How Yoga Can Help You Heal From Trauma

Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness can supplement trauma treatments to help you find resilience and healing.

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Two weeks shy of my 21st birthday, I sat alone on an emergency room table, head down, staring at my anxiously shaking feet. I tried to make sense of the past 24 hours.

“Why can’t I remember anything?”

As I tried to collect my thoughts, a police officer with the ironic last name Lucky walked into the room.

“I’m here to do your rape kit. We’ll need to get some photos of those bruises, too.”

What may have felt routine for Officer Lucky was one of the most earthshattering experiences of my life. The night before, I had been drugged and raped by three men—one of whom I’d considered a friend. I can only recall bits and pieces of what happened to me that night. Like a fuzzy TV that goes in and out, some images are vivid, but there’s much that I can’t quite make out.

For the next year, I went into hiding. For 365 days, I stayed confined to my bed, frozen in guilt, shame, worry, and fear. What I experienced was classified as acute trauma; a heavy, stressful, and sudden blow. My response—to forget, to withdraw—is a common one.

Experiencing trauma—contracting a severe illness, experiencing violence, or mourning the death of a loved one—can cause nightmares, sadness, fear, and anger. Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness can supplement trauma treatments to help you find resilience and healing.

What Is Trauma?

As time pressed on, I began to understand my own experience with trauma better and became more familiar with trauma overall.

I later learned, for example, that there are four types of trauma:

  • Acute trauma, like mine, that’s sudden and intense.
  • Chronic trauma that is characterized by repeated exposure to stress. For example, frequently encountering sexual abuse.
  • Complex trauma is one major event on top of another. For example, being injured in an accident and then losing a family member from the same incident.
  • Vicarious trauma is indirect; it’s experienced through someone else, such as watching someone get abused or a video of someone being harmed.

Public health experts have also begun to recognize race-based traumatic stress (RBTS), the result from generational stress and repeated trauma experienced by people of color, according to Gail Parker, PhD, author of Restorative Yoga for Ethnic and Race-Based Stress and Trauma.

And let’s not forget the lingering coronavirus. Researchers have started to look into the impact of COVID-19 on long-term mental health and are finding that many people have PTSD as a result of their pandemic experiences. Below, what we know about trauma and how yoga can help us cope.

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