Childhood Resilience and Suppression

Throughout my career in education, I’ve seen a lot of children who have suffered through unimaginable circumstances. Lately, it seems the amount of kids who have endured significant trauma is on the rise. These children face issues like domestic abuse, sexual and physical abuse, neglect, parental incarceration, parental addictions, and community violence. Most kids resist talking about the challenges they face because they don’t want to relive the hurt. Children’s bodies do an excellent job of protecting them by shutting down the pain of emotional trauma because young bodies may not have the strength or capability to fully deal with the intensity of the pain. Like a latent virus, many believe that emotion is stored in the body and, like a suppressed immune system, eventually resurfaces when faced with a trigger. That is why the effects of childhood trauma can haunt us long after our childhood has ended.

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Our Body’s Response to Unresolved Emotional Pain

If our body is a storehouse for unresolved emotional pain, eventually that pain will need to be released. Unfortunately, we are not very good at dealing with emotions in this culture. This may be one reason we have such high rates of addictive behavior. In the National Survey of Adolescents, teens who had experienced physical or sexual abuse/assault were three times more likely to report past or current substance abuse than those without a history of trauma. Data from over 17,000 patients in Kaiser Permanente’s Adverse Childhood Experiences study indicate that a child who experiences four or more traumatic events is five times more likely to become an alcoholic, 60% more likely to become obese, and up to 46 times more likely to become an injection-drug user than the general population.

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Research Devoted to Mind-Body Connection

Western society is slowly recognizing the connection between mind and body. An increasing number of US medical schools and centers like Harvard, Columbia University, University of California, and the University of Pittsburgh have departments devoted to mind–body research and some also to mind–body treatment. Many health care practitioners are embracing new research that supports the mind-body connection.

It turns out that spending time on a yoga mat may be a promising tool in healing emotional pain. Many people are aware of yoga’s physical and stress-reducing benefits; however, “The fundamental premise of yoga. . . is to reduce suffering,” says John Kepner, director of the International Association of Yoga Therapists.

4 Ways Yoga Can Aid In Healing Emotional Pain

Here’s how yoga may help:

1. Yoga Removes Us from Flight or Fight

Many people who have not healed from their emotional pain can be in a constant state of high alert. Their sympathetic nervous system is consistently activated. We can observe this in people who lose control of their emotions very easily. An innocuous trigger can send them into a rage or an emotional meltdown. Yoga calms our sympathetic nervous system. When practicing yoga, our bodies become less anxious and more relaxed. The act of deep breathing naturally calms our bodily systems and allows us to experience more peace.

2. Yoga Nurtures Our Relationship with Ourselves

As the body works on physical strength and balance, we receive the added benefit of becoming mentally strengthened and balanced. Focusing on the breath while holding a pose clears the mind of chaotic chatter. A sense of clarity and peace arise along with added insight. It is not uncommon to hear stories about people tearing up during a yoga session.

Yoga has a way of reaching those buried parts of our stories and gently placing them in front of us while compassionately whispering, “It’s time to heal this.”

3. Yoga Shines Light into the Darkness

We often hold stress and tension unconsciously in our bodies: a stiff neck, a sore shoulder, a tension headache, or a knot in our lower back. These subtle pains become noticeable when we sit on the mat. They beg the question, “What subconscious emotions are manifesting as physical pain?” When we pay attention to our bodies, they reveal a lot about our state of being. It’s difficult to run from a miserable job, an unhappy marriage, the loss of a loved one, or a child who is making poor choices when you are forced to sit with yourself.

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Warrior II Pose – Virabhadrasana II

4. Yoga Empowers the Practitioner

We can’t switch out our families, change the past, or control other people’s behavior. We can, however, change how we react to the people in our lives and forgive and accept past hurts.

Yoga poses or asanas are ripe with symbolism. For example, there are three variations of the warrior pose that tell the story of a powerful warrior named Virabhadra. Virabhadra used righteous anger to triumph over his enemies. It is difficult to successfully maneuver through relationships that are wrapped in complicated emotions that lead to arguments and resentments. The pose teaches that the warrior in us can fight our battles with proper weapons, not deadly weapons such as the ego. When our battles cross the line, the pose offers reflection and reminds us that a true warrior exercises forgiveness and compassion.

Healing Through Yoga

Practicing yoga is neither a panacea nor a primary treatment for healing emotional pain and trauma. It is one tool that may help an individual process through past pain and manage their emotions more effectively while acquiring a sense of self-compassion and peace.