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Yoga as Medicine

Bhramari pranayama

“Over the course of the year, many traumas have surfaced, providing me with the opportunity to observe and process them. This has led me to feel much calmer and more serene. I am grateful for this newfound inner space, which allows me to engage in even deeper introspection, dream bigger and take action towards my aspirations.” – Feedback from participant, Community Yoga Teacher Training, Lebanon

Most of our trainees have experienced traumatic events in their lives. Many have been traumatised by their experiences of civil war and violence, the August 2020 Beirut blast, as well as more common causes of trauma that relate to childhood abuse and neglect, natural disasters and accidents, and sexual and medical trauma. This shapes their experience of even the simplest yoga practices.

Trauma gets stored in the body as tensions and tightness. Easing the tension can result in being flooded by memories and re-experiencing traumatic events. One student gets triggered every time she plugs her ears and listens to the vibrations of the humming sound in Bhramari pranayama, so we ask her to practice without closing the ears. 

For many, even abdominal breath is initially challenging, as too much tension is held in the area of the abdomen for the breath to flow easily. Some participants suck the belly in when inhaling, and it takes time and systematic practice, with awareness, to let go of this pattern and reverse the movement. We spend a lot of time working with the three parts of the breath, doing pre-pranayama practices from standing; placing the hands on the chest and abdomen to feel the movement of the front of the body while lying in shavasana; and from sitting, using hand mudras to deepen the experience of the breath. 

Yoga nidra is also a challenge for a number of students who are stuck in a trauma response. One is overwhelmed by the emotional processing that the practice sets in motion in her, and has to reduce her daily yoga nidra practice to every other day. Another, with multiple trauma from her cancer treatments and sexual violence, gets triggered every time she lies in shavasana, so we suggest that she practice from sitting. Sometimes she has to leave the room; most times she stays with the practice as tears roll down her cheeks. Through her tenacity, by the end of the one-year training, she is able to lie still in yoga nidra without experiencing intense reactions. Ultimately both find yoga nidra very healing.

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