In a recent video from PESI Inc., Dr. Bessel van der Kolk— a Senior Fellow at The Meadows— explains how yoga traditions can help prevent psychological trauma patients from getting stuck during the course of their treatment.
Traumatized people’s bodies get rewired in a way that makes them feel that they are constantly in danger. They get tightness in their chests, they feel restless, agitated, and unable to focus. This makes it necessary for them to explore how they can find stillness and become more present in the here and now.
Two major avenues for learning how to quiet your mind and body are movement and breath. Yoga and Tai Chi are both traditions that use movement and breath to help people improve their interoception, or sense of the body from within.
Learn more from Dr. van der Kolk about the role yoga and interoception can play in healing from trauma in this brief video:
If you’re a behavioral health professional, check out Dr. van der Kolk’s 6-week Intensive Trauma Treatment Course to take a deep dive into numerous effective trauma treatment modalities. Register today, because spaces are limited.
The Meadows has enriched the workshop experience for attendees by offering yoga as an adjunct benefit to all of its 5-day workshops. Group yoga will be offered twice during the workshop duration as a way to increase tolerance of feelings which allows participants to “go deep.”
Integrating yoga supports the connection between trauma and the brain and nervous system that is taught in our progressive psycho-educational workshop lectures. In addition to yoga and included in the cost of the workshop are gym privileges. These activities support the theory: move your body, move your feeling.
Yoga’s positive benefits on mental health have made it an important practice tool of psychotherapy (American Psychological Association). It’s been shown to improve the symptoms of depression, attention deficit and hyperactivity, sleep disorders, and even schizophrenia when it is practiced alongside drug therapy. Because yoga increases the level of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a chemical in the brain that helps to regulate nerve activity, it is especially relevant to those with anxiety disorders in which GABA activity is low.
Researchers say it is the relaxation response of mind and body practices that lead to physical and mental health improvements. For the body to relax at the nerve and cellular level, it’s important to alter body processes that shift us biochemically from a state of excitement and tension to a state of calm, deep rest and relaxation.
The Meadows’ one-of-a-kind workshops offer healing and empowerment to individuals in various stages of their recovery. Our workshops address the needs of those who have just begun a recovery process as well as those who have been on a recovery path and may have hit a plateau or want to deepen their experience. Workshops can also be a source of renewal for anyone who has undergone treatment. Participants work on sensitive issues in a concentrated format allowing them to jump-start and enhance their personal recovery journey by gaining insight into unhealthy patterns and practicing new relational skills within a safe environment.
Shelley's Corner: A Series on Emotional Trauma, Addiction, and Healing
Dr. Shelley Uram is a Harvard trained, triple board-certified psychiatrist and a Distinguished Fellow of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. As a Meadows' Senior Fellow, Dr. Uram conducts patient lectures and provides ongoing training and consultation to the treatment staff at The Meadows.
I want to dive right into a really interesting topic! Most of you that are reading this have received some kind of help from The Meadows – workshops, inpatient care, step-down care, lectures, etc. But I bet a lot of you didn’t know that, along with other treatments you have received or are receiving, you can help heal yourself… A LOT.
There is a growing body of fascinating research that has recently been on the horizon. Yoga, a practice most or all of you know at least something about, is one of the big “stars” of this emerging research.
Studies are showing that if you practice yoga two or more times per week for at least a few months, your brain and nervous system start to become much better regulated. Though this research is primarily around improved symptoms from psychological trauma, participants report feeling much better all around.
People that stopped the yoga practice after the studies ended saw some of their symptoms return. But the folks who stayed with it continued to feel better.
My sense is that if you practice yoga regularly and your nervous system becomes better regulated, any other treatments or practices you have may become even more beneficial.
So, go out there and give it a try!!!
Shelley Uram, M.D.
© Shelley Uram 2014
Healing our "Connective Tissue"
Yogis have long known the healing power of turning into oneself and deeply stretching one's muscles and ligaments - while also stretching one's mental focus, tuning out the static and noise of the world outside. This practice, thousands of years old, has far-reaching physical, mental, and spiritual benefits for the individual, and it fosters a sense of community and fellowship for the group.
In Yin Yoga class, practitioners hold nonmuscular poses to delve into connective tissue, healing joints, tendons, and ligaments. Recently, the instructor said in a slow, smooth voice, "There is a reason why there are only 10 of you here this morning.. We live in a society that does not value turning into ourselves, focusing on our values, or taking the actions necessary to facilitate our intentions." How true. We live in a culture that instead turns out or tunes out; we turn to iPads and smartphones to get relief from daily burdens.
Perhaps this observation resonated so deeply with me because, as a marriage and family therapist, I often see the breakdown of "connective tissue" in individuals, couples, and families. No one is shocked to hear that Americans have the highest rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and obesity in the world. Turning out and away from our burdens naturally leads us to seek relief from outside. This temporary relief may come in the form of food, alcohol, prescriptions, hours spent on Facebook or Farmville, gambling, shopping binges, or infidelity. Such activities damage our "connective tissue" to our unique values and intentions - and prohibit us from taking the actions to reach our goals. Likewise, these activities also damage the "connective tissue" of our relationships with those we hold closest.
Just as the practice of yoga can be strenuous and challenging, the practice of turning in to ourselves will likely be painful and difficult at times.
Just as yoga helps the body to melt away soreness and tension, shifting our focus to our true values and needs will help to ease the emptiness and anxiety that often cause us to look for external solutions.
Whether it's within the practice of yoga or within the context of the individual or family, the act of turning inward involves behavioral, emotional, and cognitive adjustments. An initial - and rudimentary - behavioral change is simply to turn off everything electronic. Silence the radio and cell phone on the way to work, and ask your child to turn off his iPod or DSI. The silence will help you hear your own worries, questions, intentions, and goals - and those of your child or partner. Emotionally, make an effort to be patient, positive, and open, both with yourself and others. Leave denial, defensiveness, judgment, excuses, criticism, resentments, and competition at the door. Remind yourself of what you admire about yourself or your child/partner. What are your/his/her strengths? As you gain strength, you may consider asking yourself, "What can I learn from this?" or "What is my part in this problem?"
As we begin to heal the "connective tissue" in our bodies and our relationships, we can hope for a society that is more sensitive to the needs of the individual and the community. If we look inward for solutions, we can aspire to be part of a society with less substance abuse, mental illness, divorce, violence, and crime.