We walk, scurry, drive, type, talk, text, plan, perform, present and execute our way through the day. Rarely do we pause and think about how these actions define us or how we define ourselves. We move through time and space with little to stop us.
"Stand at the top of your mat with your big toes touching and your heels slightly apart — or feet a little wider, whatever your Tadasana is today." I give these instructions to my students in almost every yoga class. "Close your eyes," I continue. "Press your palms together at your heart. Feel all ten fingers. Feel the weight in your feet. Begin to pay attention to your breath."
By asking my students to stand in Tadasana, or Mountain Pose, I am asking them to consciously stand still so that a self-awareness can arise — the awareness of their brain and their body on that particular day. I'm asking them to voluntarily stop everything and take inventory.
Trauma causes an individual to involuntarily stop. The stop can last a day, a week, an afternoon. It is unwanted and unplanned. The more of an impact the trauma has, the longer the stop lasts. Sometimes the stop creates a before-and-after gap so so wide, that the mind and the body have seemingly agreed to disconnect in order to survive the changes. Because how else could our mere human existence handle such acute, life-altering events?
Frustrating as it may be, it makes perfect sense that my father remembers nothing about his car accident — not months before or months after. He can't. We've tried to help him. He's tried, a little, when we ask him to. I suppose it's like your first few birthday parties — do you really remember them? Most likely, no, you don't. You just know they happened, because people have told you or there are pictures to show you what you did. However, these are not memories you can truly claim as your own. Yet those lost memories of first birthdays are the consequence of a young brain, not a battered one. My dad's has been battered.
His severe traumatic brain injury leaves him with an enormous gap. One minute, his life was waterskiing and racquetball buddies, and his family and selling cars. And the next minute it was his wife and daughter begging him to be more like the man he used to be, as they wheeled him around with everyone in sight reminding him how badly his brain was broken. My father didn't have a clue what man any of us were talking about. As far as he was concerned, he was just John, the same John he'd always been. He was missing whole months before and after July of 1996. There are so many holes in so many of his years that couldn't be patched up with any amount of recovery.
Loss of purpose, a lackluster sense of identity and lack of motivation, are severe and certain symptoms of a trauma like brain injury. Forget where or how you got hit on the head, because it is evident that anyone who survives this kind of a trauma is bound to struggle with who he or she is, long after the incident.
Other people can do their best to explain — family members, best friends, lovers, caregivers, doctors, therapists, specialists — but it often becomes an identity conundrum. You think and feel you are one person, yet the world sees you as another. It's as though the person who has the injury is mentally still living in the past, but physically existing in the present. So how do we begin to reconnect the mind and body? How do we find ourselves in the now after trauma?
Tadasana is a good start. No matter what has happened, what you have faced, or how long ago it was, you can choose to stop and be present. You can do yoga. Come to stand at the top of your mat in Mountain Pose. It's an illusive discipline. It is easy for most of us to just stand. We stand waiting in line for coffee. We stand while we chat at a party. We stand in the shower. But in Tadasana we learn to stand consciously still.
Inhales and exhales string together and we are able to put breath first. The whole body has the chance to align, allowing all the chakra centers to align — from the heels to the crown of the head. In this pose we become aware where our weight goes and how we balance. Eyes close and the body might sway, maybe even topple, or perhaps you stand as strong as an oak tree. The discipline of Tadasana is to accept who we are in any given moment.
Stand tall and notice who you are and where things might just feel off. Stand tall and notice who you are and where things might just feel awesome. The pose begs the question: How easy is it to stand tall when we can't identify with who we are?