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How Yoga Heals Trauma

Jackie Jackson

We all have experienced some type of trauma-- the dictionary definition of which is a psychological, emotional response to an event or an experience that is deeply distressing or disturbing-- and this trauma is something we would all like to release.

As a former social worker and domestic violence/rape hotline volunteer, I started practicing yoga while doing this work, and I can attest to how yoga became a powerful element in healing trauma for myself and those with whom I've worked. Over the past 17 years of teaching yoga-- and especially the last five since focusing on yoga therapeutics-- I encountered many others who shared their stories and confirmed my view.

For me, the lure of yoga was that it has always brought me back to balance when I dealt with my own trauma or that of others.

"When I attended my first class close to thirteen years ago, it was in a difficult place in my life," said my former student Laura Barlow. "Having recently lost my mother to cancer and trying to cope with every day life, I was trying to find some sort of peace and stability. Yoga helped me find that."

What does the evidence show as far as yoga’s efficacy?

Bessel van der Kolk, MD, is a clinical psychiatrist whose work attempts to integrate mind, brain, body and social connections to understand and treat trauma. He is the author of The Body Keeps the Score, which examines how trauma affects the brain and body, and looks at a variety of treatments, including yoga.

Van der Kolk states, "Our studies show that yoga is equally as beneficial—or more beneficial—than the best possible medications in alleviating traumatic stress symptoms. In the studies we did involving neuroimaging of the brain before and after regular yoga practice, we were able to show that the areas of the brain involving self-awareness get activated by doing yoga, and those are the areas that get locked out by trauma and that are needed in order to heal it."

And so I return to the mat again and again with the intention for all, that we befriend our bodies. Through self awareness the practice of yoga is a powerful healer of trauma.

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