Many of us have a superpower survivor skill. We’re able to read the room, scope out the nearest exit, understand what the shuffling footstep means, and instantly react to that slight facial expression change others never notice. We become exteroceptive1 geniuses, a powerful tool that got us through 100% of our worst days.
All our energy was outward toward our relationships and what others may do. With trauma, the actions and behaviors of others set in motion what we needed to adapt to in order to survive. They weren’t accountable for the choices we didn’t get to make or the ways in which we turned off our inner world to try and make sense of our outer world (and within those relationships). We were staving off chaos and a deep sense of annihilation.
To keep ourselves alert in our environment, we learned how to turn off our inner sensations, what we call interoception.2 Feelings of hunger and thirst, noticing our heart rate and breath, as well as our emotions were not needed to survive. In fact, those inner sensations and emotions may have induced more relational trauma and we learned quickly to stop feeling those things. When moments became utterly intolerable, dissociation became another superpower. As Judith Herman writes in her book, Trauma & Recovery, “Dissociation appears to be the mechanism by which intense sensory and emotional experiences are disconnected from the social domain of language and memory, the internal mechanism by which terrorized people are silenced.”
Our inner landscape, the silenced part of ourselves, can feel like an emotional minefield exploding at unexplained moments. Sensing thirst or hungry can feel odd. Integrating and expressing anger or vulnerability can be an overwhelming task. And yet, living life without the opportunity to feel our existence is profoundly hard.
We deserve to feel the life we deserve to live.
With trauma-informed yoga, the invitation is to explore sensation within a safe relationship with the facilitator and those participating (which takes time). You’re welcome to choose how you’d like to move and perhaps your choice, supported by your body, can be felt. Maybe as you move your arm, there could possibly be some sensation around your shoulder. Your action of movement perhaps can be felt in your body. Sometimes this happens and sometimes you may not feel anything, or those feelings may feel intolerable. But moment by moment, your choices can disconfirm the automatic reflex to read the room, to place all your focus on the outside.
Perhaps new feedback loops of choice and sensation can offer you moments of presence, moments of feeling the here and now, inside. A quote from Alan Fogel’s book, Body Sense: The Science and Practice of Embodied Self Awareness, “Interoception is a way of monitoring ourselves so that we can ease the felt pain, expand the felt joy, and make sure that we get the resources needed in any given moment.”
With relational trauma, we need relational healing. With trauma-informed yoga, together we can each experience our own sensations in a shared, authentic experience. Yoga gives us the space to practice our practice, to disrupt the unknowing with the knowledge, with the potential of knowing.
In deep gratitude to all those who bravely share time and movement in this way.
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/