As Buddhist and Hindu Yoga lineages take root outside of Asia, their insights into human nature, the causes of suffering, and the paths to joy and liberation are finding fertile soil in sincere seekers and dedicated spiritual practitioners worldwide. As many of us find our personal and collective journeys deeply served by contact with these ancient teachings, we are also finding that the particular conditions of our postmodern lives require care and in many cases real healing if the yogic practices of introspection and embodied inquiry are to bear fruit. The collective traumas of racism, sexism, economic precarity, and environmental crisis affect us all, and despite our various privileges many of us suffer in addition the painful symptoms of attachment rupture, physical and emotional abuse, injury of many kinds, and the stresses of busy, unstable lives.
Central to the Buddhist path is a profound inquiry into suffering (Pāli: dukkha) and its cause: habitual contraction around both pleasant and unpleasant experience. The medicine for this suffering lies in our ability, with training, to remain alert and vibrant through both ease and difficulty. In Buddhist meditation, the practices of Mindfulness (sati), Skillful Attention (yoniso manasikāra), and Loving-Kindness (mettā) depend in large part on the practitioner being able to settle the mind and heart in the present moment, focused on experiences as they arise. Many modern practitioners, however, find even this most basic aspect of meditation very difficult, and may spend years wrestling with anxiety, self-doubt, regret, and overwhelming emotions in meditation. Trauma resolution models like Organic Intelligence® (OI), Somatic Experiencing (SE), and Stephen Porges’s Polyvagal Theory, by restoring healthy nervous system function, build the ability to be relaxed, embodied, and present, deeply supporting meditation and other spiritual practices.
More than just being supportive, trauma work is also an application of Buddhist and Hindu Yoga teachings around energy, attachment, and the sense of self and other. The process works to restore natural rhythmic oscillation to the nervous system, which expresses itself as both expansion-contraction (energy) and liking-disliking (preference/feeling). As natural oscillation is allowed to return, long-held patterns of fight, flight, and freeze are completed, unbinding the heart from habitual resistance to experience. As resistance melts, experience becomes vibrant, less rigid, more free.
As you explore these meditations, go slowly and gently around places where you’ve been wounded, whether in individual traumatic events or around the pervasive traumas of systemic oppression. These meditations are just the beginning of skillful trauma resolution work, which benefits deeply from the support of an external guide like a therapist, counselor, close friend, or spiritual director. Any time you feel activation starting to increase quickly or in a way you’re not sure if you can handle, stop the meditation and turn your attention to the space around you. This is the practice of orientation, which these meditations emphasize. When you do feel resourced enough to engage with the intense emotions and bodily states connected with trauma, again do so gently, touching the pain only as much as you can handle easily, and allow time for integration afterward.
The contemplative path and healing path are not separate, but healing from profound violations of safety takes time and skillful support. For a list of skilled counselors trained in trauma resolution (largely local to the Bay Area, though some work virtually), see this resource page, or search in your local community.