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The Yogi's Path for Healing Trauma

The Yogi's Path for Healing Trauma

A friend just sent me a compelling article about trauma in the classroom. When a child has experienced deep traumas, s/he will often present as tough, guarded, or hostile. However, behaviors that communicate anger or bravado could be guarding a thinly-veiled state of panic. The child may be focused only on survival.

The article points to ways that an educator can 'meet' the needs underneath rather than reacting to the behavior. What it takes is the capacity to 'co-regulate.'

'Emotional regulation' is a big buzzphrase in psych circles because we can only thrive if we learn to regulate our emotions.

In the classroom, it's taught, kids do best when they can self-regulate, but this article points out that children can only learn that skill if the adult educator is regulated, as well.

I think these themes are relevant to any relationship. You can't walk down the street without bumping into someone who has been through some sort of trauma, and most of us have a family member who has been traumatized, if we ourselves have not.

Yoga encourages us to bring our attention to the delicate encounter with what is stored in the samskaras - the past imprints of our experience. By meeting everything that arises, yoga offers an approach for learning emotional regulation.

The samskaras, or impressions from the past, continue to shape the individual as long as the sense of self as separate and fixed is not softened. Because the past becomes so easily lodged in identity, the rigid definition of self known as ahamkar or 'i-sense,' an individual can easily, unwittingly, sculpt their future into a replica of the past.

Despite holding resentment towards one's past, one may grow up to recreate it.

In this way, all the old traumas have to be re-lived on into the future. However painful or irritating that may be, there is a certain sense of continuity that is maintained. The sense of self that was established as a child gets re-affirmed continually. The individual gets to munch on the same brain chemical flavors as they did in childhood, re-experiencing all the old, familiar emotions, and processing them in the same way.

Alternately, one may do the opposite: Create a future that is a direct reaction to the past, sculpting a set of realities that negate the past or attempt to obliterate it. In so doing, certain elements of the core self may be sent underground, so the individual doesn't have to confront the difficult feelings lodged in their memory from early experience. A whole self may be twisted or contorted in order to avoid re-living anything from the past.

The yogi takes a radically different approach.

Little by little, the yogi, simply by turning compassionate attention to the body and the breath, undergoes a chiseling away of the mental constructs that enable the rigidity of the ego. The yogi practices confronting mental states and then allowing them to fall away via direct apprehension of the truth as it is expressed in the body, in the breath, in the void of the present moment. Nothing is left as the yogi enters into the pristine emptiness of this void. The yogi experiences utter acceptance of the inevitability of karma and samskaras.

How can this be so?

That which most plagues us, enters into the realm of the utterly acceptable?

Through direct confrontation, we recognize our fear, our dread, the reckless repetitions of karmic patterns, the tyranny of time. We allow the fear to rise to the surface. We chew upon it as if cud, we ruminate on it. We call it fear, labeling it. Neither accepting, nor rejecting, but directly apprehending.

As Yoda so graciously taught: "Named must your fear be before banish it you can."

Like Shiva, as Nilakantha, the blue-throated one, we hold the poisons of our past in the throat, as Shiva held the samskara-halla-halla, the toxins of samskara.

In the ancient myth, when Shiva came forward to purify the poison churned up from the Ocean of Milk, he did not swallow. Neither did he spit it out. He held it, neither attached to it, nor rejecting it. In this way, in perfect equanimity, the yogi is released from the tyranny of time, the endless iterations of the same patterns.

The yogi then enters into spanda, the pulse, the reality of the universe, the endless vibration.

If you're looking for a sound way to work with the past, heal trauma, and release samkaras, try finding some quiet time with a journal or simply to reflect in nature. Slow your breath, and answer these questions to yourself:

  • Where do I get hijacked by the past?

  • Can I sit with my pain differently?

  • Might stillness contribute to healing and create movement?

  • How can I make more time for inquiry?

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