Last year I took a Trauma Informed yoga training at The Yoga Loft, in Bethlehem PA for continuing education. This is a topic I’ve been very interested in, as managing mental health and PTSD is a part of my life, and being able to help others like me, is the reason I become an instructor.
I thought I knew what to expect, as I had a brief overview of this at YTT. What I didn't expect was to talk about on race and privilege. On the first day, our teacher Sangeeta gave us a journal prompt that caught me off guard. She asked us, “What is your racial identity, in what ways has it advantaged or disadvantaged you, and do you have any traumas surrounding your identity?
I felt uncomfortable. The truth is, I have had issues surrounding being white. However, the ways in which I perceived being white having disadvantaged me doesn’t even come anywhere close to measuring up with the ways being black or brown has truly disadvantaged POC.
I thought “Why is she talking about race?” I didn't understand what she was getting at and from my understanding at the time, this topic was a bit taboo. It was uncomfortable but this discomfort was necessary. Where there is discomfort, there is usually growth. It was a sneak peek to a very relevant conversation about race and privilege that we are having now in our country and all around the world.
In this post I will share my understanding of trauma, PTSD, and how it relates to race and privilege in our country, as well as some resources for more ways to support and to learn.
What Does Race and Privilege
have to do with Trauma and PTSD?
When most people think of Trauma or PTSD they think of veterans of war, car accidents and 9/11. Those are shock traumas, and can be described as terrifying events that happen too fast for our brains to respond, leaving our systems constantly on high alert for danger.
Some people may also have some understanding of developmental trauma, caused by childhood neglect and abuse. This is when our needs are not met as children. This trauma leaves us with the imprint that life is unpredictable and unsafe and we carry that with us into adulthood.
Another form of trauma, that's starting to get some attention now, is caused by systemic and institutional injustices. This is caused by having un-equal access to resources based on race, religion, culture, sexual identity, etc. This is built into our laws and effects everything. This is when our systems in place fail to support marginalized communities. Race based trauma, from either experiencing or witnessing racism, falls under this category. Not noticing and not being affected by it, is having privilege.
The book So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, does a great job explaining about systemic racism and could help you understand the ways in which this causes trauma in the lives of black people.
Also, there is something called generational trauma or trans-generational trauma. This is trauma passed down to the children from survivors of traumatic events such as enslavement, genocide, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and extreme poverty. This can be passed on through parenting style, behavioral problems and violence and something still being studied called epigenetics (the idea that trauma leave a chemical mark on a person's genes).
So, when someone says, “slavery happened so long ago, you weren't even affected by it, why can’t you just get over it and move on.” we can assume that they have no knowledge of generational trauma, to understand how the past can live on in the psyches of black people. To make a statement like that, to anyone, invalidates their very real pain, and is not okay.
Also, important to mention, slavery is far from the most recent social justice concern. The fact that black people see people who look like them, dying at alarming rates by the hands of the police, what seems like every day on the news, is TRAUMATIC. Watching George Floyd say "I can't breathe" as a police officer kneeled on his neck and took his life, was traumatic, for everyone, but especially for a black person thinking "that could be me".
Understand the Effects of Trauma and PTSD:
Trauma is a deeply distressing or disturbing experience that overwhelms our capacity to cope and respond, which leaves you feeling hopeless or out of control. It wreaks havoc on our system, causing irritability, mood changes, anger, depression, anxiety, isolation and self destructive behavior.
PTSD is a mental health condition that's triggered by either experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event that threatened death, or injury.
In someone with PTSD the amygdala AKA the alarm system in your brain is over active and your PFC, the part of the brain that makes decisions, is not functioning properly, causing hyper sensitivity and increased re-activity which floods the body with the stress hormone cortisol.
When you understand trauma and PTSD this way, you can see it's not so much about the event that happened it’s the way the brain responds. So in that sense, there's no trauma that is more or less damaging. All trauma appears to have the same effect on the brain.
Trauma lives in your body. It's woven through your nervous system. Yoga is such an effective treatment for trauma, because it signals the para-sympathetic nervous system to turn on, which tells the body it's time to rest and restore. The intentional breathing during yoga practice creates balance between your heart rate and your breath rate. This is something that talk therapy alone can not do.
Have compassion when listening to others experiences. Just because you don't understand it, doesn't mean it's not valid. Just because your former training, research, or experiences didn't open your eyes to this doesn't mean its not real. Just because its not affecting you doesn't mean it's not your problem.
How You Can Make a Difference
If we are followers of yoga, and all it stands for, we know that it all boils down to unity.
As a human race, racism needs to be acknowledged as a problem for all of us.
For most white people, myself included, topics regarding race and privilege that have been a tough learning curve to navigate. You may feel called out, you may feel defensive, you may feel lost and confused. Do it anyway.
As yoga teachers, not saying anything is saying something. If you believe that black lives matter, make it clear. Making a statement that you stand with black people, and are against any form of racism, is crucial in letting people know they have safe spaces to practice where they will be welcomed.
For anyone in a line of work to help others who have experienced trauma of any kind, be sure you build awareness as to ALL the different kinds of trauma circulating in the world.
Honestly, no matter what your line of work, or who you are, everyone you meet is battling something so how about just practicing ahimsa (a yogic principal which means non-violence). Practice ahimsa to be kind and compassionate in your thoughts, words, and deeds.
It is essential to do the self inquiry and reflect on the ways you have added to the weight of this problem. This is essential to alleviating the suffering in society. This is essential to keep talking about.
Support with Action:
with yoga teachers of the Lehigh Valley
Fridays, Jun 26 - Aug 7 2020 From: 5:45 PM - 6:45 PM
with Sangeeta Vallabhan
Further Reading about Race and Trauma:
courier journal, Brighid Kleinman and Eric Russ
NAMI, Minaa B.LMSW, Founder of Respect Your Struggle