Recently I've been doing my upmost to become far more 'trauma informed', including beginning certification in TRE® (Trauma Releasing Exercises). Among other things, this involves a great deal of reading, which fortunately is one of my favourite past times. I was reading 'Healing Developmental Trauma' and became struck by something a little alarming to me.
The book suggests that we have five survival styles in managing our developmental trauma. These are based around connection, attachment, trust, autonomy and love-sexuality. Within the connection survival style there are two subtypes; 'The Thinking Subtype' and 'The Spiritualizing Subtype'. As I read on I discovered
'many individuals with this subtype search for spiritual connection, are more comfortable in nature and with animals, and feel more connected to God than other humans...are often extremely sensitive in both positive and negative ways...they can be quite psychic and energetically attuned to people, animals and the environment and can feel confluent and invaded by other people's emotions'
(Heller & LaPierre 2012, 38-39)
Later in the book it is said 'there is so much dysregulation in their nervous system that they are uncomfortable in their bodies and prefer to live on a more esoteric or ethereal realm.' (ibid, 147). Bearing in mind that 'most adults are affected by some elements of the Connection Survival Style' (ibid, 126) I found this rather alarming.
The spiritual community, including Yoga actively 'advertise' these states. Transcendence is to be attained through meditation, Yoga practice and so on. OBEs (out of body experiences) are sought after like a gold medal of spirituality in a game of spiritual materialism (a phrase coined by Chögyam Trungpa ). I have been there, believing that these were good things to aim for and achieve. Yoga promotes the Siddhis, which are mystical powers attained through a dedicated Yoga practice, most of which can be explained as OBEs, such as Astral Projection.
On the back cover of the book it is said 'there is in each of us an impulse moving toward connection and healing'. I suggest that a lot of people are drawn to Yoga by this impulse, with the class dynamic providing social connections and an inner wisdom knowing that reintegrating with the body will provide healing. Yoga is also suggested by many, including Bessel Van Der Kolk in 'The Body Keeps the Score', as a way to help heal trauma. In my mind this means that Yoga has a responsibility to serve.
Part of this responsibility is to stop promoting these other worldly states. Yes, Yoga can give people these, but modern postural Yoga has an entirely different audience to Medieval Yoga for example. As Yoga teachers we have a responsibility to provide care for our students, and that is going to be by providing grounding and not transcendence. As Yoga is increasingly recommended (including soon to be by the NHS), teachers have a responsibility to be as informed/educated as possible in trauma.
As students of Yoga it is important we observe ourselves. When we feel a little bit spaced out in a class, just notice this. If you are comfortable to do so, try to feel into your feet to feel grounded. Maybe touch a finger and thumb together to bring an awareness back into the body. For some people it may be far too soon feel in their body in any way at all. For those students, take it very slowly, but try to be aware of your feelings and emotions. If you are comfortable in connecting with your body, try to maintain some awareness to your feet at all times.
'Transformation requires a willingness to challenge your basic beliefs about who you are. We must have the faith to trust responses and sensations that we can't fully understand, and a willingness to experience ourselves flowing in harmony with the primitive, natural laws that will take over and balance our seemingly incongruent perceptions'
(Levine 1997, 204)
Yoga, spirituality and those who are seeking need to stop idolising and targeting enlightenment/transcendence/call it what you will. This is something I have only recently come to realise and had to take my own path to realise. We should be making it all about connection; to ourselves, to others and to nature. From that place we can start experience the beauty of the world which is what we are actually searching for, and that's actually where in the Tantric tradition you see 'God' in everything.
Heller, L & LaPierre, A (2012) Healing Developmental Trauma: How early trauma affects self-regulation, self-image, and the capacity for relationship. North Atlantic Books, CA
Trungpa, C (1973) Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. Shambhala Publications, MA
Van Der Kolk, B (2014) The Body Keeps The Score: Mind, brain and body in the transformation of trauma. Penguin, UK