Mindfulness and Trauma

Most recently, I attended the online Trauma Skills Summit hosted by SoundsTrue. It featured ten days of amazing skills, practices, and guides for those that have experienced or support those with trauma. There was one lecture that stood out to me and I wanted to share the information with my friends here at Crutchprints. 

Elizabeth Stanley, PhD (creator of Mindfulness-Based Mind Fitness Training, professor at Georgetown University, and certified practitioner of Somatic Experiencing) lectured about trauma and mindfulness in a very impactful way. If you have a trauma background, you may find mindful breathing practices to be difficult or overwhelming. Especially if there is a history of physical or breathing constraint.

Stanley offered understanding for this in her lecture and explained the importance of recognizing our own bodily reactions to the exercises of mindfulness. While mindfulness is a wonderful aid during the healing process and embodiment phase for trauma survivors, it can be adjusted to your needs. Approaching your own situation with self compassion and resilience is within your power. You don’t have to give up or stop mindfulness altogether if you are uncomfortable with certain aspects within the practices. 

Stanley offered a few tips for those with backgrounds of trauma in regards to mindfulness practices, I’ve expanded on them below:

1. Find a place with your back against the wall. This allows the reptilian brain to feel safe (without looking over its shoulder for threats). 

2. Once in position, take time to slowly turn your head a full 180 degrees to the right and left. This impactful exercise allows the reptilian brain to register the environment, assess threats, and permit centering.

3. If you have an adverse reaction to the breathing focus, know that is ok. Focus on another part of the body that is safe. Perhaps focus on the place where your feet meet the floor beneath you. If you do not ‘feel’, press your feet lightly into the ground until you feel a sensation, or try an outdoors practice where you can safely be barefoot in the grass. Another suggestion is to take your hands and rub them lightly on the top of your thighs, focusing on that movement rather than your breathing. 

 4. If you aren’t comfortable closing your eyes (often due to sense of safety), let them rest softly open instead. Either focus vaguely on an object before you or allow your eyes to be open while focusing on a part of the body just as if your eyes were closed.

Science continues to discover ways that mindfulness assists all of us on our journey, whether or not we are in post-traumatic growth. It is important to know that even today, you are in control, you have a voice, and and you get to decide how to approach your journey. Finding things that work for each of us will empower us right where we are while encouraging self-compassion, resilience and delivering the enrichment of mindfulness.

(Sources: Elizabeth, S., PhD. (2020, August 26). Trauma and Mindfulness. Lecture presented at Trauma Skills Summit in Soundstrue.com.)

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