C4 Innovations

Quieting the Body and Mind: Yoga & Exercise

by Catherine Baz (she/her), Youth Advisory Board member

In our day to day lives, we do not take time to be fully present and within our bodies. When we are survivors of trauma or individuals recovering from substance use disorder, it can be even harder to sit with our bodies. Many negative sensations can arise: nervousness, craving, and somatic pain, to name a few. When we take a minute to empty the mind, connect to the present moment, and calm our bodies, we are very powerfully able to take control over the moment. In yoga we can find poses that we can handle each new thing that comes our way with grace. We begin to see ourselves as capable, as we learn new poses, stringing them together, and taking care of ourselves. Exercise in general is also a great way to connect with the body. In exercise we can find control over our bodies, which can be important to survivors. In moments where we are moving intentionally, we are practicing full autonomy and ownership over our bodies. This can be so powerful.

A literature review of studies on mind-body practices used to treat PTSD found that many approaches in current use reduce the severity of core PTSD symptoms including intrusive memories, avoidance and emotional arousal (Kim, 2013). A study done by Bessel Van Der Kolk showed that a group of female patients who completed eight hatha yoga classes showed significantly more improvements in symptoms, than a similar group who had eight sessions of group therapy. Reduction in symptoms included less frequent negative thoughts and reduced severity of nerves. The study also reported that yoga improved heart-rate variability, which is a key indicator of a person’s ability to calm themselves down. Yoga also has a strong basis to help with addiction as well. A review of 314 studies found that yoga substantially helped reduce substance use and substance craving (Kuppili, 2018).

My personal experience practicing yoga has enabled me to learn to peacefully reconnect with my body and present moment. As I practice yoga when I first begin, I notice that my mind is not there. I am always away somewhere else in a land of busy thoughts and worries. As I begin, I reconnect with my body trying to feel into the tension and breathe space into it. On the inhale, allowing my body to expand, and releasing more into the stretch. On the exhale appreciating the space that your body has created through the inhale. When I train my mind on this I begin to not only come into the present moment but feel more comfortable in my body. I begin to notice the tension I have created throughout the day, the shoulders up to my ears, the tension in my chest. As I continue, I find my breaths getting longer, from the short jaggared breaths I began with. My body relaxes, and I am able to either enter the day with clarity and purpose, or end the day with relaxation, letting go of the day’s worries.

These practices can really unite the mind and body. Often we are either in our body without our mind such as when we use substances, or in our mind without our body, such as when we experience trauma reactions. Yoga can be a powerful tool to reunite the two in harmony and peace.

You will find below the yoga practice I do nightly to release and relax after the day.

I invite you to begin with this practice. As you begin, allow yourself to appreciate whatever arises. You may feel silly, you may feel frustrated, you may grieve in poses that create a hip opening. Know that whatever arises is neither good nor bad, it just is. When we let our thoughts come without judgment, we create a safe space for ourselves. We expand the container for our emotions, allowing ourselves to feel enables us to release the feelings. When we deny our feelings, they will arise again and again asking for our acknowledgement like a child looking for attention. When we attune ourselves to them, feel, and let them go, then we can move beyond the feelings. Yoga can be a safe place to do this. When I practice yoga, I often have thoughts arise of what else I should be doing. I grant myself grace and thank myself for taking care of my body. After all we only have one body throughout this life. Grant yourself grace that you are doing the best you can right now to care for yourself.