Ethical action in yoga – reports from working with traumatized people
Article German Yoga Forum – Issue 03-2019
Traumatic experiences shake the foundations of those affected too deeply. Belief in yourself and trust in others, as well as life in general, is lost. The ability to feel something – especially oneself – is disturbed or even lost.
In such a state, internal and external values appear to have been lost. Out of this disorientation, people are at the mercy of their affects and trapped in victim and / or perpetrator patterns. Compassion for oneself or for others is not possible. This is a breeding ground for further violence and assault.
The “Yoga and Trauma” working group has been in existence for six years. He has set himself the goal of sensitizing himself to this topic (see DYF 4/2014) and can meanwhile refer to innumerable advanced training courses, small and large projects, cooperation with institutions and professional associations. A new awareness has arisen in yoga as well as in therapeutic and medical circles that yoga supports traumatized people very well by stabilizing them, alleviating symptoms, strengthening self-confidence and growing a new feeling for the lost personal dignity.
We want to encourage other yoga teachers and at the same time sharpen our awareness that there are many people in our society who are in need. Actually, human dignity should be inviolable, as our German Basic Law already declares. The reality is rather different. People have to experience violence, war, torture, physical and emotional abuse, are on the run, affected by poverty and existential need, and live in unworthy living conditions. The neurobiologist Gerald Hüther writes in his book “Dignity”: “To discover our dignity, that is, the deeply human in us, is the central task of the 21st century.”
Dignity is not just there. It wants to develop, it needs an environment in which it is possible to perceive and express one’s own needs and sensitivities. It can only thrive in an interpersonal climate that is characterized by mutual respect, respect for one another and empathy. You need relationships on an equal footing, from one subject to another – age does not matter. Unfortunately, people are often exposed to circumstances in which they are made an object for the wishes of others, in a private, professional and / or social context.
Angela Dunemann has been working in inpatient youth welfare in the Albert Schweitzer Children’s Village in Wetzlar for more than 30 years with complex and early traumatized children, adolescents and young adults.
“Trust, security and relationships are elementary prerequisites for healthy development. This is exactly what many children and young people who are unable to live with their families of origin lack. Instead, they experienced violence, neglect, and breakups. This has serious effects on self-esteem and empathy. Not feeling yourself can cause deep self-doubt and insecurity. Just talking can’t really help here. In addition, children often had the traumatic experiences at a pre-linguistic age and adolescents usually do not want to talk about the past, but rather to come to terms with the present and develop future prospects. Since I’ve been integrating yoga exercises into trauma therapy, completely new possibilities have been available to me. The children and adolescents stabilize more quickly and after a while they begin to speak of their own experiences. With the inclusion of physical experience, these events can be better integrated than I have experienced before.
Sylvia Reschke practices yoga in the project “Makanuna” – Arabic for “our place” – together with women at 3 locations in Berlin. They come together in the centers of “Al-Dar”, an association that has been providing advice and support to families of Arab origin since 1984; What the women have in common is that their biographies include a refugee background who has lived through the experience of uprooting.
Such events, which are often experienced as traumatic, tear those affected from their secure anchorage in their bodies. People are confronted with: too much, too quickly, too suddenly. The task now is to make the space of self-efficacy “large”. To feel a presence again with new possibilities. “The ability to interocept is improved by more inward sensing. This contact with one’s own self is able to rebuild security about oneself and is accompanied by more body awareness, ”says Sylvia Reschke, describing her motivation for trauma-informed practice.
The women meet here once a week in the usual framework and the offer is accompanied by psychological counseling hours if necessary. The focus of the practice is to concentrate on isolated movements, to make your own selection and to find your own rhythm and to reassure yourself of the variety of design options.
It is important to bring the frozen, deaf or over-sensitive, back to more well-being through the physical and tangible. Yoga is a wonderful tool to do this because it has so much to stabilize you. Experiencing yourself as safe and positive in contact with your own body offers the best basis for stable action. Just the perception of the body’s outer boundary can give our consciousness support and every conscious act – so to speak “karmendriyas” understood as action – leaves a tangible “more” trust in one’s own effectiveness.
Raising yourself up with dignity and finding your way back to a place where you can feel at home could therefore aptly describe what practicing together is generally about. Ethical action is understood as an attempt by everyone to find their way back to themselves in clarity without trauma disorders or dissociative parts; it is the attempt to act in a culturally sensitive and integrative manner and to provide information on trauma.
Katrin Funke works in Berlin and trauma-sensitive yoga forms the basis for her work in a group context (women’s groups, prisons, clinics) and her trauma and body therapy work in individual settings.
“For several years now, I have been offering yoga for prisoners in a Berlin prison and with this offer I am moving in a room in which ethical behavior is a sensitive issue for everyone involved. In trauma-sensitive yoga, we place the current physical experience in the focus of practice and try to develop a mindful, judgment-free awareness. This is a great challenge for traumatized people – perpetrators are usually traumatized without being aware of it. The demand made on them for future ethical action can only be “redeemed” if there is awareness and appreciation of one’s own life story and deeds. It is a long journey that requires secure attachment and trust – foundations that are seldom given in prison. Trauma-sensitive yoga starts at this point by promoting the ability to feel with perception-oriented exercises and inviting you to a non-violent, caring approach to your own, mostly chronically painful body and the emotions that are often perceived as uncontrollable. Sensitization for one’s own feelings and the experience of gaining a new autonomy over current actions in the exercises strengthen the feeling of being able to give (re) direction to one’s own (experiencing) life. A waystone that accompanies self-acceptance and leads back in the group for a moment to breathing and pausing. “
The yoga teacher Joachim Pfahl knows his way around traumatized people. For decades he has been working in different contexts with those affected, including in the military, the police and in prisons. His gentle, comprehensive yoga style supports you to find a home in yourself:
I am the body – just a little firmer. Traumatic experiences are stored in the body in particular. In trauma, the separation from the body is a protective function against suffering, not having to feel the pain. As long as there is no possibility of subsequently remembering the trauma without being triggered, this protective function is still active. Dream-sensitive yoga is the sensitive invitation to experience the body as a safe place again and thus to find access to yourself, to feel at home in yourself and in your body. Yoga increases the ability to be present and thus the ability to come into contact with hurt feelings and to feel them without being overwhelmed by them. Something that did not get love and attention in the split now receives this attention, can breathe – can heal. The split is dissolved, so it is possible to be whole again and to become “whole”.
In her article about a mother-child course in the refugee home in Freiburg, Regina Weiser describes in a very practical way how integration takes place with yoga.
For the work in the refugee home, a constant beginning and a firm end are important to me. We sit in a circle so that every woman can see each other. (For many traumatized people it is important to control the external situation. Relaxation is therefore often more difficult in a row in which the participants sit one behind the other.) After each woman had found her mat, we held hands and began with the first yoga exercise: Inhaling, the arms were stretched upwards together with a slight back bend and accompanied by the word: “Good”, then exhaling a forward bend with your arms down and back and the word “Tomorrow” sounds. This first combination of movement, breath and mental alignment caused a beaming smile to appear on many faces, the participants loved it, sometimes it was repeated 5 to 7 times. The greeting also meant that each woman introduced herself by name: “I am Ayshe (e.g.)”, to which the group replied “Good Morning Ayshe! ”As everyone can be seen in the circle, everyone felt addressed and integrated again through this little ritual. When saying goodbye again in the circle, inhale and raise arms “On “Spoken and exhaling, the forward bend of the word”Goodbye “Accompanied, as well as inhaling”Until “And exhaling”next time “.
Together we clarified where right and left is, which is the right arm and which is the left leg. In addition to the language exercise, the body image is trained, which forms the basis for the self-image, the body awareness promotes self-awareness. You learn the words “ breathe in ” and “ exhale “Or just briefly” one ” and “ out “, the word “ Break” ( to track down or compare the pages), a lot is repeated automatically. Together with the movement, it becomes clear where is in front and where is behind, or what “ to open ” and “ conclude ” or. “ Inside ” and “ Outside ” is called. (Sometimes a woman who speaks the German language better helps when terms like “tree or root or heart or feet” have to be translated.) The processing of traumatizing memories takes place alternately between letting them appear and letting them sink again. Therefore, I make sure that calming silent exercises, during which the soul can wander and old memories may emerge, alternate with swinging (exhilarating) and liberating exercises, such as shaking or swinging. When practicing the seven directions of the spine ( One always above , then AA times forward – backward, bow right – Left , rotate right – Left ) all count together 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 to 7.
Black Africans do partner exercises together with women wearing Arabic-speaking headscarves, for example balancing. One to two year old children watch and sometimes try to join in yoga poses. Observing the child’s impartiality has a relaxing effect on women, who often appear tense and awkward, and indirectly conveys: It doesn’t depend on perfection, practice is more important than ability. Other children prefer to stay in their play area. The brief breastfeeding of a mother between two exercises has a nourishing and harmonizing effect on the rest of the group, it evokes feelings of security.
Arriving in the group – arriving in the body – arriving in Germany
The working group will be happy to provide support if questions of content or specific issues, such as financing, arise during the organization and implementation of a project. Many yoga teachers are confronted with traumatized participants. Many therapists do yoga themselves and would like to integrate it into their work or are already doing so. Networking the various professional groups and exchanging professional information is an enormous asset for both professional groups. Further education and training on this topic can be found at www.traumasensiblesyoga.de
Angela Dunemann, graduate social worker, yoga teacher, trauma therapist, HP Psychotherapy
Sylvia Reschke, yoga teacher BDY / EYU, systemic trauma therapist and ethnologist (MA)
Katrin Funke, trauma yoga therapist (TSY), alternative practitioner for psychotherapy, educator (MA)
Joachim Pfahl, Bachelor of Science, yoga teacher, meditation teacher, trauma yoga therapist
Regina Weiser, graduate psych., Psychotherapist, trauma therapist and yoga teacher