From Freeze to Flow – Releasing Stored Stress and Trauma on the Mat

After my son was released from his month long hospital stay following a traumatic accident at the age of seven, the follow up care we received from doctors was primarily sound. They taught us to gingerly dress and treat wounds, they helped my son work out what to say if and when people’s questions became uncomfortable and they remained patient, kind and informative during the weeks and months of follow up visits and surgical procedures.

During this time, if someone had suggested I incorporate yoga and/or meditation into the list of aftercare routines, I’m not sure I would have taken it seriously. While certainly appreciative of the practices, I saw them more as perks than legitimate treatments that would aid his healing.

Thirteen years later, equipped with not only better insight, but more importantly, thanks to the significant strides made in the understanding of how the brain and body store trauma, I now see how and why yoga and meditation would have made a difference in helping my son through a number of hurdles. If given a do-over, yoga and/or meditation would be as much a part of the daily ritual as teeth brushing and bedtime stories.

It was not the fault of the doctors. They were trained to treat the physical wounds. We were lucky to have a doctor who not only provided life saving medical care, but was additionally deeply compassionate; forging a connection with my son that lasts to this day.

Nonetheless, we would have benefited from information on the long lasting impact of trauma and on how to effectively respond to the myriad of ways in which trauma would rear itself throughout his childhood, adolescence and young adulthood.

I’m fairly certain now a consistent yoga and meditation practice would have at the very least soothed if not fully alleviated a number of struggles my son experienced.

Yoga helps regulate emotional and physiological states. It allows the body to regain its natural movement and teaches the use of breath for self-regulation… Yoga teaches us that there are things we can do to change our brainstem arousal system, our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and to quiet the brain.”

Author, The Body Keeps the Score

I’ve come to believe this is true on a community level as well. I live in Newtown CT. The 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in which twenty first graders and six educators were killed shook the town to its core. Though remaining a lovely and strong community, the residual effects are complex and many.

Though efforts to help the community heal have ebbed and flowed over the past five years, The Newtown Yoga Festival, launched summer of 2013 with renowned yogi Seane Corn headlining, and held the last Saturday of August ever since, has managed to not only sustain but to thrive. The event has been especially beneficial for those who wish to move on from or not engage in events or programs directly related to the shooting.

“Sometimes, yes, we feel foundationed out and evented out, and it’s too much – let’s have another yoga day,”

~Dr. Jeremy Richman, Neuroscientist and director of The Avielle Foundation: Preventing Violence Through Brain Health Research, Community Engagement and Education

The symptoms of trauma, which include, inability to concentrate, acute anxiety and bodily aches, so common in people like my son as well as many residents here in Newtown, are actually not caused by the traumatic event itself but rather, according to Dr. Peter Levine,“stem from the frozen residue of energy that had not been resolved or discharged.The residue remains trapped in the nervous system where it can wreak havoc on our bodies and spirits.”