3 Restorative Yoga Poses To Help Heal Trauma

The effects of traumatic experiences on any level can be debilitating to our health and detrimental to our emotional balance.

Dr. Peter Levine, a leading expert in the somatic healing of trauma, states that Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is not a "...pathology to be managed, suppressed, or adjusted to, but the result of a natural process gone awry."

Despite the understanding that traumatic symptoms are often a legitimate, natural response to the experience of a dangerous event, a stigma still exists for those who suffer. Many are left ashamed and thinking, "Why can't I just get over this and move on?"

To provide symptomatic relief, current therapeutic approaches often focus on utilizing cognitions to restructure destructive thought patterns, to help make sense of emotional distress and ultimately change undesirable behaviors.

However, for many trauma survivors memories are literally stored within the confines of the body. Attention to cognition alone is not enough to fully heal. In order to address trauma holistically, body-oriented therapies have been introduced as a way to bring attention to the sensations in the body as a means to gather information about trauma responses. This helps to cultivate the ability to endure and eventually shift overwhelming sensations.

It is of no surprise that the practice of yoga is part of a growing body of evidence that reports myriad beneficial effects among those who suffer from PTSD. From decreased heart rate, lowered blood pressure, enhanced immune function and a reduction in depression and anxiety, survivors of trauma are discovering the healing power of yoga.

But for those who suffer from severe physical or mental illness, the intensity of an active yoga practice may not always be accessible or beneficial.

Restorative yoga is a series of completely supported, nurturing postures, typically practiced in a dimly lit, comfortable and quiet environment. A central benefit of this practice is to promote the relaxation response in the body — a process that teaches the body to return to pre-stress levels by balancing hormones, relieving muscle tension, and decreasing heart and breath rate.

Most notably, for trauma survivors who can feel stripped of their power over their bodies, this practice empowers the practitioner to play the primary role in their own healing process.

Try these three powerful restorative yoga poses for total relaxation and optimal healing. If you don't have all of the props listed here, you can always improvise with pillows or other suitable materials you may have on hand.

Supported Bridge

This restorative variation on Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana) is a light inversion and big heart opener, which can improve venous blood flow to the heart and improve circulation in the chest.

You'll feel a deep stretch the flexor muscles in the front of the pelvis, and maybe even lift your spirits.

Props needed: 2 blocks, 1 bolster, 1 blanket, 1 yoga belt, 1 eye pillow (if closing the eyes causes internal discomfort or overwhelm, leave the eyes open and find a soft focus on something above you).

Recommended time in pose: 5-7 minutes

Fold a blanket at the top of your mat and place the bolster longways on the center of the mat. Lay your spine atop the bolster and allow the back of your head to rest comfortably on the folded blanket.

Make sure the top of your bolster comes just below the shoulder blades. Place two blocks together at the medium height underneath your calves so that your feet are elevated and stretched out long in front of you. Let the eye pillow rest on your eyes, or just close them. Breathe deeply.


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Supported Reclining Twist

This elevated variation of a reclining twist is great for bodies wanting a soft, supported rotation of the body.

Twists done properly are great for the health and mobility of the spine, and forward folding action can facilitate us to psychologically reduce external stimulation which helps us to turn inward.

Props needed: 2 blocks, 1 bolster, 1-4 blankets

Time in pose: 4-5 minutes on both sides

Lay a blanket opened up completely overtop your mat, or skip this extra layer of cushion. Optional: fold the other two blankets up to rest longways on either side.

Take another blanket and fold it up to rest in between your thighs. Place one block horizontally at the top of your mat at medium height and let the other block rest on top of that from its highest height. This will create the plane of elevation you see pictured here.

Place your bolster longways atop the two blocks and beginning on your right side, bring the right hip point to the bottom of the bolster and draw your knees in, keeping them stacked. Let your entire right side of your body rest on the bolster, including your right cheek. Your arms can either rest on either side or can be propped up by the additional folded blankets.

Note: if you're low on props, you can skip the blocks and extra blankets and perform this pose simply with your bolster or a firm pillow.


Side-Lying Savasana

The vulnerability of being in classic Savasana can sometimes be too much for anyone.

This variation is a great option for those wanting to feel more safe and find a place of deep rest while lying on one side, versus face up.

From an Ayurvedic perspective, lying on your left side can be beneficial for the heart and facilitate lymphatic drainage.

Props needed: 4 blankets, 1 bolster (optional)

Recommended time in pose: 10 minutes

Choose which side you would like to come to a place of deep rest and fold one blanket so that it can rest between your thighs. Place two folded blankets underneath of your head and let the bolster rest behind your back for additional support (optional).

Fold up the last blanket and draw it in close to your torso, letting your top forearm rest on it. Breathe normally and let yourself begin to drift into total relaxation.

Gallery courtesy of Harper Point Photography

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