Yoga Sequence: Relief from Anxiety and Trauma

During a workshop several years ago, Rodney picked up a small wooden mallet that goes with the singing bowl we keep at the studio and began lightly tapping his hand with it to engender steady breath. A student came up to him during the break and asked him to please stop. Fifteen minutes later, I noticed that she had left the class. I went outside to look for her and found her on the ground, curled up in a fetal position, crying. Later we found out that her boyfriend had beaten her with a bat; the mallet Rodney was holding had triggered her post-traumatic stress.

At first I could tell she didn’t want to be disturbed. I left her where she was and grabbed several yoga blankets and wrapped her in them. I instructed her to keep her eyes open and asked her if she knew where she was and to tell me the color of the car that was parked nearby. When someone is having a traumatic flashback or suffering an anxiety attack, it’s important for the person to keep his or her eyes open; otherwise the traumatic scene can replay itself. As she became more responsive, the immediate trauma began to subside.

In this relief sequence, we generally ask people to keep their backs to the wall and their eyes open to promote a feeling of safety; they can see the room in front of them and are reassured that they are not in present danger. Body scan meditation is a helpful technique in which you notice different parts of your body and related sensations that are occurring. You can start a body scan with these questions: Do I feel my feet? Are they warm or cold?

Anxiety and PTSD create tension in the back, neck, and shoulders, as well as tightness in the hips and hamstrings. There are days when the body is flooded with the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine; activities such as meditation or yoga are known to reduce stress and can help us quiet anxiety and trauma one breath and one posture at a time. Even practicing something as simple as pausing after your exhalation for ten minutes a day can add up to a substantial period of relief from grief, fear, or anxiety. It also can empower you to realize there’s something you can do to help yourself. None of us is powerless.