There is a blog called Post Secret, and the founder came up with this idea that he was going to ask people to send in their secrets anonymously via a postcard. They now have about half a million postcards in their possession, which goes to show that people have secrets, and not only that, people have a desire to share that secret. That is within good reason. We know that the more we push something away, the more it takes hold of our life. When we are constantly pretending that a particular situation or emotion or incident does not exist, we are still holding on to illusions of how things should be, instead of learning to deal with life as it is. So what I am saying is, if there is such a secret that is weighing you down in some way, perhaps it is time to consider unloading that burden. It could mean you talk to a trusted friend or work through it with a therapist. Or it could even be expressing it simply by writing it down in a journal. That way, you could live freely. When we chant Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu, we mean it. May all beings everywhere be happy and free is a pledge that includes yourself. And as long as your secrets are a burden to you, you cannot be free. Get out of your own way. You deserve to be happy. You deserve to be free.
Do you ever find yourself mixing up the left and right in class, or doing a different pose altogether when the teacher gives instructions? Well, that’s normal. It happens that our minds wander off, we go into default, we do what we’re used to, we check out. It’s normal that it happens sometimes. Nothing wrong with that. If we’re new, we are not quite sure what the Sanskrit terms mean or even when we hear English instructions, it just doesn’t make sense, that’s normal.
But a habitual disconnection with the body, being removed by what’s happening to the physical body, being dissociated and feeling numb could signal that there’s unaddressed trauma. One of the defense mechanisms the body uses is blocking or depersonalization. In accidents or in abuse or in any other situation where we feel unsafe, the body can shut off all feeling in its attempt at survival and preservation. While it is useful at that precise moment when the threat is present, carrying this over means that we shut out all feeling, including joy, glee, excitement, happiness, a sense of hope and fulfillment.
Our yoga practice brings us back to the present moment. As we become reacquainted with our physical body, we also become more aware of the positive emotions that are available— however “small” those joys could be. Being able to see the sharpness in color, the pleasure in stretching out your body, the calmness of your breath, so on and so forth. And at the end of the day, our practice is about that— learning to be present, learning to be connected, learning to be grateful.
Everyone just by being alive has experienced some kind of trauma. There are those caught in war zones and conflict areas that live with everyday terror. There are others whose personal circumstances expose them to physical, emotional, and mental abuse. There could be unexpected events like accidents and calamities that we would find difficult to cope. Even if we haven’t experienced any of those, we know trauma through the experiences of loss and grief, fear and disappointment. Maybe it’s through something that is seemingly harmless like being left alone at home when we were a small child, maybe it’s through something that wasn’t personal such as witnessing harm being done by one being to another, maybe it’s through important relationships where commitments are not honored and we end up feeling shortchanged.
Trauma, unfortunately, is everywhere. And there is something that happens to the brain when someone is severely traumatized. Now, it is widely accepted that the two hemispheres of the brain govern different functions: the right is in charge of creative processes and the left the more analytical and logical thinking. When something triggers a past trauma, the right works as it is while the left does not work as well. This means that the brain continues to tell stories about a past trauma, and it cannot distinguish that this belongs to the past and is not a current reality. This is why we may notice someone— even ourselves— reacting disproportionately to a situation. It is because we are not responding to the present moment, but digging up the wounds of the past and reacting to that.
There is a way out of the cycle of trauma, and our yoga and meditation practices are the tools. Our body, our breath, our awareness all teach us to ground in this present moment. This helps us understand that at this present moment, our past is not replaying. It belongs to the past, and the present is of a different time and different situation. Repeat these words to yourself: “I am safe. I am free from harm.” Notice if this is something easy for you to say, if this is something that rings true for you. You can remind yourself of this, to train yourself that regardless of the past that we can no longer change, the present is right in front of us. We do not have to fall victim to our past, be stuck in our past, or let our past hinder the freedom we have in the present.
May all of us heal from our traumas. May all be safe. May all be free from harm.