Yoga can have a profound impact on the lives of people who are lucky enough to come across it. Yoga is part of a powerful body of knowledge that dates back many hundreds and even thousands of years. Yoga actually started more as a philosophy or “way of life” and then the physical side was introduced to complement this already extensive body of knowledge. Yoga has of course been found to help keep the body in optimal shape throughout its life. However yoga has also been found to help with sometimes severely traumatic experiences.
There have been many cases of people going through a traumatic experience and how they were able to change their life around through yoga. “When we practice yoga, we clear the space to begin to touch base with who we truly are, beneath the story, beneath the tragedy,” says Amy Weintraub, founding director of LifeForce Yoga Healing Institute and author of Yoga for Depression. “And that can infuse us with a sense of hope.”
Yoga teaches us about the intricate connections that exists between the mind and the body. An important part of this connection is the breath. When you go through a crisis or tragedy, Weintraub explains, your muscles tighten and the breath can become chronically constricted. “The body remembers the places we’ve held trauma and loss, even if we think we’ve let it go,” Weintraub says. Learning how to breathe properly can also be learning how to let go of past trauma.
Researchers working with PTSD sufferers for example, have shown that yoga can improve heart-rate variability (a measure of chronic stress and PTSD), emotional regulation, and pain.
In 2002 Joe Dailey was in a near fatal car accident that left him paralysed from the chest down. He spent a month in intensive care and the next nine months in rehab and had to breathe through a tube for almost two years after that. In rehab he was only taught to focus on rehabilitating his upper body “forget about the rest of the body”.
Being a runner Joe was not happy just “forgetting” about his legs. So in 2006 he found an adaptive yoga class at a rehab centre taught by a paraplegic yoga teacher. In his first class, Joe was helped to get out of his chair and sit on the floor, something he hadn’t done in over 4 years since the accident! “When I got on the floor, I felt connected again,” he says. “I don’t know any other way to describe it. The able-bodied walk on the earth every day, touching the ground. A person in a wheelchair is always hovering above it.”
After taking several weekly classes, Joe eventually learned how to do many yoga poses unassisted—twists, passive backbends, even modified Sun Salutations, which he does by pressing his hands into the back of a couch to stretch into versions of Downward Dog and Cobra.
In this paralysed yoga class, patients are taught using yoga cues similar to those you’d hear in any class, like: “Sit up tall and push down through your feet.” When Joe initially heard this, he thought ‘I’m paralysed from my chest down; I can’t push through my feet. I don’t know what this guy is smoking!’ But he tried, and inexplicably it worked. He experienced an awareness of pushing his feet down into the floor, or into his wheelchair foot pedals. And this awareness has been transformative, improving his balance and body confidence so much that he can now transfer himself from his chair to his bed without assistance, making him much more independent.
Post adapted from yoga journal article. To read more click here.