#metoo? Yoga may help*
#metoo: It’s been all over social media and the news for months now.
You may be among the millions who posted #metoo on your social media page. In fact, it’s very likely that you are. A recent study found that nationwide, 81% of women and 43% of men reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment and/or assault in their lifetime.
So to say sexual harassment and assault are prevalent would be a ridiculous understatement. These experiences are wide-spread and affect many more of us than we ever knew before.
Here’s what I’m most concerned with at this point: Can yoga help? And if so, how?
Throughout my studies for Yoga Therapy, I have learned so much about all kinds of trauma – from childhood experiences to military situations, to natural disasters, to – yes – sexual harassment/assault.
Depending on a whole host of factors, each person experiences trauma differently. Even the SAME trauma. Even a #metoo trauma. One person in an auto accident may go into fight mode and do everything possible to escape an overturned car, while the other person in the same car may freeze and be unresponsive until well after help has arrived.
What’s fascinating to me about the different responses is that we have little to no choice over how we will respond in any given situation that we perceive as potentially life-threatening. Our body, through a truly amazing chemical process, has decided for us the “best” response before our rational mind has even gotten the full download of what’s happening.
So there’s really no benefit in going back over what happened to figure out WHY we didn’t act differently. Because honestly, it’s not really up to us in the first place.
Regardless of what happened exactly, something important to note is that very often in life- or safety-threatening situations, our frontal lobe (or thinking part of our brain) goes off-line while our limbic brain (survival part of our brain) takes charge. This is important because we process trauma in the pre-language part of our brain. This can be true in any type of trauma, even a #metoo trauma.
But, why is this important?
It’s important because it’s very difficult (or even impossible) to process trauma through talk-based therapy when our language center was checked-out for the event in question. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
So, what to do?
Our limbic brain is all about fight/flight/freeze and the ACTION that needs to be taken to avoid the threat. So, we can address the trauma through – action. Movement-based therapies have been found to be extremely effective in supporting the healing process. What’s super cool is that we can support healing and movement through past traumas (that we haven’t even been able to talk about yet) through movement therapies like yoga.
Trauma-Sensitive yoga can help in a variety of ways*:
(summarized from Yoga and PTSD: A Primer on Symptoms and Potential Mechanisms of Change, Yoga Therapy Today Winter 2018):
- Less re-experiencing of memories. Through the mindful practice of poses, we can develop the ability to better control the fluctuations of our mind. Basically, we get better at choosing what we think about.
- Improvement in Psychological Flexibility. This means we improve our ability to stick with it even when we are challenged. We do this in yoga poses, but it helps us to manage our inner sensations when we are in a crowded place or other situation where we may feel anxious.
- Reduction of irritability. Yogic breathing and meditation help us learn how to soften our internal experiences. Study participants still had emotional/mental triggers come up, but found them to be less troubling and experienced less symptoms.
- Improved thoughts and mood. Through acceptance of each individual’s experience, participants learn how to accept their own thoughts, emotions, and moods without judgment. This allows participants to feel freely without “holding back.”
All in all, the research and preliminary studies are very positive in showing that yoga can be an excellent support to primary care options*. Trauma-sensitive Yoga Classes are available in many cities. If you think you’d like to try it, check with local studios, gyms, and community centers.