There a large chance you have heard of the amazing benefits of yoga! But did you know it can also be beneficial in treating betrayal trauma? Yes, it is true!
Katy Willis, a Registered Nurse and certified Yoga Instructor, states,
“In a nutshell, Yoga creates a lifestyle shift.”
Yoga Helps Bring Peace And Awareness
Anne, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery, shares in this philosophy as she emphasizes the importance of meditative practices as an intervention in healing from the trauma of betrayal. She states,
“We want women to process the trauma through their body. Yoga and meditation can do this and so much more.”
Katy shares her personal story of facing trauma and finding Yoga,
“My world was shattered when my husband let me know he was relapsing with pornography and sex addiction. The betrayal trauma for me was off set, meaning I did not feel the full impact of the trauma until I got some healing under my belt. I was not a believer in yoga at all. I had no idea what it was either. But I tried it after several people had mentioned it to me during the time I was facing this trauma. After I started doing yoga, I noticed how I always felt so good after I did it.”
How Does Yoga Help With Trauma?
Katy quickly became passionate about incorporating yoga into her own healing and now teaches yoga to others. Having a background in science, she also explains what happens in the body physiologically during and after trauma and how yoga can help,
“The biggest effects take place in the brain and nervous system. Emotional stress has a bigger impact impact that health or physical stress. The amygdala is the specific part of the brain responsible for sending signals to other parts of the brain to release hormones like cortisol. When there is a perceived threat, the sympathetic nervous system is also activated. For a person who has experienced trauma, these parts are profoundly effected, often times having a hard time with constant triggers and inability to exist in a more relaxed state.”
Essentially, resetting the brain to handle perceived triggers, is key, and this is accomplished breath, movement, or touch. Yoga is the science of awareness and what we are studying is ourselves. We focus on what is happening now with us in this moment. Yoga as a practice can help us reset our brain and be in the present, decreasing anxiety and the lasting effects of trauma on our body and mind. Our body benefits greatly from the patterned breathing involved in yoga our brain becomes activated and aware in a new and synchronized way. Another important part of yoga is to find other like-minded people to offer a sense of community for survivors of trauma.
Five Physiological Benefits of Yoga
- Aides in digestion
- Circulation of blood
- Strengthening nervous system
- Detoxifying organs
- Establish mindfulness
Yoga can help address the effects of trauma on the body and mind! We are so excited that Katy will be offering a trial Yoga session of Betrayal Trauma Recovery Club on May 11th at 9am EST; contact Coach Jean to sign up! Along these same lines, we recently added a meditative session with Coach Peggy. Our BTRG sessions are great for women to find connection and talk to a trained professional. Individual sessions are also a great option for one-on-one support. We would like to thank you for your monthly recurring donation. Each donation helps women find safety and achieve peace in their life.
As always, stay safe out there.
Anne: Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.
I have Katy Willis on today’s episode. Katy did a free BTRG trial session of Yoga on May 4th, and she is doing another one on May 11th. This is at 9 a.m. Eastern Time. If you are interested in joining that please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’re going to talk about why Yoga is so important when healing from trauma today.
Katy graduated from BYU Idaho with an Associates degree in nursing in 2005 as well as a bachelor’s degree in music in 2006. Katy currently runs her own small business called Be Still Services. Her mission is to help support individuals physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually in the aftermath of trauma, so they can be still and find Jesus Christ. She works in brain wellness as a Quantum Neuro Reset Therapy, that is QNRT practitioner.
QNRT is part of an emerging branch of the medical field called Quantum Neurobiology. She trained with Sariah at Back Pocket Yoga for her 2000-hour half a Yoga teacher training and Prana 1 course. Katy is a certified Karma Kids Yoga instructor and additionally, she has studied with Felice at Tree of Life for Kundalini Yoga. Welcome, Katie.
Katy: Thanks, Anne.
Anne: So, let’s start with your experience with Betrayal Trauma.
How Does Trauma Affect Our Body?
Katy: Sure. Almost 7 years ago, like so many women, my world was completely shattered as my husband let me know that he had been relapsing with pornography and sex addiction. About 2 months after D-day we were separated for the second time. I had a lawyer hired. I was planning to go through with the divorce. I didn’t necessarily feel good about it but felt like we had burned through all the resources that we were aware of as far as being able to find help. Long story short, after some inspired counsel from my Bishop we found our group counseling program and we also did private therapy there as well.
It was interesting, the Betrayal Trauma for me was kind of offset. I didn’t feel the full extent of the trauma until we had gotten enough sobriety and recovery for my husband and I felt safe, and then I began to thaw. Within less than a year from D-day I found Yoga and within less than another year, beyond finding Yoga, I had started to teach it. Then I also did EMDR as well as QNRT for my own healing.
Anne: So, what made you willing to try Yoga? I am a huge fan of Yoga, so I want to hear about your experience. Now I try to practice every day as my goal, and I go sometimes 4 days a week and somedays like 1. Love Yoga. It’s my main go to now for healing. So, tell me about your experience with Yoga.
Katy: With my medical background, and I was raised with a really Western mindset upbringing, so Yoga was not even on my radar. (laughing) I just thought it was like for weirdo hippies. My kids tease me. There is a line from the Lego movie that says Hippie Dippy Bologna and so it was totally out of my comfort zone. I kept hearing about it over and over just within a short window of time from multiple people that I trusted, so I actually hopped on Amazon and bought a DVD and I didn’t know back then what I know now, but all I knew was that when I would get done with my workout I felt amazing so I kept doing it. I feel like a pattern that I learned when it comes to resources for Betrayal Trauma is, if it comes from a recommendation from somebody that I trust, if as I do some research about it or seek to understand more about it and I feel good about it, then that has been a good pattern for me to take the green light and at least give it a try. Knowing that as I give something a fair try I can gauge myself and look back later and be like: Okay, is this going well, is this helping, is this improving.
With opening my mind to Yoga it’s been really cool. The way that I would describe it from my experience and in working with other women is: The Yoga creates a lifestyle shift.
Anne: We recently added a meditative session to our Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group with Coach Peggy, who is a certified Journey practitioner who does guided-meditation, and it’s so helpful for women. She just started here. I wanted to start adding in these things to Betrayal Trauma Recovery to give women different experiences so that they can process the trauma through their body rather than just talking.
Trauma Can Cause Physical Effects
So, let’s talk about how the body is affected by trauma.
Katy: A lot of the body can be affected, but the biggest effects are typically in the brain and the nervous system. They can have huge shifts from the trauma, and this is so interesting. In my Quantum Neuro Reset Therapy training, they taught us that emotional stress, and Betrayal Trauma would definitely fit in that, has the biggest impact on our nervous systems. A bigger impact than even illness or inflammation is emotional stress. So, as we concentrate on brain wellness it can have the biggest impact on our physical health where the brain is the master organ of your body.
So, if our brain is balanced then our body functions differently. A big change from trauma is in a part of the brain called the amygdala. The amygdala’s job is to sound the alarm whenever there’s a perceived threat. So, after individuals go through trauma the amygdala can become a bit more jumpy and fire off easier then it used to before the trauma. The amygdala is responsible to send the signals to the brain stem and the hypothalamus, and other parts of the brain and they coordinate the release of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.
We hear of an adrenaline rush or fight/flight/freeze. That is what’s going on in a person’s body when this chain of events is put into play. There is another part of our brain, the frontal lobe: it’s a whole section within the frontal lobe, there’s a part called the medial prefrontal cortex or MPFC, and the MPFC’s job is to kind of help us to keep an aerial view, to see the big picture of any scenarios or situations that we’re in. So, when there is a perceived threat that comes in, there’s basically like a branch off. Either the amygdala is signaled and the body goes into the fight/flight/freeze mode or the MPFC can be signaled.
Yoga Helps Process Trauma
Engaging the MPFC takes a few seconds longer but it can head off a trauma response that isn’t necessary for the given situation. So, for individuals who have been through trauma the communication between the amygdala and the MPFC can be affected. So, the MPFC doesn’t engage quickly enough to head off a trauma response. Other significant changes from trauma: A branch of the autonomic nervous system called the sympathetic nervous system, we were just talking about that a minute ago when we were talking about the adrenaline rush or the flight/flight or freeze, and so the sympathetic nervous system is activated when we go into that trauma mode. Its job is to keep us safe, which is great because we need that, but it was designed to only be temporary and once we fight off the threat or we take flight and we’re able to get away from it, then it’s designed to go back down, and we go back calm.
When we are in this sympathetic nervous system branch it changes our body so that our heart is beating faster, our respiratory rate increases, our blood pressure increases. Blood flows away from many organs and parts of the body. It also shifts away from the portion of our brain that would help us to be able to critically think and engage logic. It shunts the brain function down to the lower part of the brain which its job is to keep us safe. We were talking about the amygdala and the brain stem a minute ago. So, for individuals who have been through trauma, they can not only go into this branch of the autonomic nervous system more easily, but they can also have a harder time relaxing back down once the perceived threat is resolved.
So, many individuals who’ve been through Betrayal Trauma can spend a good part or even most of their day in the sympathetic nervous system because of being on heightened alert. The way that the brain and the nervous system has been changed, constantly being triggered, retraumatized, and again they have a difficult time coming back down, and so this state can be very wearing on tissues of the body. The other branch of the autonomic nervous system is called the parasympathetic nervous system. That’s the part where we can come back down and relax. It’s in this state that the body can heal and rest and rejuvenate.
Self-preservation is able to happen only when we are in the parasympathetic nervous system. So, digestion actually, and social interactions. So, for individuals who are constantly in this state of alert, it can have a heavy effect on their body and take a toll on the way that their body is functioning over time.
How Can Mindfulness Practices Help Us With Trauma?
Anne: I think it’s really important to state here that most of the time when trauma is triggered it’s because there’s an abuse episode happening in real time, and so many victims are told by therapists or other people: Your trauma was just triggered and lets call the trauma down, without acknowledging that: No, it was an abuse episode and your in this abuse cycle constantly. In order for you to get into safety, in order to actually heal the trauma, you have to stop the abuse episodes from happening.
So, I don’t like it when so-called Betrayal Trauma experts tell women: Okay, well your trauma just got triggered, let’s deal with that. Without saying: Oh, the reason it got triggered was because you were abused. So, in order for that parasympathetic nervous system to actually activate we need to be out of the abuse. The abuse has to stop. So, people listening, they might be like: Wow, I’m in this constant state of stress. Yeah, then you have to set boundaries. It wasn’t until I set a no-contact boundary with my ex-husband so that he could not contact me in any way shape or form that I actually started to be able to heal.
So, I want women to be really aware of what this abuse looks like by reading the book Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft, so that you’re not thinking: Oh, I’m just trying to heal from these trauma triggers while I’m still actively being abused.
Katy: Right. I love that and I Iove that you brought that up. For me, and maybe you would describe it this way, but when I feel like I’m going into trauma it’s almost like for me I start to have this tunnel vision where the darkness starts to set in and I have this split second, like what we were talking about earlier. That either the amygdala I’m going down that route or the MPFC is going to kick in. So, if I can establish my roots, where are my feet on the ground? If I can breathe. If I can check with myself in the present moment and ask myself: Am I safe? I’m safe right now, but I had a trigger that I’m reliving what happened before. Cool, I’m good. But if I check with myself and: No, I really am not safe, like what you were saying. Exactly what you’re saying. I need to examine what boundaries do I need so that I can get myself safe. So, I love that. I think that’s so important that you differentiated between that.
Trauma Can Be Processed With Yoga
Anne: Most women who are chronically having issues with Betrayal Trauma, who can’t seem to get out of it, who are still married to the person that abused them, it’s because of a repeated abuse episode.
I still deal with my trauma. So, I go to Yoga and I’m doing these things, but I’ve also removed myself from that. The reality is: He is still abusing me through lying to people about what happened and through all kinds of stuff. So, I’m still not completely safe. He’s still not completely out of my world. Even divorce won’t solve a trauma problem or an abuse problem. So, you’re going to be having abuse episodes come up, so being centered and being as healed as you possibly can to prep for the next abuse episode or the next time you hear about his lies or whatever is really important.
Let’s talk about how Yoga helps with the brain and the nervous system.
How Does Trauma Affect Our Brain?
Katy: Kind of fun that we can examine Yoga from a brain wellness standpoint. In terms of brain wellness, we’re wanting to balance out that brain. Van der Kulk, in his book The Body Keeps the Score, talks about how we can do that either from starting at the top of the brain and working down or starting from the bottom of the brain and working up. Yoga and mindfulness meditation fall into working from the top of the brain down because they’re creating awareness of the body sensation by making the MPFC stronger.
So, when an individual encounters a perceived threat or trigger, then because that MPFC is stronger, then it can kind of override the amygdala. Or, like we said, from the bottom up it means that we’re resetting the autonomic nervous system. That fight/flight/freeze response is happening because of the sympathetic nervous system like we talked about. This is done by breath, movement, or touch, and personally, I feel like a good Yoga class incorporates that as well.
Anne: Let’s talk about the science behind Yoga for people who are unfamiliar, or they haven’t practiced it before and they’re thinking: Humm, I don’t know about Yoga still. I’m thinking about Nacho Libre, that movie where that one guy says: I believe in science.
Katy: It’s so amazing, at least to me. Yoga is the science of awareness and what we are studying is actually ourselves and the goal is to increase awareness of ourselves. So, there are a couple of elements to our Yoga practice, and if I can throw in there too, this is more like what’s happening during our time on our mat. But for me, Yoga is a lifestyle. It is something that I’m learning to incorporate into every moment, not only on my mat but off my mat.
So, these would be things that would be happening on our mat and the science behind it. So, the first element is what we call asana. These are our Yoga poses. So, some classic examples would be down dog or child’s pose if you’ve ever heard of those. In these poses, from a basic anatomy and physiology standpoint, we’re sending blood and energy into very specific parts of our body. So, some examples of the physical effects of asana are aiding in our digestion or the circulation of our blood. Strengthening or soothing our nervous system or detoxifying glands or organs.
Betrayal Trauma Is Traumatic, Yoga Can Help
As we learn these different poses, they can help develop the awareness that we were talking about of our body and especially the awareness of our body in relation to space. This is called proprioception. It’s interesting looking back on my own personal experience where I started with Kundalini Yoga, which is very much hands, fingers. You’re chanting a lot of mantras, so a lot of upper body and then starting into Hatha training, it just was so interesting when she’d be like: Okay, move this leg here. And you’re like: Oh, my gosh, I didn’t even know I had a right leg. So, beginning to be aware of your body in relation to space with proprioception. Then the asana can also help strengthen mindfulness as we choose to stay present in this moment by getting into our bodies and finding out home in our own bodies.
The second element of our practice on our mat is what’s called mudra. This is referring to what we do with our fingers and our hands. Two classic examples of mudra would be as we touch the tip of our thumbs to the tip of our pointer fingers, I wish I could show you, but it’s that classic that my kids go: Olmmm and touch their fingers together. Or prayer mudra where we have our palms touching each other at our heart center. This is so interesting that each one of our fingers lights up a different part of our brain. So, as we’re doing specific things with our fingers and with our hands it is activating different parts of our brain.
I mentioned just a moment ago that Kundalini Yoga utilizes a lot of this. There is one Kriya in Kundalini Yoga called Kirtan Kriya. This has been studied quite a bit and you begin touching your pointer finger with your thumb and then you move your thumb to your middle finger, your thumb to your ring finger, and then your thumb to your pinky. That is the mudra that you’re doing during this Kriya and it’s so interesting to think about, again from a brain wellness standpoint, how you are lighting up so many parts of your brain in this mudra.
The third element to our practice on our mat is what’s called Mantra, and sometimes we chant in our Yoga practice. An example would be the Olmmm that we were talking about a moment ago. A Kundalini example would be Sut Na. There are 84 reflex points in the mouth. So, when you think about what’s on the other side of our hard pallet, the roof of our mouth? It’s our brain, right. So, as we’re chanting Mantras these vibrations can have the most pronounced effect on our two most sensitive systems, which are our endocrine system- our hormones and then our neurological- our nervous system, as we chant these Mantras.
How Can We Use Yoga To Help Heal Trauma?
The fourth element is breath. This just totally intrigues me as a retired nurse, that all of our body systems are either voluntary (meaning that we control the movement or control the functioning) or they’re involuntary (meaning that they’re automatic). So, an example of voluntary would be our muscular system, we move our body. Or an involuntary would be our heart beating. I can’t say to my heart: Okay, skip this beat or go slow this beat and fast this next.
But, our respiratory system is the only system in our entire body that is both voluntary and involuntary. Meaning, thankfully we don’t have to remember to breathe, right, but we can choose how we will breath. We can choose the timing of that, the spacing of that, the way that we do it. It’s just so intriguing to me. Our body is benefited as we increase our oxygen, so right there, one element of our Yoga practice is we’re breathing more, we’re taking in more oxygen which is healthy all around for all the cells of our body.
The respiratory system is also involved in releasing waste from the body, which is interesting. As we exhale we are removing those. In addition to the physical aspects, breath has a profound effect on our mood because it’s the gateway to our mental or emotional state. Think about it for a minute. How do we breathe when we feel anxious or when we feel surprised or when we’re relaxed? Our breath changes and the reverse is true as well. As we are intentional we can shift the way that we are feeling by slowing down our breath and becoming more conscious of it.
There was a study done in, I think it was November of 2017, and it was very unique because most studies similar to it they attach electrodes on the outside of the skull to monitor the brain. But they had their individuals who were doing this study, who were also involved somehow with epilepsy and with seizure studies as well, so they were able to attach the electrodes directly to their brain. What this study concluded is that by breathing voluntarily, so on purpose, even just by noticing our breath, it gives us access to parts of our brain that are otherwise difficult to access. They also noticed that different parts of the brain were coordinating with each other, which were normally difficult to get to coordinate together. So, it was really, really cool to read that study.
The Impacts Of Trauma On The Body Are Great
The fifth element of our practice on our mat is the meditative state, and we talked about that earlier in this episode when we were talking about the parasympathetic nervous system. That branch of the autonomic nervous system that helps us to come back down. It’s that meditative state where healing is able to take place and the brain waves literally slow down in this state. By doing a daily Yoga practice we are purposely allowing ourselves to come into this meditative state, to be able to slow down our heart rate, slow down our breath, breathe, be with ourselves, and to be able to have that chance for our body to be able to heal and be at a slower pace.
Then the last part, this isn’t really brain science, but I think it’s such an important part of Yoga and it’s what we call Sangha. The word Sangha is referring to community and so part of Yoga is the opportunity to find other like-minded people, to find our tribe. Sometimes this can be tricky because you could try out a Yoga class and you show up and you’re like: Wow, this is not this slow calm meditative class that Katy and Anne were talking about, right. It’s more gym Yoga and it’s fast-paced. So, by being willing to give it a try, recognizing that not every teacher is the same and not every class is the same, not every group wants the same dynamic. So, as we find a teacher that we feel comfortable with, and for me from a Betrayal Trauma standpoint, that means a teacher who will honor where I’m at and encourage me to connect with myself and consider on the emotional and mental health component during a class, and also respect the freedom that I may need to modify different poses or maybe even just rest in child’s pose the whole class.
I feel like that kind of teacher attracts a certain kind of student as well. So, being able to find our tribe and our community is so, so important, as you know as well as I do, in the aftermath of betrayal trauma.
Anne: Well Katy, thank you so much. Last week she did her first trial Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group session. We don’t know how online Yoga is going to go so that’s why we’re just testing this out to see how it works. If you would like to be a part of Katy’s trial BTRG session, it’s on May 11th at 9 a.m. Eastern. If you’re interested in participating then please contact Coach Jean, email@example.com, and she’ll send you more information.
How Does Yoga Help Us Heal?
You can also get all kinds of information and interact with women all over the world in our secret Facebook group. It’s free! If you go to btr.org, scroll down to the bottom, put in your email, and you’ll get instructions about how to join our secret Facebook group. In there, women are sharing their stories about what happened to them. They’re sharing stories of therapists, things that are helpful when women are like: Where do I go? What do I do? You can just talk with women in real time 24/7 in our secret Facebook group.
Our live groups with a professional facilitator, one of our APSATS trained and certified coaches, is available as well. That’s called Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group. They usually have about 5-10 people in them, it depends on the day. The most we’ve ever had I think was 12, but the least we’ve ever had is one. So, sometimes you could show up for a Betrayal Trauma Recovery session and be the only person there with the coach. You can check out our schedule. We have multiple sessions a day in multiple time zones and that is from our website btr.org.
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Until next week, stay safe out there.