by Hayden Wartes
Our bodies are our greatest possibility of connection to God yet our bodies become our enemy when trauma occurs. From the moment someone experiences trauma, death and life are no longer distinct but coexist; memories of a type of death of the soul intermingle with present day reality. There is a loss of self as was once understood and participation in community is threatened as the nervous system’s defense mechanisms now call the shots. However, the practice of breathing, controlled movement and space with oneself as experienced in yoga offers a powerful way to reintegrate and find movement toward life once again.
The mind-body connections within trauma are met by yoga’s guiding principle of union: the fundamental connection of mind, body and spirit. This understanding reaches deep into the core of a survivor’s reality of disconnection. It deals directly with what Daniel Siegel describes as the “triangle of well being,” or the necessary integration of mind, relationships, and the body’s nervous system for healthy human functioning. A person’s well-being involves successful regulation, sharing, and the physical mechanism of energy and information flow throughout these three points. The disconnected, shattered self caused by trauma can gradually move into integrated, healing spaces through breathing, movement and structured thought that grounds and connects the various aspects of self.
Christian Scriptures have embodiment at their heart. From the moment God came to Earth as an infant born of a woman, bodies become a part of God’s revelation and her ultimate desire for our flourishing. Following the influence of ancient Greek philosophers like Plato, many in the Western Church have successfully cut us off at the head to the glory of rationale thought and the dangers of desire. May we give the same importance to our bodies as Jesus did, who thought physical healing was a really good way to spend his time since it is all connected anyway. And may we continue to learn from our Eastern friends how the ruach (the Hebrew word meaning both breath and Spirit) can bring healing and as Augustine said, “God is closer than our breath.”
(Dr. Bessel van der Kolk is one of the world’s leading authorities on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the first to do quantitative research around the effects of yoga on PTSD. Learn more about his work at the Trauma Center, a program of the Justice Resource Institute, www.traumacenter.org. For a theological understanding of trauma and trauma recovery explore the writings of Shelly Rambo and Serene Jones.)
 Diana Fosha, Daniel Siegel and Marion Solomon, The Healing Power of Emotion (New York: W.W. Norton, 2009), 166.