off the impact of our harsh critical inner parts. Within the yoga tradition, we talk about Ahimsa, defined as non-violence, kindness/compassion. 

Kindness and compassion also allow us to acknowledge our shared human experience and the need for more compassion – for ourselves and others. Especially now, during these challenging times we live in, cultivating compassion can help us stay grounded, stable and connected with ourselves, our needs, and others.

But don't take my word for it! 

Take some time to cultivate those 3 qualities in your yoga and movement practice and see how that changes your experience. 

As always, the invitation is: if it helps you move towards more inner stability, connection and a sense of safety – keep doing it. If it doesn't then it's not the right practice for you at this moment. You have a choice, and you can give yourself permission to choose what feels right for you in your practice. 

So as I finish this blog, I'd like to leave you with my favourite poem by Rumi: The Guest House, which so well describes those 3 qualities I'd like to invite you to cultivate.

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival. 
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor. 
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, 
Who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,
Still, treat each guest honourably. 
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
Because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.


Join Aneta for this 5-day virtual summit starting on 31st October. Learn more and sign up here!

For more information about trauma-informed yoga, why not join Aneta for her further training course in January 2023?! You can learn more here!

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