Yoga as a way of releasing trauma, integration, and achieving wholeness.
By: Mario Rockstroh
When I started practicing Yoga 10 years ago, the first and obvious aspect was asana or physical posture. My attraction to Yoga grew as I was willing to experiment with the various permutations over time. So many aspects of the practice have not only changed my life but also my character and perspective. Before beginning my journey into this new paradigm, I viewed the world in a mostly cynical way, always keeping people at a safe distance. I believed my mind, spirit and body were separate and only realized much later that I had never been fully in body, never really embodied so to speak. I was ignorant of any possible method of integrating the somatic with the cognitive.
At first, I enjoyed the small feelings of relaxation and ease I was left with after practices. In a relatively short time, strength and flexibility grew as well. Practicing several times a week, within a year I integrated Yogic breathing techniques, meditation and philosophy into my life. I felt more at ease with myself and began a shift towards other people and the world around me. That was actually the first step onto a mighty 10 year journey of opening deeper aspects of my being, my body, and layers of stored emotional pain, tension and disease.
I also began to discover deeper insights into the patterns in my life and behaviors. This presence and awareness lead me into ”feeling” or Being, instead of constantly intellectualizing and projecting onto the outer world. This deepening relationship with myself led me to explore my interest in spiritual and shamanic practices and healing modalities. Eventually, (four years ago) I was drawn to work with sacred plant medicines in a serious manner and go deeper; to face and uncover the truth behind the many ailments I seemed to harbor for so long. Through my continued yoga practice, I discovered among its many facets how well it integrates, interrelates, and cooperates with all other self-exploring tools I’ve worked with.
As self awareness grew, my body became my laboratory, a special context within which to stage valuable experiments. Issues I had long struggled with became more and more visible as I developed greater awareness. As I was in earlier days focusing much on knowledge, physics and “logic”, I was highly cognitive, but dissociated from my body. Self inquiry became an important practice for me, integration of mind, body and breath followed each step, which acted as preparation for the step to come.
Challenges with addictions, negative body image, depression, social anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder all became battles on my yoga mat and in my internal realm. Slowly, yoga became a safe haven when I felt emotionally heated, became a place where I could embrace the dark and shine the light into it. I discovered that self awareness and self consciousness are mutually exclusive concepts that cannot exist simultaneously. As I cultivated self awareness, my anxious tendencies towards self consciousness decreased.
Amazingly, following experimentation with chanting and sound healing, I noticed an even more significant drop in physiological anxiety symptoms. It became clear that lengthening my exhalations while taking short inhalations tended to create a physiological state of calm in my body and quickly and effectively slowed down my heart rate.
Yoga, particularly asana, has become the medicine I take to alleviate the physiological symptoms of emotional fluctuations. According to Western psychology, trauma experiences frequently leave residue on our nervous system, manifested habitual tendencies, such as disassociating from the body sensations and avoiding unwanted external sensory experiences. Asana, Pranayama and meditation allowed me to consciously begin to release the issues and non-beneficial patterns stored in the muscles, deep tissues and nerve cells. Plant medicine ceremonies helped me recognize the triggers that set off patterns of emotional pain.
According to Yoga psychology, every experience leaves an impression on the nervous system. These accumulated experiences are known as Samskara. Peter Lavene, a noted psychologist & medical biophysicist, argues that “trauma represents a profound compression of survival energy that has not been able to complete it's meaningful course of action”. I would add that yoga not only is a great method for building awareness of the issues and the body, but also provides a way to release the physiological energy that can be compressed and held within our system due to highly stressful events like childhood abuse, surgery, a car accident, etc.
For me Yoga goes hand-in-hand with other healing modalities, such as bodywork, somatic experiencing, and shamanic and medicine plant work. It has taught me that the human nervous system can be injured just as any muscle, joint or bone can be damaged. Furthermore, Yoga provides a web of interconnected principles that can bring a balance of stability and flexibility to all aspects of the human system.
During periods of depression, I practiced little to no Asana, instead embracing Yoga Nidra as the only form of Yoga that felt accessible. During periods of acute anxiety, I became aware enough to practice standing poses as a way to ground the emotional fluctuations. Fluid movement type practice like Tai chi and playing Poi helped me move stuck energy. Also, in later phases I learned to release these tensions through Yin Yoga, holding poses for a long time, breathing deeply and consciously, especially focused on my hips and Psoas muscles, which can hold a lot of stress and stuck traumatic energy.
With self-inquiry came self awareness; with self awareness came the noticing of harmful actions, which gives me the opportunity to shift previous patterns. Slowly, long-standing negative self-harming patterns of thought and behavior shifted, as Yoga allowed my consciousness to be more equally distributed throughout the entire body and no longer exclusively tied to the mind and the neural pathways. As the inherent link between thoughts, words, behaviors, habits and human character itself became revealed to me, further discipline grew.
This all leaves me with the conclusion that focusing all of our energy in the mind is a mistake--we must do the work to integrate the mind in the body, equally distributing our conscious intelligence throughout our being. Yoga has and continues to be my way of traveling this path to reunion of mind and body. I’m urged to start share this gift with everyone, but in particular with those struggling with deep emotional wounds and issues who still in many cases find it hard to find support in their surroundings and medical community.
- Mario Rockstroh (firstname.lastname@example.org)