When facilitating trauma-informed yoga, a fundamental component of our time together will be the exploration of present moment choice making.
What is Present Moment Choice Making?
Life is lived in the present moment and then the new present moment and so on. It’s not a bullseye to hit and then you’re done with it, but rather a flow that attunes to your own rhythm. When we have survived trauma, our protective and survival adaptations can make it feel like our trauma is an ever-present past. It invades our moments in ways that are unique to our own experience, ranging from panic to dissociation and all the blends and flavors in between. It can make living in the present moment terrifying and painful.
We didn’t have a choice back then. Our only goal was to survive. We had to turn off choice-making (an emergent property of safety and connection). For example, if I was being chased by a bear, my whole system will turn towards one thing-survival. It doesn’t matter if I wanted to take that hike or if I was hungry or how I felt about friendships, politics, anything. And then perhaps every time I walk outside, my whole self is on alert, sensitive to any cue or clue that there is a bear nearby. I can feel like I’m always about to be chased by a bear. Being on alert for danger and threat, choices once again feel inaccessible.
There is a possibility of new feedback loops, the possibility of “creating autonomic pathways of safety and connection,” meaning that I no longer feel like I’m always about to be chased by a bear. Perhaps trauma-informed yoga can invite moments to disconfirm the patterns of protection with patterns of connection. Moment by moment.
Part of what is baked into trauma-informed yoga is that we’re not alone. We’re doing this present moment thing together. It doesn’t mean the same, it means together. If I wanted to choreograph a yoga sequence and have the whole class perform it in ways that I think are correct, then I’m not offering a choice. I may offer some options but it’s within the aesthetic, performative container. I may feel like a bear to some people.
So what I offer is an invitation. And if you’d like, we can try it here.
As you’re ready, you’re welcome to maybe lift your arms. Maybe it’s forward and up or maybe it’s to the side. The pace and range of motion of how you’d like to lift your arms (if you’re lifting your arms) is totally up to you. And if we were together, you would see me exploring the lift of my arms, making a choice of how I’d like to lift them as well. Maybe it’s similar or maybe we’re moving in different ways. If it feels interesting to explore, there could be some sensation, some felt sense inside as you lift your arms. Maybe it’s around your shoulders or maybe somewhere else. There’s always space for not feeling anything or noticing anything. That’s totally okay. Or maybe there’s something that’s awakening that feels intolerable and you’d like to stop moving your arms. You’re welcome to stop and it could be for any reason. There’s no right or wrong in the way that you are choosing to move or not move in this moment.
As you’re moving your arms, maybe you notice your breath, your inhale and your exhale. If you’d like, you could experiment with your movement having some relationship to the rhythm of your breath, or maybe you’d like to move faster or slower than your breath. You’re welcome to engage with your movement choices, as feel useful to you at this moment.
And that was present moment choice making. If you gave that a try or read my words and imagined the movement, you may have noticed some of the questions living inside my words. What do I want to do in this moment? How would I like to move my arms? And as I’m making that choice for myself, can I feel that inside my body in some way?
Sustaining some curiosity about how you’d like to engage with trauma-informed movement is a way to embody (beyond language here) that there isn’t a bear at that moment. Perhaps those moments and those choices you deserve to make for yourself are ways to disconfirm that ever-present past.
Thank you for being willing to read this and perhaps try some movement.
 Dana, D., & Porges, S. W. (2018). The Polyvagal theory in therapy: Engaging the rhythm of regulation (Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology) (Illustrated ed.). W. W. Norton & Company.
Mindy Levine facilitates the trauma-informed yoga program at the CPTSD Foundation. She is trained as a volunteer crisis counselor with Crisis Text Line as well as being a TCTSY-F (Trauma Center Trauma Sensitive Yoga Facilitator). She recently published an article about Utilizing Polyvagal Theory practices in trauma-informed spaces for the international journal, “Voices Against Torture.” More information about Mindy and her work and writing can be found at https://www.mindylevine.org/