By: Audrey Lundahl
Yoga can be a powerful tool for healing. Stress, anxiety, and trauma—whether experienced every day or sporadically—impact our bodies. The symptoms manifest in many ways: as dis-regulated breathing, throat constriction, lack of presence, insomnia, migraines, heightened sensations, fatigue, aches and pains, and so on.
These symptoms occur because we feel stress in our brains and nervous systems, which are irrevocably tied to our bodies. Repeated stress can keep our amygdala in overdrive, constantly identifying danger all around us. During this overdrive, our brains can become flooded with cortisol, disconnecting us from the present and leaving us confused and worn out. (Increased cortisol has many other negative health effects.) This constant reaction to stress can make our nervous system extremely reactive and consequently our bodies become exhausted.
Many people, myself included, turn away from our bodies in an attempt to avoid the symptoms of constant stress and fatigue. Maybe we become convinced that if we ignore our bodily symptoms, they will go away. And yet, ignoring our bodies only increases our fatigue.
Yoga helped me return to my body after trauma, depression, and stress. In my first yoga class ten or so years ago, I remember vividly the feeling of my legs in Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose). Although sometimes considered a passive pose, it invited full sensation into my body as my legs drew gently down and my hips began to feel more open. I simple thought “Wow, these are my legs!” I hadn’t even realized how disconnected from my body I was. Practicing yoga and finding those moments of embodied presence, I finally started to feel at home. Such a simple experience of feeling my legs for the first time in what seemed like forever brought me into a longer (hopefully life-long!) journey to honoring my body and its sensations.
Why is yoga such a powerful tool for embodiment and, thus, for healing? Simply put, we experience stress and trauma in our bodies, so of course our path to healing and presence must include, or even center, the body. The practice of mindful movement and breath offers our bodies a chance to work through body-stored memories and emotions. Simultaneously, our breath calms our nervous system. During a challenging pose, whether that’s Half Pigeon or Warrior III, if we can focus our attention on breathing through whatever sensations arise, we can retrain our nervous system out of constant overdrive and hyper-reaction.
Our connection to our bodies and experiences of embodiment are essential to our holistic health, especially in our often over-stressed, extra-busy lifestyles. When I teach yoga classes at Authentic Yoga Life, including gentle, power, and special trauma yoga classes, my intention is to hold space for each person’s journey into their bodies. I am committed to this intention because I know that each person has the capacity to tap into the healing wisdom of our bodies. During a gentle or power yoga class, we can invite our awareness back into our bodies and find profound moments of waking up—moments where we emerge from our fog and realize that we haven’t been paying attention. These moments of awakening provide opportunities for healing, and we can begin anytime.
I teach gentle yoga Tuesdays at 7 pm and power yoga Mondays at 9:15 am and Thursdays at 5:30 pm; I’d love to be a part of your healing journey.