Healing the Pain of Trauma through a Lens of Self-Care
“Let go. Just let yourself go.”
The yoga instructor leaned over my tense, rigid, obstinate body—her soothing cadence and disarming presence an invitation to release that guarded posture I carried around like an extra appendage. And those two words—let go—though simple and unassuming, comprised the sum of each experience which had brought me to this moment. A profound realization began to dawn. Maybe the power to heal is mine to choose, mine to reclaim. Maybe it starts with surrender and a connection to myself.
When those dormant memories of trauma resurfaced a year ago, I was in the to self-destruction, hurdling at full speed toward a breakdown. One of my personal heroes, writer and activist Glennon Doyle, refers to such periods of crisis as “evictions from life.” And in that season, no descriptor was more fitting. But at my lowest point, a friend urged me to attend yoga with her. “Enough with the negative headspace—it’s about time you learn to trust your body again.” That was her rationale, so despite my blatant cynicism, I agreed.
I have been a physically active person for most of my life. I’m that weird sub-species of human who considers running to be therapeutic. But the idea of movement as self-care was foreign to me. I often used exercise as a means to distract from the emotional trauma, to outdistance the shameful thoughts and painful reminders. So entering that yoga studio, with its faint background music and soft ambient glow, seemed like meandering into another dimension. And the gentle, restorative practice that unfolded soon after awakened something in myself I had forgotten how to feel—compassion...which inspired safety...which ignited empowerment.
That same friend and I still make time in our schedules to practice yoga together, and I have since recognized that my transformational experience is not isolated. Mine is just one story of innumerable others, recounting how self-care mends a severed connection between the body, mind and spirit. The healing effects of any self-care—from physical movements to breathwork rituals to harmonizing energies—are universal.
In fact, I think as more women continue expressing their own “Me Too” narratives, the patterns of systemic abuse and subsequent trauma ingrained in our culture will be no match for the renewed love, acceptance, strength and wholeness that come with taking the power back. To affirm this conviction, I spoke with two female self-care practitioners, Michelle Giambra of Suncoast Shin Jyutsu and Liana Bryant of Rosemary Court Yoga, both located here in Sarasota. During our insightful discussion, these women share how the process of returning to one’s body can make all the difference in trauma healing.
Natural Awakenings: How does getting in touch with her body again, help a woman feel safe and supported to move forward in her recovery?
Michelle Giambra: Becoming attuned to her body’s messages will enhance a woman’s self-awareness to practice a more balanced life. This can help her to be present and mindful of new possibilities for herself and her future.
Liana Bryant: By focusing on the physical, she is positioned to tune inward. This enables her to see more clearly which provides the strength to deal with difficult experiences. A body, mind and spirit connection allows her to embrace the moment and proceed with a sense of calm.
NA: What types of coping mechanisms can a woman learn through practicing a self-care ritual that engages her body, mind and spirit?
Giambra: This kind of holistic practice will release any past tension or stress that has been stored in the body, while releasing new tension or stress as it occurs. Addressing this before it can move deeper into the body and psyche helps to reduce pain, discomfort and dis-ease.
Bryant: A consistent yoga practice provides so much self-care. Yoga offers tools that can help a woman remain present by focusing on the physical alignment of each pose, following the rhythm and sound of her breath, and tuning her gaze inward. Being present is beneficial as a coping mechanism, as it forces the practitioner to be here and now, not thinking about the past or worrying about the future.
NA: How does the manifestation of emotional trauma impact different areas of the body, and what techniques are ideal for alleviating that trauma?
Giambra: A common reaction to fear and trauma is to hold one’s breath which can lead to stagnation in the flow of life energy throughout the body. This stagnation can present itself as pain in various regions including the neck, chest or back. It could also present as difficulty breathing, swallowing, digestion or sleeping. A conscious breathing practice is a simple but powerful way to release energetic tension and reset the flow of breath. In Shin Jyutsu, we begin this conscious breathing practice with an exhale.
The individual will start by either sitting or lying in a comfortable position. She will then exhale gently and slowly, counting to “one.” Next, she will observe her inhalation arise in its own natural rhythm, noticing that she doesn’t have to take a breath—the body knows how to respond. She will then exhale again, count to “two” and observe the next inhalation arise. This pattern will continue until she has completed 36 breaths. Holding the fingers, one at a time, is another simple and effective way to help restore the harmonious flow of life energy.
Bryant: Trauma can develop into tension anywhere in the body, but a yoga practice helps mitigate the effects of tension in all these areas. For instance, hip openers can decrease tension in the pelvic region, inversion poses can facilitate a new perspective, and backbends can open the throat, enabling a woman to find her voice and speak her mind.
NA: What advice would you offer a woman who feels unsafe or vulnerable in her own body, but wants to integrate a healing practice into her life?
Giambra: Locate a trained bodywork practitioner with whom you feel both safe and confident. Shin Jyutsu® is a gentle, non-invasive, hands-on modality that creates balance in the body, mind and spirit, while harmonizing the flow of life energy. A trained practitioner will offer customized sessions during which you will receive energy harmonizing in a supportive, therapeutic setting and learn practical self-help applications which can be used for daily maintenance to provide tension and stress relief.
Bryant: I would encourage getting on the yoga mat each morning, even if briefly, and keep the focus on your breath while moving through the poses. This is an extremely comforting routine to start off each new day.
NA: Does your studio teach any classes or workshops that might be geared toward the pursuit of trauma recovery from a holistic approach?
Giambra: Suncoast Shin Jyutsu offers a variety of self-help classes, workshops and guided energy harmonizing mediations that release the effects of tension and stress. We also book private classes for groups with specific interests such as trauma recovery. By its nature, Shin Jyutsu encompasses all the levels of being—physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
Bryant: All yoga classes can support healing from trauma, so I encourage those in such a recovery process to contact our studio for assistance in finding a class that would be beneficial.
NA: In your opinion, is the “Me Too Movement” a positive stride toward female empowerment, gender equality and the awareness of systemic exploitation?
Giambra: The Me Too Movement has created a platform for many women to reclaim their voices and speak their truth about hidden pain, trauma and shame. It has also helped them recognize they don’t need to suffer alone. I believe that speaking one’s truth and taking steps to liberate oneself from the harmful effects of trauma is incredibly empowering.
Bryant: I think it’s always important to heal from the trauma a person is holding onto, as that growth leads to empowerment, and the Me Too Movement has certainly encouraged this.
So in the words of an instructor who might never know the impact she once stirred within me, “Let go. Just let yourself go.” Accept the invitation to self-care. Extend the permission to heal. This one body—this one life—of yours is worth it.
Michelle Giambra is a Shin Jyutsu® Practitioner, Self Help Instructor and Licensed Massage Therapist with 20 years of experience in the study and practice of Shin Jyutsu. Giambra’s passion for helping her clients find balance, harmony, wellness and enhanced quality of life is evident in her compassionate, heart-centered and intuitive approach. Giambra is the owner of Suncoast Shin Jyutsu, located at 810 Central Avenue, Sarasota, in the Rosemary Court Wellness Center. For more information and to schedule an appointment, call 941-228-2972 or visit SuncoastJSJ.com.
Liana Bryant is a E-RYT 500 certified yoga instructor through the Yoga Alliance, and she is also the Director of Rosemary Court Yoga. After a successful career as the Studio Manager in New York City, she has returned to her hometown of Sarasota to bring the nurturing, healing practice of yoga to this community. Rosemary Court Yoga is located at 810 Central Avenue, Sarasota. For more information and to schedule an appointment, call 941-952-5280, or visit RosemaryCourt.com.
Mary-Elizabeth is the Managing Editor of Natural Awakenings Sarasota–Manatee. She also works as a freelance writer, blogger and social media marketer based in Southwest Florida. Her personal blog HealthBeAHippie.Wordpress.com features practical tips for embracing an active, nutritious and empowered lifestyle.