Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Body as Storage, or Confronting Trauma

My travels have finally stopped for a bit, and I have found a few yoga classes I like. It feels good to be getting back into the groove of a more “normal” life. By normal, I mostly mean that I stay at home on the weekends and can actually do some errands. It also means I can start attending yoga classes more regularly. My daily practice has, once again, become daily, and it feels wonderful. But there is something differently wonderful about attending a class. Sometimes they are not everything I hope they will be, but sometimes they hit me just where I need. This Sunday’s class was one such class.

The teacher started class by reminding us that we hold emotions in our bodies. She said, and I am paraphrasing to the best of my memory, “Each traumatic experience we have is stored in our body, and it can come back to us at any moment.” Think muscle memory and brain patterns. The body literally holds onto experiences until we let them go. Of course, this is just as true for joyful memories as it is for traumatic ones. People have been known to laugh or cry hysterically in yoga “for no reason.” The reason, however, is the body remembering the occasion and bringing it back to the surface.

This is something I think about all the time on my own (some would, perhaps, say too often). In the class, however, we went together into the pain we hold in our bodies. The teacher asked us to face the fear we hold in our bodies. Generally, the only classes I attend where we consciously go deep into long-held postures and really confront the body’s depths are restorative and yin classes. I love both those types of classes. In Sunday’s class, however, we held Warrior 1 and Triangle for long periods. We did not hold them for five minutes, but we definitely held them for longer than is generally typical.

While I certainly have my own hip / low-back issues to address, I found myself thinking throughout class about my clients. With the reminder that every traumatic experience we have is stored in our body’s muscle memory, my mind turned to my clients who, by definition, have experienced some sense of trauma, and many of them have experienced a significant amount of it. My clients range in age from 17 days to 17 years. All of them have trauma.

And then my mind turned to the lawyers with whom I work, and the rest of the people who work within the legal system generally, whether lawyers, staff, social workers, psychologists. More and more people recently have become aware of the concept known as Secondary Shock or Vicarious Trauma, in which people in helping professions experience the trauma of their clients vicariously through them. The only difference is that when trauma is experienced secondhand, we do not always recognize it for what it is. The body can tell no difference, but our minds, for whatever reason, think there is one.  

I asked myself what I can do to help these people who hold so much in their bodies and have no idea. My mind wandered to my infant clients born into this world in even more trauma than typical of birth (birth, of course, being a traumatic experience for everyone). It then wandered to my clients who have chosen life on the streets because, as they say in their own words, they don’t know any different.

Of course, this blog is the step I took to try to bring awareness to these issues. I do not see this being my only confrontation of this topic on this blog. It is not only important; it is vital that we learn about it and talk about it. But what about today? What about the people who have no internet access or the people who know nothing about yoga. I take my yoga-ness with me everywhere, on some level. I have talked to clients and others about breathing and walking away at times.

But then I remember the trauma. I remember all they have experienced. All I can do in those moments is hope, pray, and believe that the human spirit and consciousness is greater than the sum of its parts, and that everyone and anyone is capable of overcoming anything they have experienced in life.

I have said before that I believe yoga is for everyone. It does not take a particular level of fitness, calm, flexibility, or even time. It does, however, take a desire to start. Sometimes living life through a yoga lens means seeing all the people who have not yet seen its beauty. I do not think yoga is the answer for everyone, but I wish more people were able to find their answer.

Where do you notice the tension being stored? Have you ever experienced unannounced emotion in a yoga class?


© Rebecca Stahl 2012, all rights reserved.

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