5 Lessons Yoga Taught Me About Healing From Trauma

Alex Howlett
5 Lessons Yoga Taught Me About Healing From Trauma

I hate to talk about what you're about to read. I hate to even think about it. While I have told some people over the past few years, I haven't even told some of my closest friends yet.

I've been living with a dark secret, but I'm finally ready to share it publicly.

I think I need to share it so I can move forward with my life—speak my truth and accomplish the things that matter to me.

This secret doesn't define me, but it has certainly shaped many aspects of my personality and my life. Because of it, I lived through years of struggle with relationships, mental illness, insomnia and very low self esteem.

However, it is also what led me to fall in love with yoga and get to where I am as a yoga teacher today.

Deeeep breath. Okay, here goes...

My secret? I was sexually abused as a child.

I'll spare you the details, but I will tell you that this didn't just affect my childhood. It had an impact on my entire life up until this point and largely affected me as an adult.

2011 was the worst year of my life, because that's when the memories I had repressed for years finally came back to haunt me. It's when I developed PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; when I started having flashbacks, nightmares and panic attacks on a regular basis, when I was suicidal and couldn't pull myself out of a deep, deep depression.

To make matters worse, I felt like a total letdown as a girlfriend. I had been in a relationship for a year at this point, when everything changed. No matter how much I wanted to be the same fun, loving person I was before, I couldn't.

I could no longer even stand to be touched, and I very rarely could laugh or smile anymore. I was distant and dissociated, scared and panicked, sad and hopeless, angry and mean, or sometimes, just completely apathetic.

I had been battling depression on and off throughout my life, but this time was different.

The longest bout of depression I had experienced up until this point had lasted a few months. This time? Three years. In the scheme of life, three years might be relatively short, but for me it seemed like an eternity.

Sometime in 2013, I started practicing yoga regularly. By 2014, my practice really blossomed. I was feeling calm and happy again. The flashbacks were pretty much gone and I could go days at a time without crying.

The changes happened little by little, but one day I sat back and realized just how far I had come. I even felt healthy enough to get married that summer!

5 Lessons Yoga Taught Me About Healing from Trauma

In the fall of that same year, I enrolled in yoga teacher training. Healing gave me a new sense of purpose. I finally felt like I was back to my old self. Now I want to share with you how yoga helped me get there.

1. Don't resist negative thoughts. Acknowledge them and then let them go.

For a long time, I tried to completely shut out any negative thoughts or emotions as they came up. But instead of making room for more positivity, that resistance caused me to get angry and feel defeated when I couldn't keep them out. This only resulted in more negativity.

Through yoga, I eventually learned to observe my negative thoughts for a while and then let them go instead of focusing on them for the entire day.

2. Ground yourself in the present moment.

As I mentioned earlier, flashbacks were a major part of my PTSD. My flashbacks were triggered by any shows or movies that mentioned or showed sexual violence and by (consensual) physical touch.

The flashbacks made me relive the abuse. I wasn't able to separate past memories from present reality. So how did yoga help?

Well, yoga teaches us to be aware of the present, so in triggering situations, I learned to remind myself of my current surroundings, who I was with, my breath and my body, instead of allowing my mind to relieve the past.

3. Breathe.

When we're anxious or afraid, our breathing becomes shallow and rapid and can lead to hyperventilation. In yoga, we learn breathing techniques that relax both our minds and our bodies.

By becoming aware of my breathing and focusing on taking slow, deep, complete breaths, I could better manage my anxiety.

4. Set intentions for change.

Setting an intention allows you to dedicate your yoga practice to a certain quality or virtue that you want to focus on throughout your practice, and keep with you off the mat.

Some helpful intentions for me were strength, courage, awareness of the present, self love and letting go of the past. It seems so simple, but the act of focusing on a positive word or phrase added so much meaning to my yoga practice and kept me focused on my healing goals.

5. Build strength, little by little, over time.

As in, challenge yourself but don't force the things you're not ready for.

There is so much about yoga that even as a teacher I don't know and may never know. I keep learning new poses, new philosophy and new things about the brain and the body ALL the time. I am also building more physical strength and flexibility and challenging myself with more advanced practices.

Just like working towards certain yoga asanas takes a lot of time and practice, so does making lasting positive changes in your life.

You won't heal all at once, and trying to force yourself will lead to hurt and frustration. Focus on slow, small changes over time.

I partly attribute my amazing transformation to my yoga practice, because yoga taught me all of the wonderful things I mentioned above (plus built up my physical strength). But more so, I attribute my amazing transformation to myself.

I was ultimately the one who made the decision to keep getting back on my yoga mat. I kept myself motivated when nobody else was telling me to keep practicing. And I put in the work to take the skills I learned on the mat and bring them with me off the mat and into my personal life.

At this point you're probably thinking, why am I sharing all these things? Here's the answer:

I want to inspire you to make positive changes if there's something holding you back from living a life you love.

You have the strength to heal. You have the power to change your life even if things seem hopeless. Nobody else can make the changes for you, but as long as Y-O-U are willing to put in the daily effort to heal and stay positive and patient, it will happen.

You'll achieve things you never dreamed would be possible in your lifetime. It won't be fast, and it definitely won't be easy, but possible? YES! We all hold this amazing power within ourselves to overcome adversity, but sometimes we forget how to use it.

For me, yoga was just the motivation I needed to make positive changes in my life and get healthy again. If you're one of the many people who feel hopeless or forgotten, I want you to know that you can learn the tools you need to heal and have a kick-ass life.

Wishing you all the best on your journey!