How to Feel Whole Again
“I feel like I’m a bunch of different body parts. I just want to feel like one whole person.”
These words from a massage client ran through my head as I crouched in a low lunge on my yoga mat, tapping my front foot against the mat with the rest of the class. The teacher asked us, “What is the sensation of your foot as it hits the mat? Maybe it feels squishy? Do you notice the feel of the air against your skin?”
I was in a 20-hour training with the organization Centering Youth, which brings yoga and mindfulness to youth in the juvenile justice system, and to those who have been sexually exploited, abused or are homeless. Deeply distressing or disturbing experiences of stress and trauma disconnect us from our physical bodies. We were learning how to use yoga as a tool to heal trauma and reintegrate the body and mind.
Our nervous system can be in one of two states at any given moment in time: the stress state of “fight or flight” or the calm state of “rest and digest.” “Fight or flight” is our body’s reaction to perceived threats to our survival. Our heart begins to race, our palms sweat, we’re flooded with jittery energy, want to run, or feel completely frozen. Our body is flooded with the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline.
All of this can help in moments when we’re facing a real threat, but it takes a huge toll on our bodies and can hurt our health and wellbeing when we live in a chronic or frequent state of stress.
When we’re having a “fight or flight” response, which can happen frequently for those with histories of trauma, we don’t have access to the frontal lobe of our brain–the place that lets us think clearly, problem solve, control impulses, and make good judgments.
How do we get out of “fight or flight” and find our way back to our inner calm and wholeness?
The “magic” as teacher Holle Black calls it, comes when we use mindful movement to reconnect the neural pathways in the brain. The action of noticing how the mat feels under our feet, how the air feels against our skin, requires our brain to move from the “fight or flight” back into our frontal lobe, allowing us to respond instead of react.
We can take any yoga pose or movement, focus our attention on the sensations in our body, and by doing that reconnect our minds to our bodies and the various parts of our bodies to each other.
I left the training filled with hope for my clients and all of us who feel disconnected and want to find the way back home to our bodies. Using mindful yoga techniques, we can rewire our brains to wholeness. The science affirms what I know from my own experience: It takes courage to show up on the mat. To breathe in and out. The reward for our courage is that with each breath, each lift of an arm, each stretch of a leg, we draw ourselves slowly back to wholeness.
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