Let It All Go: 7 Poses to Release Trauma in the Body

By Jennifer D'Angelo Friedman; sequence by Colleen Saidman Yee  |  


Colleen Saidman Yee offers poses from her new memoir, Yoga for Life, to release anxiety and trauma from body parts that commonly hold it. Practice with Colleen in person and take her Yoga for Inner Peace half-day workshop at YJ LIVE! in Estes Park, Sept. 24. Spaces are limited, so sign up now!

Colleen Saidman Yee is an acclaimed yoga teacher, former fashion model, and the wife of yogi Rodney Yee. But her journey to becoming "the first lady of yoga" wasn't all glamorous, she reveals in her new book Yoga for Life: A Journey to Inner Peace and Freedom (Atria Books, June 2, 2015). In the candid, soul-searching memoir (which also offers yoga sequences corresponding to the many chapters of her life), Yee looks back on her hardscrabble roots in Indiana, her addiction to heroin, two divorces, as well as a car accident at age 15 that gave her a broken collarbone, a skull fracture, and brain injuries. It also may have led to the epilepsy she still suffers from today.

"If my accident at age fifteen had any upside, it’s that I have a heightened empathy for the traumas, large and small, that my students have experienced," she writes in her book. "At times, I can see where the trauma is held in their bodies, and I try to figure out sequences that can create relief and release for them. Trauma can show up as tension, anxiety, or illness. Some common places of binding are the pelvis, the diaphragm, the throat, the jaw, the hamstrings, and the shoulders and neck."

Also see Hala Khouri's Path to Teaching Trauma-Informed Yoga

7 Body Parts That Hold Trauma + Poses for Relief

We asked Yee to recommend poses from her book that release each of these "stuck" areas, as she calls them, helping us gain "freedom from the imprints and obstructions that are held in our bodies."

  • The Pelvis

    The Pelvis

    Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana)

    Bound Angle Pose, aka Cobbler’s Pose, is a great release for the pelvis. We tend to bind in the pelvis when we feel threatened. We need adrenaline when we’re in real danger, but the feeling can become a default mode that exhausts us. This pose releases the hips, and can safely be held for 5–10 minutes.

    LEARN THE POSE Yogapedia: 7 Steps to Master Bound Angle Pose

  • The Diaphragm

    The Diaphragm

    Pond Pose (Tadagasana)

    Binding in the diaphragm can be the result of panic. Stretching out the body in Pond Pose lengthens the abdominal cavity and opens the chest so that the diaphragm can move easily. When the breath is free, the nervous system is calm and we feel less desperation.

    TRY IT Lie on your back, lengthen both legs, and press both thighs down into the floor. Lengthen your waist by moving your ribcage away from your hips. Extend your arms overhead, straighten them, and reach strongly until you feel a suction, or a "pond," in your belly.

    Also see Yoga and Healing Trauma

  • The Throat

    The Throat

    Upward-Facing Dog Pose (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)

    Our throats become locked when we’re holding back something that needs to be said (the "lump" in your throat). Upward-Facing Dog moves clearing energy from the Earth into the throat through the power of the legs and the beautiful arc of the spine, flushing out those blockages.

    Also see Do This, Not That: Upward-Facing Dog

  • The Jaw

    The Jaw

    Lion Pose (Simhasana)

    The jaw joint, aka the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), is very strong, and tends to lock when we try to hold back impulse or desire. (I’m not talking about a serious TMJ condition, but one that has an emotional source.) When the jaw locks up, the hips also tend to lock up. We feel frozen. By opening the mouth wide and sticking your tongue out to its full extension while exhaling in Lion Pose, the jaw opens completely, which helps to release the tension in the jaw.

    Also see Work It: Neck & Jaw Release

  • The Hamstrings

    The Hamstrings

    Pyramid Pose (Intense Side Stretch Pose)

    We’re all guilty of “running away” from feelings that make us uncomfortable or afraid. The hamstrings are an important part of our fight-or-flight mechanism. Some say that we hold grief in the hamstrings, which is one of the most difficult emotions with which to stay present. Pyramid Pose releases the hamstrings and contracts their antagonist muscles, the quadriceps.

    Also see Between the Lines: Parsvottanasana

  • The Shoulders

    The Shoulders

    Arm Swings

    Taking on too much responsibility can make the shoulders so tense they feel like concrete. Moving the arms and shoulders unlocks that tension. In Italy, where my father’s family is from, they understand that the arms are a way to express the heart.

    TRY IT: Stand in Mountain Pose (Tadasana), and swing your arms up and down and side to side.

    Also see 8 Detoxifying Kundalini Poses

  • The Neck

    The Neck

    Headstand (Salamba Sirsasana)

    The human head weighs an average of 8–10 pounds, so holding the head is a big job. Many of us jut our heads out in front of our torsos, creating strain, instead of moving from our feet or pelvis. In Headstand, we're forced to line up the head with the body. Headstand improves the alignment of the whole body, while strengthening the neck muscles. Turning yourself upside down also gives you a new perspective. Since you must stay focused and present when you are in an inversion such as headstand, you can't worry about the future or dwell in the past.

    Also see Lift Into Lightness: Headstand

    Photos © Johanna Yee, 2015

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