PTSD. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Defined as a mental health condition triggered by experiencing or seeing a terrifying event. We all have some position toward a traumatizing event; a unique experience of various catastrophic events that positions us to fight, run, or freeze. These experiences can range from surviving a hurricane, fighting a battle on foreign land, rape, incest, abandonment, family death, disease, financial hardship, bullying… really, the list is endless. And these experiences make imprints on us – the whole of us; body, mind and spirit. Current research in somatic psychology and neuroscience looking at the psycho-physiological impacts of trauma show very clearly that how we experience that distinct moment is held in the body and mind. With these reactionary imprints on our cells, we have the same physiological responses to triggers that remind us of the actual event in the same way we reacted at the time. By this – take for example the vet who has experienced loud warfare may be triggered by other loud sounds, banging, or cars backfiring. These physical reactions in turn dictate our psychological reactions and emotions such as fear, panic, depression, so on. As we try to move forward and experience the rest of our lives, our responses to these triggers remain the same – causing panic attacks, fits of rage with slight to no provocation, irrational fears and phobias, and physical ailments.
Yeah – this is a large conversation.
I’m not in a place (yet) to speak to this field of study, as I’m just now scratching the surface myself. But this amazing research and the revelations scholars in the field are having leave me with a lot of questions. One major question is who is NOT traumatized. Everyday, we’re BOMBARDED by statements, expectations, stories, and images that are all potentially traumatizing and that reality has terrifying implications.. traumatizing some may even say. Watching the news and witnessing the degradation of our planet, driving down the street and seeing a billboard with some model reflecting a female presence to strive for, learning stories of rape and incest, sitting with a loved one as they pass away, or breaking a bone while doing something you love can all leave us feeling unsafe, unwanted, panicked, fearful, lost, and – in a word – traumatized. A dear friend of mine said the other day “It’s all trauma. It’s all PTSD.” That eating disorder, his broken arm, her bankruptcy, their home lost in a flash flood – we’re all living from a place of PTSD in one way or another. That’s a serious claim.. yet I couldn’t help but wonder how much of that is true… I definitely can buy it.
One of the main realities that I’ve been looking at is the environmental crisis and thinking to myself – that is traumatizing!! To learn not only that our Mother – Mother Earth – is dying but that it’s OUR fault is bound to impact us. So even if you’ve never personally encountered a traumatic personal experience, learning how broken the system we live in is can be catastrophic. No matter which way you slice it or “whose side you’re on” – it’s clear that things just aren’t working. It’s clear that things are breaking and that life as we know it will not last for much longer. Sitting with this myself, I feel my own body respond with an increased heart rate, a slight cool sweat, tightness in my chest and forehead, and a slow loss of words.
…Three deep breaths later…
Moreover, I’m attempting to sidestep my own guilt and shame, and ponder this large scale trauma and all the individuals that comprise the whole. I ask myself – what can I do? How can I get myself and those I care about and those that they care about and so on beyond the trauma and into a healthy place of action? How can I prevent or reverse our PTSD so we can help create a more hopeful next generation? How can we get out of old habits so we can start seeing the reality in front of us and act whole? Because – in reaction to any life threatening event – we have three natural human animal responses : Flight, Fight, or Freeze. There are some that have fled the country in search for a more holistic ecology that supports happy humans, there are plenty fighting the good fight and standing tall as representatives of our mother, of other beings too trapped to stand for themselves (animal & human animal) and then, there are those frozen in the face of the end. It’s those that are frozen – numbing out with video games, consumption, drugs, booze, and self abuse – that I feel make up the majority. With problems as big as we face – economic downturn and destitution, abuse, loss of land and self by the hand of the other – it’s honestly no wonder that many opt to numb themselves to the reality of our extinction. It’s no wonder that ignorance is chosen over knowing. It’s no wonder that we’re suffering and facing a generation of humans with no context within the web of life. We’re doped up on antidepressants and painkillers, perpetuating our deep disconnection from the earth and from ourselves. Of course – none of this is to say that we’re all running around with severe traumatic responses and tendencies, but it is an interesting reflection on how we have arrived to where we are now. Furthermore, it asks that we all look very deeply at our own behaviors and reflect on what – if anything – may have guided us. I do not want to reduce the experiences of extraordinary trauma down or have this invalidate that experience in anyway. Honestly, this reflection is an exercise in getting honest with our experiences that have left profound impact on us so we can begin to heal. But again – what can I do? I’m just a yoga teacher…
Which is not true and the ultimate truth. I am no longer interested in teaching asana. I’m interested in elevating awareness and bringing to light our engrained responses, releasing the story from our bodies, and joining all I meet down the road of healing so we can actively change patterns in social behavior and response to the realities. So as strong celestial beings, we can turn to the truth and begin to change our participation within our system. I’m no longer interested in pushing the limits of the physical unless it’s conscious of the internal wounds that it’s focused on healing. The body is the environment for Self-mastery. The body is not the Self we are working to master. The Self resides within the body and it is our responsibility to strengthen the container so we can face the trauma of reality. This requires releasing old patterns and allowing all experiences to move through us – not out of us.
From this moment forward, I’m making this one vow to those that come to the mat with me : You are not alone. You do not have to suffer. You’re options are infinite. Knowing comes from experiencing, and I only hope to experience the infinite with you. The choice of how we as a society move into the future is in every breath you take, every move you make, every thought you have, and every heart beat that pounds heavy in your chest – and I support you. By exploring these reactions and remembering our nature, together, we’ll heal ourselves. Healed – we’ll begin to heal our world.
I believe this to be true because I have to. Yoga is the journey of the Self to the Self through the Self.