Many of us walk around with trapped trauma in our bodies.
In an attempt to help us, our bodies store stressful experiences in the cells so that we can go about our day to day lives.
This built-up energy has nowhere to go and manifests into sore body parts and illness.
The time you felt sick after a breakup, heartburn at a job that didn’t respect you, or sore shoulders during a stressful month, you’ve observed your body hold onto trauma (big and small) for you.
The good news?
Your body is constantly in communication with you. It tells you a story of what your mind and body need to be whole, healthy, and happy.
The silly news?
We tend to ignore this communication. The scrape on your foot that won’t heal, the knee that gives you issues, the constant heartburn or headache.
This is where yoga comes in. The combination of physical and mental practice releases this suffering. Built-up energy needs both a physical and an emotional way out, or it will continue to get bigger until we are forced to notice.
Releasing Trapped Trauma
Two sides are needed for the physical and emotional release of trapped trauma:
- Quiet space for the body to activate the parasympathetic nervous system (the regulation responsible for “rest and digest” vs. “fight or flight”)
- A physical movement that releases the build-up of stress in a systematic way (the flow of specific postures).
Nervous System for Release
The parasympathetic nervous system is extremely important for the body to maintain and rebuild organs from daily stress and activity. To discharge what is no longer needed.
It’s responsible for our body to rest, digest, and rejuvenate.
The sympathetic nervous system is what is activated most of the day for us. It’s the fight or flight mode we turn on to worry about work, stress through traffic, or grow anxious about bills.
In an attempt to relax we turn to our screens to alleviate built-up stress and anxiety, instead of honoring spaces of quiet to rest.
This is how trauma becomes trapped in the body, and we end up screaming at the car going too slow in front of us or our partner after they said something we don’t like.
It sneaks up on us if we let it.
Using Yoga for Release
My first yoga class was in Seoul, South Korea in 2007, and where I first released trauma through yoga.
I was going to grad school for international business, and I signed up at the local gym to sweat out some foreign student stress.
My classmate dragged me to their complementary Ashtanga yoga session, pretty much kicking and screaming.
Why should I go to yoga? I’m not flexible. I’ll look stupid. I’ll go once, I remember thinking.
Honestly, I’ll never forget the sensation of my heart in my throat as I stepped into the dark mirror-lined room. I was for sure going to fart and embarrass myself.
The entire class was all in the Korean language, but because it was Ashtanga, it was the same series of poses I could mimic by placing my mat at the back of the room.
As the only two foreigners in class, the teacher whispered as she passed us, “Breathe in. Breathe out.”
At the end of class, she knelt down and softly pressed her hands on the tops of my shoulders in savasana, corpse pose, and took a big breath out with me.
As we breathed in together again, she pressed down the fronts of my shoulders.
It was the best feeling in the entire world. Grounded. Kind. Safe. Peaceful. One tear rolled down the side of my cheek.
I have never been more surprised by a single tear. I had no idea I had become so wound up – simply because my body had been quietly, yet diligently stacking a pile of stress in my shoulders and mind for the last three months.
The Body’s Reaction
My body wanted to help me function through a mess of studies, learning a foreign language, teaching English to tiny seven-olds, and just functioning without a solid support system of friends and family.
You know, life on the other side of the planet from where I was used to. Trauma can be a lot of little things, that add into a big thing.
I didn’t realize how much my body needed the physical movement and the quiet space to just let go.
Feeling so much stronger emotionally and physically after that one class, and I had religiously lifted weights and ran at the gym for the past three months.
I continued to return for the connection with my breath, that simple Thai massage at the end, and the familiarity of the same Ashtanga pattern over and over.
It was a workout, but it also left me always feeling grounded, safe, and peaceful in a way that I desperately needed. Far from home, no support network, and singularly focused on studies or work.
I absolutely credit my grad school graduation to my relationship with yoga.
Two years later I returned to the USA with my MBA, terrified at the thought of switching my yoga style and teacher.
In my new city, the only studio nearby was Hot Yoga and suggested by my friend who taught the class. 104 degrees Fahrenheit and 40% humidity? While exercising?
That sounds terrible, I thought while nodding yes to go out of politeness.
Same heart-in-throat feeling as I accidentally wore shoes in the studio, laid down 20 minutes in and swore I’d never come back.
Then at the very end in sweet savasana, she pressed the space in between my eyebrows, my third eye center, rubbed her thumbs down the sides of my jaw, and pressed one fingertip on my third eye and one on my chest.
It was like the calming sensation of the shoulder-corpse-pose-thingy from my Korean teacher but on steroids.
I felt like I was flying. Like all the weight that I’d ever carried around in my mind was lifted, and no longer mine.
I wanted to make people feel like that. My mind immediately blocked the notion – there’s no way I could be a yoga teacher.
A year and a half later I saw the studio advertising yoga teacher training. I asked my Hot Yoga Teacher/friend for permission – did she think I was “good enough” to be a yoga teacher?
Back then, I really did need someone to tell me it was possible.
Now a decade later, I’ve tumbled down the rabbit hole of yoga and found my north star.
Yoga has helped me in the dark and in the light. During anxiety and depression, neutral times, as well as in celebration and laughter.
It lights me up to teach yoga because I get to be a part of people lighting themselves up.
I feel the spark of connection whether it’s through online video, recorded meditation, or the bliss on human faces as they walk out of the candlelit studio and into the night.
From stress relief to recovery from surgery to insomnia, there is a style of yoga that will meet you where you are to recharge.
That is the power of yoga. That is the power of you.
So, offer yoga as a sweetness to yourself today. Whether you’re aware of your stress build-up or not, you’ll feel better when you get your booty to the mat.
See you there.
Guest Blogger and RY Tribe Teacher: Azahar Aguilar
Azahar is a yoga + meditation instructor, certified Reiki healer, and intuitive chakra reader. Her teaching addresses the physical but also focuses on the mental and emotional buildup in the body, and she uses color therapy, breathwork, and guided imagery as discharge methodologies.
We are so happy to have Azahar as a guest teacher for the Remote Yogi Tribe. You can try her class with a two week free trial!