If you’ve taken yoga for any amount of time, it’s possible you’ve been told you hold issues in your tissues. The sing-songy tone of the phrase imparts a lack of seriousness. But what does it mean exactly?
Well, the issues refer to the painful remnants (i.e. trauma) of our past that we haven’t addressed. The tissues are the connective tissues and even organs where the effects of such trauma become trapped.
So while the phrase may sound amusing, it’s rather problematic.
What Happens When You Hold Issues in Your Tissues
After a traumatic event, there may be strange and unexplained pains, an inability to relax, nightmares, flashbacks, depression, or any other number of maladies. The belief is that trauma hasn’t completed its cycle and has gotten both mentally and physically trapped in the body.
Over time, if the effects of the trauma are not released, this could lead to a chronic health condition.
In yoga, it is most often in long stretches where we may experience the effects of trauma as they release from the tissues. It can show up as anxiety, irritability, restlessness, or even grief. If you’ve ever felt a sudden emotional release and cried in a yoga class, you’re FAR from alone. Even so, it can feel scary to be so vulnerable and raw.
At this point, you may be thinking – ‘Well, I don’t see how this applies to me. I haven’t really been through any kind of trauma.’ But that’s highly unlikely.
The Wider Definition of Trauma
Once upon a time, the understanding of trauma was limited to “shell-shocked” soldiers who’d fought in combat during a war, victims of violence or severe abuse, or those who have suffered a catastrophic accident or injuries. It turns out that that’s a narrow view.
Yes, losing a loved one or surviving a major earthquake are traumatic events. But so too can be a fender bender, a routine medical procedure, or even falling off a bicycle. Trauma isn’t necessarily a big ticket item. Even seemingly small mishaps adding up over time can have a damaging effect. So, in essence, we’ve likely all experienced trauma on some level.
In a nutshell, trauma is about the loss of connection. Trauma can cause us to become estranged from our families, friends, and the world at large. More importantly, however, we lose touch with ourselves and our bodies.
It’s not always easy to see this loss of connection because it usually doesn’t happen in one fell swoop. If it happens slowly and over time, we may adapt to this sense and normalize it. Meanwhile, the held trauma is undermining our self-esteem, confidence, and feelings of well-being. We avoid certain feelings, places, people, and situations. And we become constricted; our vitality zapped.
Trauma doesn’t play out exactly the same for any two people. There are a number of factors (such as genetic make-up, history of trauma, and family dynamics) that will determine one’s response to a threat. So it’s important to respect these differences so we can offer compassion and support rather than judgment – both for ourselves and for others.
Traditional Treatment for Trauma
For several decades, cognitive behavioral therapy or “talk” therapy has been the go-to for dealing with trauma. And it certainly provides value – especially as mindfulness practices are increasingly integrated with such therapy.
The focus, however, is solely on cognition and behavior. It doesn’t really address the physical level or the negative ways that the body holds onto trauma. And recent advances in neuroscience indicate that we can’t, in fact, think our way out of the effects of trauma.
Studies on animals have shed new light on the impact of trauma on the body. Animals are constantly under the threat of death. They are exposed to trauma with regularity. Yet they show no symptoms of it.
During a traumatic event, if the fight or flight options are not available, animals will freeze. Humans do the same thing. The difference is that once the traumatic event passes, animals shake or tremble to discharge that fight or flight energy. Meanwhile, the charge remains trapped in the human body – leaving the systems of the body to act as if they are under threat.
The Importance of Yoga and Other Healing Modalities
The field of somatic healing was born out of this recognition of trapped energies. It looks precisely at how we hold issues in our tissues and the various ways we can release them.
Yoga is one such way.
Yoga is all about body-mind integration. When our muscles become tight or restricted due to the effects of trauma, the slow stretching movements of yoga can release trapped energy. This is especially the case in practices where the poses are held for a long time, allowing the practitioner to get deeper into the fascia and connective tissues.
Integrating a regular yoga practice with an energetic healing modality such as Emotional Freedom Technique, Somatic Experiencing, reiki, and ecstatic dance (to name just a few) further helps to release trapped energy. This, in turn, shuts off the threat alarm that can result in dysregulation and dissociation.
By gently creating length in the fascia and learning to mindfully process what comes up, you’ll effectively shine a light on those stuck places that need your attention to release the trauma once and for all. And it’s impossible to put a price on that.
Restore the Wisdom of Your Body
If you’re ready to explore the healing power that comes from releasing issues in your tissues, contact us today.
See how our mobile on-site or virtual yoga classes and other mindfulness practices can help you and the members of your organization or business.
You’ll feel a great sense of liberation when you start letting go of that trauma.