Wednesday, November 4, 2020

From Trauma-Informed To Trauma-Transforming: Yoga, Social Justice, And Spirit

by Mei Lai Swan

“I am inspired by the knowledge that we can take this pain, work with it to transform it, so it becomes the source of our power.”
– Bell Hooks

“To heal means to ‘make whole,’ and when
we feel whole we are in touch with the whole world.”
–Michael Meade

Recent decades have seen a phenomenal growth in our understanding of trauma and trauma-informed practice. Likewise, research in neuroscience and interpersonal neurobiology has brought a deeper understanding of the benefits of the ancient practices of yoga and mindfulness. Together, they have given rise to ‘trauma-informed yoga’––an adaptive approach to yoga aimed at supporting safety, minimizing retraumatisation, building personal agency and resiliency, and enhancing the therapeutic potential of embodied and awareness-based practices.

Yet this approach still typically understands trauma as individual and pathological––there is something ‘broken’ within the individual that needs fixing, and it is the individual’s responsibility to heal.

But the foundational teachings of yoga, neuroscience, and ecology tell us that life is relationship: all things are interconnected and exist in a dynamic process of balance and harmony. Disharmony, disconnection, and illness are the signs life gives us to tell us we are out of balance. The Indian science of Ayurveda calls this prajnaparadha, which means crimes against nature or wisdom. The solution for balance and harmony is to work with the wisdom of nature.

Yet our world today is built on so many crimes against the wisdom of nature. It is dominated by a history, culture, and systems of patriarchy, colonisation, and capitalism. It concentrates power in the hands of certain groups (men, white, able-bodied, heterosexual) through the oppression and exploitation of others.

It privileges the individual over the collective. It values independence and ‘expert’ knowledge over collaboration and collective wisdom. It sees humans, nature, and the planet as objects to consume, own, and profit from. It is built on ideas of linear growth and progress. It has lost sense of the natural cycles, mystery, interdependence, and sacredness of life. It undermines our fundamental sense of connectedness, interdependence, and belonging.

Our global condition is marked by disconnection, oppression, and trauma. Wherever you sit on the spectrum of human experience, it affects each one of us by disrupting our fundamental relationships with ourselves, each other, and the Earth. If trauma is a condition of deep disconnection and disharmony, then the remedy must be restoring connection and harmony at all of these levels.

So trauma healing must be more than nervous system regulation, personal agency, and relative ‘safety’ to function as ‘healthy’ individuals within a broken system. We need more than a trauma-informed practice, we need a trauma-transforming practice.

True to collective, syncretic, and evolving knowledge, I see trauma-transforming practice as a whole human, whole system approach that gathers from and honours the intersections of trauma theory, social justice, and embodied spirit-centered practice such as yoga and indigenous traditions. It is a personal and collective practice that invites us to:

• Expand our understanding of ‘trauma healing’ beyond recovery, nervous system regulation and integration, to explore possibilities of transforming trauma into personal and collective growth, strength, meaning, and social transformation.

• Honour each individual as a whole, unique, and sovereign human being, and support connection, harmony and personal meaning-making between body, mind, heart, spirit, and relationships.

• Understand, feel, and honour our fundamental interconnectedness: working with body, mind, heart, spirit, each other, and the world as one great interdependent living ecosystem.

• Recognise the social, cultural, and historical components of individual and collective trauma, as well as personal and collective wellbeing, and work intentionally to transform these social relationships, culture, and norms from systems of oppressions to systems of collective care.

• Encompass transformational and embodied ways of being, knowing, and doing––with our compass clearly set towards love, harmony, collective care, and wellbeing.

In the words of Australian indigenous elder Noel Nannup, let us work “together, steady steady” into this hopeful possibility.

Mei Lai Swan: Dedicated to the paths of yoga, meditation and community for over 20 years, Mei Lai Swan shares an approach to yoga that is deeply embodied and inclusive with a heart of social justice. Founder of global social enterprise yoga school Yoga for Humankind, Mei Lai specialises in embodied trauma-informed and social justice education and nada yoga (sound, mantra and meditation). She brings to this work a wealth of professional and creative experience as a somatic yoga educator, social worker, body-focused therapist, musician, doula and non-profit leader. But more importantly, she is deeply committed to the path of spirit, which guides her passion for collective wellbeing, community building and social transformation. Mei Lai is dedicated to honouring and making the richness and depth of the yoga teachings and practices accessible, relevant and empowering for every body, heart and mind., @yogaforhumankind,, @meilaiswanyoga.

This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

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