Yoga is beneficial for the mind, body and spirit, but did you know that certain poses aid in releasing both emotional and physical trauma? Trauma is known for lingering around much longer than one would like.
Whether you endured a physical injury or experienced something deeply distressing, there are different positions that can help you better tolerate the pain and suffering. While yoga cannot completely heal trauma, practicing can effectively manage your symptoms.
Part of yoga is sitting with uncomfortable thoughts and feelings while learning to work through them. Some poses may bring mild discomfort, especially when you’re in a long hold for over five minutes. For anyone who is seeking freedom from past or recent events, learning to cope with the uncomfortable in a safe place is significant and healing.
But, the highest level of relief comes to those who regularly practice. When you wake up each morning, unroll your yoga mat, because the following six poses are known for their remarkable ability to help release the trauma you’ve been through.
The foundation of all standing poses is mountain pose, a position that eases the symptoms of sciatica while strengthening the thighs, knees, abdomen and ankles. This pose can also be empowering for survivors of sexual trauma, which is of incredible importance.
Begin standing with your feet hip distance apart, and then ground your feet firmly into the earth — you want to feel centered, grounded and strong as a tall mountain. Engage your quadriceps, rotate your thighs slightly inward and tuck your tailbone. Allow your arms to fall by your side body, with your hands facing forward. With each inhalation, elongate through your torso. On your exhalations, press your shoulder blades closer together and engage your triceps, tightening the muscles in your legs and arms. Next, imagine there is a string on the crown of your head pulling your body upwards, straightening the body entirely. Embrace the power and strength you feel in your body and heart — breathe deeply and hold this position for one to two minutes.
Standing Forward Fold
Anxiety and depression are common symptoms of physical and emotional trauma. A standing forward fold is an inversion pose, meaning that your heart is raised higher up from the ground than your head, which in turn promotes relaxation, a sense of calm and symptom management for trauma. Many people with physical injuries are prescribed pain medications that slow down the digestive system; foreword folds will assist in a natural way of stimulating sluggish digestion.
From mountain pose, bring your feet to touch and bend forward on your next exhale. You want to bend from your hips, not the waist. Let the crown of your head hang down and lift your sit bones up towards the sky. If you’re capable of pressing your hands or fingers onto the mat with your knees straight, you can feel free to relax and rejuvenate there. However, there are modifications for those who cannot perform the full expression of this asana. You are exactly where you need to be in your practice; yoga isn’t a race or a competition, and some days our bodies are tighter than others. To avoid strain or injury, you can bend your knees slightly or use a yoga block to press your hands on. Breathe here for one minute, and notice as your body sinks deeper into the pose with each breath.
Bound Angle Pose
The hips and pelvis are known for carrying tension from trauma and stress, especially when we feel threatened in any way. Practicing bound angle pose can help release the tension you have been holding in your body. Remember, emotional trauma can cause physical symptoms.
On your next exhale, slowly unroll your body one vertebrae at a time until you’re standing, and then inhale, lift your head and roll your shoulders back. Come down to a seated position, pressing the soles of your feet together. You can hold onto your feet or rest your hands on your calves. Bring your awareness to your posture, ensuring that your spine is straightened. Roll your shoulders down and back and allow gravity to do its natural job — your legs will feel heavier and heavier while they naturally reach closer to the mat, no need for force. Feel the tension in your hips and pelvis release with each breath as you hold this position for up to five minutes. For a deeper stretch, bring your feet several inches closer to the body. Blocks can be used under the knees for a supportive modification.
Cat and Cow Pose
Back injuries can cause soreness, tension and sharp pain, among other unbearable sensations. Cat and cow are two of the best yoga poses for easing discomfort that’s associated with a back injury. Cat pose in particular is recommended for lower back pain because you stretch the spine, hips, neck and back. You may also find mental balance, which can help with managing emotional trauma.
Roll onto your hands and knees, beginning in tabletop position. Place your wrists below the shoulders and your knees beneath the hips. Make sure that your shins and knees are hip distance apart, and then spread your fingers and press your hands, knuckles and fingertips onto the mat.
Take a deep inhalation and roll into cow pose — dropping your belly low, pressing your shoulder blades together and lifting your chin and chest. On your next exhale, rotate to cat pose — drawing your belly into your spine, dropping your head and arching your back. Repeat 10 to 20 times, as needed. However, if you have a neck injury, do not raise and drop your head, let it rest in line with your torso.
Warrior II Pose
Much like mountain pose, warrior II pose evokes a feeling of power and strength. Feeling powerful after experiencing a traumatic event is essential to one’s well being. This is because people often feel a sense of unjustified weakness after going through something distressing. This position also energizes tired limbs and eases back and leg aches caused by injuries.
Return to mountain pose, take a deep exhalation and jump your feet roughly four feet apart from one another. Raise your arms so that they’re parallel with the ground, while keeping your shoulders down and palms facing the earth. Turn your right foot towards the front of the room and keep your left foot on a 45-degree angle — the right foot should be aligned with the middle of the left. Next, keep your hips centered, gaze over your right arm and begin bending into your right knee until it’s above your ankle. Breathe here for one minute, making sure your shoulders don’t creep up to your ears. Repeat on the opposite side.
Some sexual assault survivors feel uncomfortable lying on their back. Instead of using corpse pose as a final resting posture, you can choose to conclude your practice in another restorative position, child’s pose. Child’s pose promotes mindfulness, bringing you into the present moment. You can reconnect with your breath here whenever you need, this is your safe place.
Kneel down on the mat with your knees together, and on your next exhale, lower your belly so it’s resting on your thighs. Your sit bones should make a connection with your heels, but if you aren’t quite there yet, that’s okay — don’t force it. Let your forehead relax on the mat and extend your arms forward, keeping the palms facing down. Engage the muscles in your biceps and let your arms remain lifted. Next, make sure your neck is positioned neutrally and relax the muscles in your face. You can stay here while you inhale for four seconds, pause, and exhale for four seconds. Remember, this is your safe place: you can return here any time that you need to release.
Photos by Kim Fuller.
Originally published in the Winter + Spring 2020-21 issue of CO YOGA + Life Magazine