with Dr. Bessel van der Kolk discussing The Body Keeps the Score!
I was privileged to be selected as a panelist in the Trauma Research Foundation’s Book Club Week 5 and Week 6 first ever Live Q&A with Dr. Bessel van der Kolk discussing his book, The Body Keeps the Score!
It was a thrilling and a deeply personal self-recognition building experience. I proudly represented Three and a Half Acres Yoga (THAY) practices as a teacher. I shared my experience of trauma-informed yoga as a support for reconnection to the body through observing sensations, noticing with curiosity, mindful awareness, and breath, and how this practice encourages a compassionate relationship to the body and oneself and to approach sensations with a curiosity rather than judgment.
Here are a few highlights:
In TRF Book Club: The Body Keeps the Score Week 5 we engaged in a discussion of Chapter 16: Learning to Inhabit Your Body: Yoga. What I learned from my THAY teacher training about the autonomic nervous system which when in balance helps us to reasonably respond to challenges from stress.
The autonomic nervous system is composed of the sympathetic nervous systems (SNS), where chemicals move from the brain to the body that signal the body to action and the parasympathetic nervous (PNS) system that supports functions like digestion. Heart rate variability or (HRV) helps to measure the balance between SNS and PNS. Yoga helps to support our breathing and therefore regulation of the HRV so we stay more in balance. How one breath can affect our moods, help us to stay calm and improve our stress responses to anxiety, anger and depression. This was a great reinforcement of THAY mindfulness practices of noticing the breath– our in breath and outbreath, not with any intention to speed up or slow it down but just through gentle observation.
At THAY, we remind our students that they are in charge of their own bodies, encouraging a self-led practice. I got to highlight the importance of having autonomy of your own yoga practice by listening to your own body in our Week 5 TRF Book Club discussion. As we know this approach helps build trust of your body and to do what is right for you; which is so important to us as survivors of trauma and fellow THAY trauma-informed practiced teachers to foster within our communities we teach.
As we move our bodies, creating shapes, pausing, observing our breath and taking notice of any sensations we do so with curiosity and compassion tuning into ourselves and practicing mindfulness. This approach to mindfulness encourages what Bessel van der Kolk in The Body Keeps the Score references from the Internal Family System (IFS) by Richard Schwartz as “mindful self-leadership” and “the foundation for healing from trauma.”
Panelists and participants in the online chat described approaches to yoga practice that can be supportive as well as those that can be harmful. This spoke to trauma-informed practices we learn in THAY about being sensitive to our populations with our language and to practice with awareness of what can be potentially triggering. Additionally, to focus on a practice which fosters inclusivity as an overly challenging practice can make it less accessible to a larger community level of participation.
We also spoke about recognizing people’s experiences of trauma and the discomfort of what can happen to people. When we tell our own story of how we came to THAY and the disadvantaged communities we serve, we educate society and shape the social media discourse on yoga and the need for mental health services.
Your trauma-informed practices with THAY can be advocacy to increase society’s awareness and help shift the paradigm of yoga to include these practices as mainstream. We can also get involved within community organizations and institutions leaders who bring together clinicians, researchers, educators, such as with the Trauma Research Foundation and participate in social media by listening to people tell their stories through podcasts, writings within the larger public discourse on trauma and related fields.
The final TRF Book Club: The Body Keeps the Score Week 6 was a Live Q&A with Dr. Bessel van der Kolk discussing The Body Keeps the Score! It was such a thrill to be included and hear his honest and reflective thoughts. I was given a beautiful question to ask: Question 3: “What are the most vital things we can practice when we have a loss of self in both mind and body?” he shared,
“Our sense of self is a sense of body self. How do we get a sense of agency in our body?”
He went on to cite examples like boating, playing tennis, or doing yoga. For more see here.
TRF Book Club: The Body Keeps the Score
Visit the Trauma Research Foundation to learn more about the organization and their work. They have plenty of free online learning opportunities that I am taking advantage of to continue to learn, study, and become more educated to support my trauma-informed practices.
Safara Fisher: Senior Teacher, THAY
The Body Keeps the Score is referenced in the THAY Service and Trauma-Sensitive Yoga Training and is applied in my teaching. As a person living with a chronic digestive dis-ease for 20 years, she is aware of her bodymind, physical illness and trauma connection.This book supports her with theory, science and practices for recovery from trauma. It is Safara’s intention that in her work, she may serve and represent the diversity of racial and cultural community of yogis and promote inclusivity.