Dr. Bobbie Legg one of our amazing trauma therapists shares her insights into using yoga as therapy.
The Sanskrit word for yoga means union: of mind, body and spirit. Yoga is known for its transformative power that extends beyond the physical to nourish the mind and help us cope with life’s pressures. At Beyond The Orphanage we use yoga with children who are recovering from sexual, physical and emotional trauma.
I fell in love with yoga in 2001 while living and working on a remote Native American Reservation. As much as yoga challenged my muscles and balance, it also challenged my mind to be still. I felt present in a way I never had experienced.
Over the past 15 years there have been a number of clinical studies into the benefits of yoga for mental health. Practicing yoga has shown to deliver positive changes for persons struggling with trauma and associated emotional and behavioural issues. One of the key findings is that yoga helps to build interoceptive awareness in trauma survivors, which is the ability to sense the internal state of our body.
Yoga is the practice of being aware, of being present, and befriending your body. A child’s most frequent response to the intense, paralyzing fear that can accompany rape and domestic violence is the numbing/freezing response. After the immediate trauma has passed and children find safety, they tend to live in a state of internal numbing with guilt and fear being their silent companion. For survivors of trauma who have felt detachment from their own body, thoughts, and emotions, yoga encourages them to be present in a gentle, safe and nurturing environment. It’s also fun.
When I began using yoga in my therapy work, my clients took to it quickly and described a changing awareness immediately following our sessions. Yoga seemed to give them a healthy sense of interoception that they previously sought out in acts of self-harm, by cutting and burning their skin or seeking a physical override of their pain through drugs and alcohol.
I also noticed something else I hadn’t read in the literature. While the children and teens enjoyed the thrilling challenge of the more vigorous acroyoga poses, they repeatedly sought out the actions of interactive play. These were the poses that involved strong eye contact and being aware of each other’s presence. Poses that required trust in each other for balance and holding.
These children, who had been ripped away from the primary life gift of having parents, sought out interpersonal connections through yoga. Interpersonal neurobiology teaches us that this non-verbal connection is what forms our earliest attachment to caregivers. In these partner poses, mirror neurons light up the right frontal lobe. As the children gaze, sense their balance, and laugh together they feel connected. They are no longer alone.
After surviving abuse and isolation, yoga connects a child to their own heartbeat, breath, and to other caring souls who are there for them as they walk out of a harrowing past and into a loving, safe present.
Please help us to fund more yoga sessions and continue this important work.