If you follow me on Twitter you know I went to Seattle this past weekend for a Yoga & Trauma workshop taught by Hala Khouri.
I first met Hala last year in Austin when I took the Off The Mat Into The World (OTM) five day leadership intensive. That training was one of the best workshops I ever attended in large part because of the incredibly skilled women who co-teach the course – Suzanne Sterling, Hala Khouri (middle) and Seane Corn pictured below.
I really enjoyed Hala’s contribution to the the OTM training program regarding the mind, body approach to trauma. Hala is a Somatic Therapist and yoga teacher. Somatic Therapy explores how and why we hold traumatic emotions in the body and how we can better cope and regulate stress.
Trauma is any event which is overwhelming to a person physically or emotionally. A person is traumatized by an event if they are unable to bring the body and mind back into balance after the event is over. Unresolved trauma causes disturbances and dysregulation that may manifest as anxiety, behavioral problems, substance abuse, self-isolation, anger and behavioral problems. Ironically these behaviors are all attempts to resolve the trauma.
Two Types of Trauma
- Shock Trauma – An event that happened too fast, too soon and leaves us feeling helpless, hopeless i.e. abuse, violence, natural disasters.
- Developmental Trauma - Mis-attunement between child and primary caretaker such as lack of mirroring or neglect.
Trigger is when we respond to the present as if it is the past (post traumatic stress). Hysteria is often Historical – an emotional response that doesn’t match the present.
Experiencing a traumatic event does not necessarily mean that one becomes traumatized -Humans are incredibly resilient and our bodies are designed for self healing.
“However, when emotional energy is not discharged, it remains stuck in the body. This excess of energy causes the body to be over activated. Essentially the body is running more energy than it can contain, and just like a circuit in a house will shut off when too much energy surges through it, our bodies do the same. A person with a very over activated nervous system can look shut down and disassociated even bored or apathetic, but underneath that is energy (memories, emotions, impulses) that are too much to handle. At the other end of the spectrum, someone might be like a balloon about to burst, they are anxious, hypervigilant, jumpy and defended.” ~ Hala Khouri
Learning how to release and discharge this excess energy in a healthy permanent way is the key to having a healthy nervous system. Yoga can teach someone to get in touch with the areas in their body where there is stored up tension and energy, and then release it!
Using Yoga As A Resource
Yoga is the perfect setting to introduce resourcing and the shifting of traumatic patterns. Yoga invites people to feel their bodies. For the traumatized person, this may not be a pleasant notion. They may not feel safe in their bodies, and may have spent a great deal of their life figuring out how to get out of their bodies, not in! Yoga taught with the idea of resourcing can shift this overwhelm, and safely guide someone back into the body in a positive healing way.
- Orienting - When we are oriented to time and space, our body-mind is present and calms down more easily. Most of the time, our anxiety is not about something that is immediate in our surroundings. Simply looking around and noticing your surroundings with all your senses (vision, hearing, smell, touch and feeling) can cause a decrease in unnecessary arousal.
- Grounding – This is possibly the most significant resource in a yoga class. Anxiety and disassociation both move energy up the body and away from the legs. When we are not grounded we cannot feel safe, secure or relaxed. Literally inviting someone to feel their feet on the floor or to feel their legs, can be a resource that changes tension patterns forever.
- Centering – Being centered means knowing where your center of existence and personal power is. Being un-centered can mean not having a strong sense of self, having your center in other people or situations, or not feeling like you have any control in your life. Physically centering oneself by getting in touch with the muscles in the abdomen, or even simply imaging a central locus of self and control, is a powerful resource in the navigation of trauma.
- Breathing – Breathing is the primary connection to our vitality or life force. Awareness of breath brings the mind into the body and helps us have access to the intelligence of the body. It slows us down and helps us become more present. Being present brings our attention into the here and now, which is an important condition for self-regulation. Breath is an incredible tool and it has the capacity to take you out of a fight or flight state.
Because of my own history with relationship traumas I have danced around this subject on my blog for quite sometime. In 2008 I first wrote about Somatic Therapy. In 2010 I studied The Art of Listening with Rachel Remen which was intricately connected to unresolved trauma. And then this past summer I broached the trauma subject again here and here.
I cannot deny trauma in my professional work either. Clients who binge, restrict, or compulsively obsess about food and diets or act out through other addictive behaviors and cravings can ultimately heal when they explore their (unresolved) traumas. Sexual abuse is obviously a huge trauma and there is strong evidence connecting childhood sexual abuse to adult obesity .
I have studied the physical components of nutrition, nourishment and health for over a decade; but menu plans and food recommendations are only one piece to this multifaceted, complex puzzle. The emotional and energetic (mind/body) side of health and healing are equally important, powerful, and fascinating.
I am particularly interested in, and see my work moving more toward assisting and resourcing mind, body tools and techniques for the first responders who deal with trauma in their work; i.e. police officiers, victim advocates, emergency room physicians and nurses. These people absorb an exorbitant amount of trauma that often make them cynical, depressed, angry, depleted, exhausted and sick (physically and emotionally) because they don’t know how to replenish and care for themselves in healthy, nourishing ways after serving others.
I believe they initially chose their line of work because they are born healers and courageous warriors – they are the archetypical “wounded healers”. To be honest, I embody the wounded healer archetype. This is why I do the work I do and jump on airplanes in the middle of a Colorado blizzard when everyone else is home watching the Oscars so I can learn about the mechanisms of trauma and explore the depths of authentic healing.
Diving head first into healing trauma is not easy; yet I’m always surprised how open and “hungry” people are for this information in my corporate, private wellness, consulting practice.
If you are interested in experiencing some of Hala Khouri’s stress reduction and yoga techniques, here is a three minute video about her work.
You can purchase Hala’s DVD on Amazon.com.
About the author
Jolene Park, B.A., Certified Nutrition Consultant, Yoga Teacher founded Healthy Discoveries in 2001. She facilitates health and nutrition workshops for companies large and small across the U.S., and provides wellness and nutrition coaching for individuals and multiple medical offices throughout the greater Boulder/Denver area. Learn more.