August 14, 2019

How I Deal with Stress and Heal from Trauma

Black, Latinx and Native American people make up 30% of the population of Grand Rapids*. In integrated spaces, patterns of white dominance are inevitable. These patterns include things like being legitimized for using proper english, having an expectation of perfectionism, feeling disposable and carrying a sense of urgency that takes precedence over self-care and reflection. With social media covering stories of police brutality and discrimination daily, we as people of color cannot escape society’s negative narrative and dehumanization of Black and Brown lives.

Five years ago I started my healing journey to cope with my own anxiety and depression caused by experiencing complex trauma, homelessness and microaggressions. 

Discovering my Resilience

At the time, I was living in “survival mode”. Everything was urgent. I couldn't find my breath. I felt like my back was up against the wall when I had to leave my children with the most affordable care provider instead of the most qualified care provider. I could not find joy. My goal was to just get out of bed and avoid further disappointment and chaos.  My mind was not connected to my body and I was not showing up as the employee, mother and friend I knew I could be. I was burned out! I needed to find a healthy way to cope with my anxiety and depression. So, I took advantage of the YMCA low income membership. I had heard about the many healing benefits to yoga, so, I decided to just try it. I was hooked instantly. I immediately started feeling more focused, energized and balanced - on and off of my yoga mat. During mediation I would tell myself “I am strong, I am brave, I am resilient, and I am enough”. There, I found a space to let go of my shame, guilt and fear while choosing who I wanted to show up as when I stepped off my mat. I would repeat these affirmations even when I didn't believe them. I was building not only my physical strength, but also my mental capacity. I was discovering my grit.

It wasn't long before I realized that I was the only woman of color practicing yoga in the classes I was attending. When I would look around the studio I was always disappointed that I never had a Black or Brown person guiding me through the practice. Or practicing alongside me. That led me to research the background and origins of yoga even further. 

I learned that Yoga is a scientific system of simple movement, breath work and focus that originated in India more than three thousand years ago. Its purpose is to help each one of us achieve our highest potential of health and happiness. Society has completely white washed yoga and excluded people of color completely from Google searches. Proving again that colonization has happened all over the world, not just in Africa.

Growing Resilient Roots

The more research I did the more I felt the need to take action. I wanted all of my friends to have a safe space to heal from stress, pain and grief. I wanted my friends to feel safe in a space where they were surrounded by their peers. I became a 200 Hour Trauma Informed Yoga Teacher and soon after birthed Resilient Roots Yoga, Trauma Sensitive Yoga and Advocacy. As owner of Resilient Roots Yoga LLC I am utilizing my training to support individuals and families of color as they heal from systematic racism and all its effects. As people of color we show up courageous and resilient everyday. Being resilient can take a toll on your mind, body and spirit. When we make time to slow down and notice our breath, we can let go of negative narratives and respond to racism in a healthy way. 

I believe that everyone has experienced some type of trauma.

If it’s single-event trauma or complex trauma, both have significant impact on the nervous system’s response. This involves the body’s instinctual fight/flight/freeze part of the brain called the amygdala. The amygdala’s job is to protect your body from danger. Normally, this provides the energy needed to direct us to safety by running away, fighting, or staying still. Trauma occurs when we are unable to take effective action to stay safe, and we remain frozen in a physically threatening and/or psychologically overwhelming situation. Even if someone doesn't identify as experiencing trauma directly, there is research that indicates that people can experience secondary trauma while being exposed to others who have experienced a traumatic event. Have you ever sat with a friend who vented to you about a bad relationship or a toxic work environment? How did you feel after? Exhausted or overwhelmed? That is secondary trauma.  

As an instructor I can encourage balance in the nervous system through my classes because I incorporate both stimulating and restorative sitting postures and encourage my clients to notice when they feel safe, soothed, and secure. Part of the skill of a trauma-informed instruction is to emphasize present-state awareness and offer opportunities for students to choose what brings them balance on and off the mat. I encourage the use of props and offer variations to postures to make people feel most comfortable.

Over time, students build coping skills and make choices that support their individual transition out of “survival mode”. 

What to Expect

There are 5 key elements you can expect from a Resilient Roots Trauma Sensitive Yoga class:

1) Consistency

This allows for the opportunity to be more present in class. Consistency in routine and music helps students remain present in what is going on in their body instead of constantly scanning the environment and having to adjust to differences.

2) Choice

The power to choose what posture variation works best for you and your body.

3) Self-Compassion

When we are mindful of our struggles and respond to ourselves with compassion, kindness, and support in times of difficulty things start to change. We can learn to embrace ourselves and our lives, despite inner and outer imperfections, and provide ourselves with the strength needed to thrive.  

4) Safety

Stress can be as common as drinking coffee. When we slow down and notice our breath we start to feel those feelings that can bring tears and that is okay. Resilient Roots Yoga is a safe space to feel and express all feelings.     

5) Exclusive Space for people of color

When POC have exclusive spaces to heal from our historical trauma we can build intentional relationships, focus on our strengths, honor our ancestors and grow because we are resilient like our roots. 

Taking Back Our Narrative

Trauma-sensitive yoga is best used with people who experience treatment-persistent post secondary stress disorder (PTSD), or complex trauma, which may include symptoms such as dissociation, anxiety, impaired memory, hyper-vigilance, emotional numbness and joint and chronic muscle pain. These symptoms can easily be mistaken as “just stress”. 

If you are experiencing PTSD or you are simply just stressed out from the day to day hustle of your life, you should try my yoga class.

In my class we take back our narrative. I am here to remind you that you are safe. You are brave. You are worthy. You are resilient like the roots of your ancestors! 

Namaste.

Written by Kayla Morgan, Owner of Resilient Roots Yoga, LLC

* https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/grandrapidscitymichigan

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