Yoga and meditation, though they exist in many forms today, have always represented a form of healing. Through breathing, we connect more deeply to our bodies. Through mindfulness, we connect more deeply to our thoughts and minds. And through yogic philosophy, we connect more deeply with our true nature. These concepts have been drawn upon for centuries to restore health, function and vitality.
In her new book, Attachment-Based Yoga & Meditation for Trauma Recovery: Simple, Safe, And Effective Practices For Therapy, Deirdre Fay demonstrates how these practices hold unique promise for trauma recovery.
“In working with trauma and attachment wounding over the past twenty plus years, it became increasingly clear that simple adages didn’t help people navigate their disorganized inner worlds. They needed, as I had needed, concrete, practical tools that pointed out ways to organize the ricocheting disruption,” writes Fay.
According to attachment theory, disruption begins very early on – from the moment we experience the world as safe or unsafe through our relationship with those who care for us. For many trauma survivors, the world has never felt safe.
“Underneath the stories and reasons our clients give us for being in therapy is the deeper, abiding, inchoate connection they are longing for – to return to their Self, their soul, their heart, while gently holding the many threads of their life so they feel put back together in a more satisfying way,” writes Fay.
From this connection – a secure base – trauma clients can begin the process of exploring the deep, painful, and possibly re-traumatizing parts of their lives. The hope is that they can find ways to relate to themselves, organize their inner world, and through their search for a sense of meaning, finds ways to process their pain.
This process begins with learning to experience the present moment.
“Most people, especially those with attachment wounding, are unknowingly flooded by the past, precluding an alive experience in the present moment,” writes Fay.
Through learning to attune to themselves, trauma clients experience a fundamental truth: the healing they want (and deserve) can only come from inside. It is only through developing an autonomous narrative that holds at its center the Self as the secure base that they can begin to break free from the hold their wounded past has on them.
While the prana, or life force can become stuck, knotted or interrupted, yogic philosophy holds that encountering these stuck and painful knots is the path. What we can do, is look for the opposites – such as love, warmth and connection – and hold these opposites along with the pain, as a way to remember and return to our true nature while also developing the consciousness that the reins of our experience are now safely in our hands.
Therapists, Fay says, are “Hope Merchants” helping clients to see, as Michelangelo saw in the beautiful yet flawed block of marble, the magnificent statue of David waiting to be expressed.
Buried under layers of shame are clients’ true, and yet undiscovered selves. Fay recounts the story of how a tribe in South Africa deals with shame:
“People would stand around the individual who had done wrong, telling them over and over again all of the things they had done right, all the wonderful qualities about them, all the good things that they are. The tribe would provide a counterpoint to the inner shame of doing something wrong, by holding up a mirror of who that person ‘really’ is.”
Making mistakes and still being loved is the work of self-compassion, and according to Fay, it can be developed. One of the lifelong practices that yogic philosophy offers are the protective characterological orientations called yamas.
Through compassion, nonviolence, truthfulness, purity, contentment, self-discipline and self-surrender, trauma clients can learn to move from the painful, isolated past toward an alternative reality – one that meets suffering with kindness.
One helpful exercise Fay offers is the Mindful Self-Compassion Break, which involves first acknowledging the pain, connecting to the reality that we all suffer, and giving ourselves a moment of kindness.
Yet the past can still interrupt the present, and especially when clients explore their pasts too quickly, or too deeply, they can become overwhelmed and dissociate. Here, Fay suggests normalizing dissociation as something that we all do, but also as a way to cope with undigested and distressing feelings. She offers exercises such as grounding to the spine to stay in the present moment; taking in small parts of difficult experiences and recycling them as more positive ones; steering the heart, body and mind toward cultivating positive experiences and identifying with how the past is intruding on the present.
The goal of attachment therapy is to experience a secure base – one of safety, comfort, and letting go. From an embodied yogic psychology perspective, secure attachment happens in reminding a client that what they long for is actually a native, natural longing for secure connection that got warped through difficult life situations. What they can learn, and what Fay so eloquently offers, is a path back toward prana – their life energy, their true Self, and the life they really want.
Attachment-Based Yoga & Meditation for Trauma Recovery: Simple, Safe, And Effective Practices For Therapy
W.W. Norton (2017)