In her book Trauma and Recovery, Judith Herman, states:
“The core experiences of psychological trauma are disempowerment and disconnection from others. Recovery, therefore, is based upon the empowerment of the survivor and the creation of new connections. Recovery can take place only within the context of relationships; it cannot occur in isolation.”
The very first time I read these words I understood the validity of this statement.
My training in Trauma Sensitive Yoga emphasized that forming a relationship based on authenticity and safety is paramount. Recovery only takes place in the context of safe relationship.
How, then, do we offer empowerment and create connection with those who are on a path to recovery from trauma?
When I greet someone for the first time I notice the feel of their handshake, the warmth of their smile and the cadence of their voice. The Ayurvedic part of me is aware of face shape, physique, anxious movement or serene stillness. I feel the energy of the person in my presence. This happens in a matter of a few seconds and the process is quite unconscious and visceral. I have precious little time to wordlessly assure them that I honor their presence and that my compassion is real, my desire to help a heartfelt one.
I understand that my new acquaintance may have a distinctly difference experience of our meeting; trauma profoundly affects a person’s view of the world. Anxiety may rise, a desire to flee may be present, hypervigilance will cause them to look at my expressions and mannerisms to decide if I am judging them or appearing insincere. They wonder if I am a safe person. In these seconds, they discern if they will stay or go, trust me or consider me another person who may hurt them in the future.
Ayurveda teaches me that every person is unique and has a story that belongs only to them. The most important thing I can do when meeting another is to compassionately listen; I believe that the act of listening is often where healing begins. This listening happens with my ears and more so with my heart. There is an intuitive understanding that helps me hear the story behind the story. This is where authentic connection begins.
When I am working with a person ayurvedically, I hear a spoken story. When I am working with a person who has experienced trauma I rarely know the details of their history. My work is about saying to them in multiple ways, “You are safe with me. I will allow you to come to me just as you are, welcoming you to try a practice that may help your healing.” This is both simple and complex, visceral and subtle. Sometimes I form a relationship and sometimes I understand that now is not the right time, that I am not the right person. I am drawn over and over to the yogic teaching of Aparigraha or non-grasping. I must walk into each new interaction with a sense of presence and open-handedness. I can never be coercive and can never assume that I have a powerful sense of knowing what is right for another.
In a tangible sense, safety is created by the space we occupy. I am conscious of some of the ways that a person might feel unsafe: open windows that allow others to look in, the sounds of the environment which might include road traffic or human voices, the air temperature, the size of the space which is optimally large enough to offer room for each person to move but not so large that it feels cavernous, the colors and objects that are placed within. Safety is also created by how I present myself. The tone of my voice, its cadence and modulation, eye contact, the distance I stand from the person in front of me and the clothes I wear all affect how another person sees and understands me. I have learned that many things may be a trigger for the people I work with. I cannot anticipate all the possibilities. However, I do my best to create a space that is welcoming. I also invite those I work with to let me know if there are ways that I can adjust to allow their anxiety to lessen.
Whatever teachings I lean into, whatever language I choose, I circle back to the need for grounding, curious self-observation and few distractions. When I share Trauma Sensitive Yoga I am fostering a present moment experience for my clients and myself. The words I use to invite a person to continuously come back to how they are experiencing their bodies, what their muscles may be doing, where they have sensation and where they do not are ways to invite presence. My job is not to ensure an outcome but rather to offer a safe experience in the here and now.
I am honored to be doing the work that I do, to have come, at this point in my life, to a new understanding of what relationship is, how it hurts and how it heals. Ayurveda opened my eyes; my work with people who have experienced trauma opens my heart. In the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, “The source of love is deep in us and we can help others realize a lot of happiness. One word, one action, one thought can reduce another person’s suffering and bring that person joy.” Namaste