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Yoga & trauma: a personal journey

Updated: Aug 16, 2022

Healing from trauma through yoga

When I went to my first yoga class, I was unaware of the power and richness of yoga and how it would form the basis of my growth from trauma. Many things drew me to yoga. Curiosity partly: what was this thing called yoga that I’d heard about? Could I really train my body to be strong enough to twist and fold and be upside down? Could I look (and more importantly, feel) as calm and serene as the images I had in mind of people doing yoga? Could I connect with something greater?

Photo of Kayleigh Darch from BAM Therapy Exeter in a yoga pose for a personal blog post about trauma and yoga

My introduction to yoga was with a friend as an undergraduate student at a local leisure centre. In that first yoga class, I remember being fascinated by the audible breathing in the room and feeling an unexpected sense of harmony with complete strangers around me: a silent appreciation that we are all there for our own reasons yet united in the practice of yoga. I wanted to learn the beautifully flowing sequences that I could see in the room. I wanted more Savasana! (The relaxation pose at the end of the class). Over time as I went to more yoga classes, I started to notice different parts of my body as they had been awoken. Yoga was giving me a focus on my health and wellbeing, and I began to care more about being healthy towards myself and started to feel more comfortable in and with my own body.

Following on from those early experiences with yoga, I have experimented with many different styles of yoga and have had the privilege of practicing with truly inspirational and thoughtful yoga teachers. I found vinyasa krama yoga and enjoyed the logical, systematic movements and ways that it gave me a sense of progress and strength. Later my yoga practice evolved onto ashtanga vinyasa yoga which gave me a powerful sense of bodily grounding and mental focus through the repeated series of postures. Yoga became a meditative experience, an attention to not just my body and physical self but my mind, thoughts, emotions and inner reactions. As I practiced more, thoughts in the back of my mind about becoming a yoga teacher were becoming stronger - I wanted to share the positive things I’d experienced from yoga with other people! I wanted other people to experience the same benefits from yoga that I had. I started on my journey of becoming a yoga teacher and became part of a brilliant community of yoga teachers that offered one another mutual support and encouragement in our yoga journeys.

photo of Kayleigh Darch from BAM Therapy Exeter on her Yoga Teacher Training Course

My relationship with yoga was evolving as both a student and as a teacher. I was dedicating lots of time and energy to my practice and enjoying Mysore-style ashtanga vinyasa yoga. I was developing my own yoga community in Somerset and felt so privileged to teach the dedicated group of people who were joining my classes. Then something bad happened to me. The painful experiences I went through in one year became the blocks to my yoga practice. Every time I stepped onto my yoga mat I froze, I didn’t want to move. Each time I stretched, moved and connected with my body was a visceral reminder of the time before the trauma and the time after. Being in my body brought back what had happened, and to avoid that memory I noticed that I was avoiding yoga. At the time, I started to re-focus on meditation and breathing practices; I could be within the safety of my yoga mat in some ways but I couldn’t feel safe in my body. I started some new exercises that helped me release some frustration and build fitness but I missed my movement-based yoga. I was starting to appreciate that in order to come to terms with what had happened, I would need to get back on the yoga mat and feel what I needed to feel.

At first I spent time only practicing yoga at home, adapting my yoga as I needed. I was being less rigid in what and how I was practicing yoga; I was learning the helpfulness of gentle and slow movement, something quite different from my ashtanga practices. I was experiencing the mind and body, body and mind, connection first-hand. I remember how thoughts and images would try to stop me from moving into a certain posture because of how it felt in my body; the emotions of the trauma were trapped in my body and senses as well as my mind.

When the time felt right, I returned to some of the yoga practices I had been doing before, went to classes and started teaching again. The genuine power of yoga was conveyed to me when I was on my mat in a class stretching and flowing gently through yoga poses and my emotions started to shift. By deliberately practicing yoga compassionately with a sense of kindness, my inner world was changing and my emotions were loosening. At the end of that yoga session lying in Savasana for relaxation, tears were rolling down my face. Not tears of unhappiness, sadness or fear, but tears of a release. Something inside me was learning to accept what had happened and live with it differently.

These experiences taught me so much about the potential that yoga has in healing from trauma, and the enduring relationship between our minds, bodies and emotional world. The things I have gone through in this journey have shaped my current yoga teaching style, helping me focus more on ensuring that everyone finds a way of feeling safe in their bodies.

As I sat down and started writing this post, I was feeling anxious and worried: how could I begin to put my experiences into words? Do I want other people to know my story? What might other people think about what I say? At the same time, there was another part of me that hoped that this might be valuable to someone else who might be struggling, to help us hold in mind that healing and growth from painful experiences is possible, and that it takes working with the body as much as the mind.

Thank you to all of the wonderful yoga teachers who have been a part of my yoga journey so far including Steve Brendon, Berit Lindholm, Helen Micklem, Jane Piddington, Brian Cooper, Lucy Crawford, Nancy Gilgoff, David Fredrickson and Laruga Glaser. Thank you to the beautiful souls I trained with on our Yoga Teacher Training with Jane. Also thanks to another great teacher of mindfulness and yoga: Lionel the Welsh Terrier.

Photo of Kayleigh Darch rolling out a yoga mat in Exeter

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