dorothean: detail of painting of Gandalf, Frodo, and Gimli at the Gates of Moria, trying to figure out how to open them (Default)
[personal profile] dorothean posting in [community profile] sun_salutation
I had what I think was a PTSD reaction in a yoga class, triggered by a pose. Putting the description of my reaction under a cut, although I'm not describing the original trauma itself at all.

I've been taking a beginner's-level asana yoga class for a couple of months. My teacher is not very experienced at teaching, but I like her a lot and she seems to be very careful about watching everyone in her small class and making sure we're not about to break our necks.

I know from past experience with meditation (in therapy) that my body is capable of forcing some pretty powerful emotions on me -- whether I'm being very quiet mentally and just paying attention to my body, or whether I'm making some extraordinary demand of it. My therapist has told me I have PTSD, but it's been getting a lot better lately, so I wasn't really expecting what happened.

Yesterday we did a lot of variations on this low lunge pose, which requires a bit of balancing while opening up the front of the hip. My hips are pretty inflexible compared to the rest of my joints, and (despite my teacher often saying "Hip-opening poses are good for the ego!") I've sometimes felt this odd panicky frustration while trying, e.g. cow face pose.

Anyway, yesterday I got scared (?) while in this lunge, and when the teacher put us into child's pose, I started crying. She always says "stay in child's pose as long as you need to," so I did, which was at least five minutes. Then I was okay (although wet) for the rest of class, although something the teacher said after savasana -- about being grateful to our bodies -- set me off again. (No, I was not grateful to my body!)

Afterwards I stuck around until the other students had left, and told the teacher, "Sorry, I've heard that exerting the body can bring out bad things, and I guess that's what happened to me, hope it wasn't too awkward." She said no big deal, that happens to lots of people, it's not necessarily a bad thing to be so connected to your body.

That wasn't what I meant by bad thing, but I was all out of words then. I am going to have a private session with her pretty soon, so I will try to talk with her more about it then. I think she ought to know more about my situation, and maybe she can suggest ways for me to feel safer in class and to be less awkward if I do need to go cry somewhere (given the arrangement of human sinuses, child's pose is not really great for that).

What I am looking for here is some (gentle) advice, ways to think about this, and to see if anyone else has experienced this kind of thing.

Here's what I'm already thinking of trying:
+ practicing the scary poses on my own, outside of class, so I can get used to how they feel
+ ditto practicing meditation
+ seeing if my dialectical behavioral therapy notes have any useful ideas
+ talking to my teacher about it
+ talking to my therapist about it (if it keeps happening)

Date: 2012-11-20 01:24 pm (UTC)
sashajwolf: photo of me sitting on the grass with hands extended (park)
From: [personal profile] sashajwolf
That sounds tough. Fwiw, it does happen quite often that yoga poses bring out strong emotions- e.g. plough often brings out a fear reaction in people. It's actually supposed to be one of the advantages of yoga practice, in that it can teach a person to face their fears in a controlled and at least relatively safe environment. The classic advice IME is not to shy away from the poses that are getting the reaction, but if possible to stay with them and focus on the breath until the body relaxes and the emotion passes. From that point of view, your instinct to try the poses on your own sounds good. The standard advice is for common-or-garden emotions, though - a teacher might give different advice to someone with an actual PTSD diagnosis, so I think talking to your teacher and your therapist sound like good ideas. I hope you're able to work through it.

Date: 2012-11-20 01:27 pm (UTC)
rydra_wong: a woman wearing a bird mask balances on her arms in bakasana (yoga -- crow pose)
From: [personal profile] rydra_wong
FWIW, hip-opening poses are fairly well-known for tending to bring up issues -- apparently it's an area where people are prone to "store" stuff, even if the issues or traumas weren't necessarily associated with that area of the body.

Hip-openers also involve working quite deep inside layers of tissue, and can feel particularly vulnerable/risky. So, extra potential for triggering emotional reactions.

So ... if it helps at all to know, this is not unknown or rare.

There are various people doing work on using yoga to work with PTSD, and developing "trauma-sensitive yoga". I haven't read it, but this book looks like it could be extremely relevant and useful:

Date: 2012-11-20 06:00 pm (UTC)
foxfirefey: A wee rat holds a paw to its mouth. Oh, the shock! (thoughtful)
From: [personal profile] foxfirefey
Yes, this--my yoga instructors have mentioned emotions coming out during hip loosening exercises several times.

So in addition to practicing the scary poses, maybe look online for other hip opening poses that are maybe a bit less intimidating. For instance, some of the ones in this article look like they could help you release tension in your hips without making you cope with balancing at the same time.

Date: 2012-11-20 05:57 pm (UTC)
libitina: snake across an open book (Default)
From: [personal profile] libitina
So we're a yoga-positive community here, but you should also check in with yourself and your needs. If yoga and facing things is helpful to you, then going slow and breathing and checking in with therapists sounds like a very smart way to do it. But if it's not helpful, you aren't obligated to pursue something that's risky just because it's helpful to others. You are an individual and it's okay to protect yourself.

Date: 2012-11-20 06:17 pm (UTC)
recessional: a small blue-paisley teapot with a blue mug (Default)
From: [personal profile] recessional

(For example, I don't do poses that bare my throat. The stress-to-usefulness ratio is just not worth it in any shape).

Date: 2012-11-20 06:22 pm (UTC)
rydra_wong: a woman wearing a bird mask balances on her arms in bakasana (yoga -- crow pose)
From: [personal profile] rydra_wong
Ooh, good point.

It's also okay to decide that this is not the right time/place/teacher to pursue it with.

The teacher may be great in lots of ways, but not have had previous experience with trauma issues coming up in a class, or guidance on how to handle it.

And sometimes people are inexperienced with something but willing to listen and learn, and sometimes people are inexperienced and ... not.

Talking to her about it when you see her privately seems like a good idea, not because it'll necessarily sort everything out, but because her response will give you an idea of whether she's someone you feel safe with, when it comes to handling this stuff.

Date: 2012-11-20 06:31 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] indywind
All your ideas sound like good ones. I want to especially encourage talking to your therapist about what happened, regardless whether it happens again--not necessarily in a "my PTSD messed up my yoga practice, how can we make that not happen again?" way, more in a "so I had this experience and I'm trying to process it" way.
I also support letting your teacher know what's going on with you, discussing how it interacts with your practice--privately, and when you're feeling relatively safe and centered.

I've had emotional reactions in yoga class, including crying (in a hot yoga class, so at least the tears were unnoticeable in the general dripping with sweat) and mild panic attacks (freezing/involuntary tension, throat constricting, heart racing, tunnel vision). I've also been in a class, as a student or teacher, with a student who seemed to be emotionally affected.
It's REALLY not uncommon.
It also can feel awkward --or frustrating, scary, embarrassing, distracting... or healing, freeing, a relief; really intense, or no big deal...

The experience itself isn't any of those things, until we decide it is. It might be one sort of experience for you, and another entirely for your teacher or classmates. What felt socially awkward and personally difficult to you, they may have barely noticed, or attached a different value to. If you can, perhaps try accepting your teacher's response in that light: not her telling you how to feel about your experience, but letting you know how she sees it from outside.

I could write a lot about ways of thinking that have helped me with similar situations; it might or might not help you. The main ideas for me to remember are: (1)I'm allowedsupposed to take care of myself anyhow I need that doesn't interfere with someone else; (2)my goal/the "point of yoga" (for me) is to practice being present, mindful and compassionately nonjudgmental through whatever I experience, and all sorts of experiences (subjectively wonderful, awful, boring; formal asana/meditation/pranayama or any random time) can be valuable opportunities to practice (so I can be selective about ANYthing in support of (1)); (3) if I can't stay present, I can at least try to be mindful and nonjudgmental about that, take a break, and return to my practice when I'm ready.

Edited (markup fail, can't spell) Date: 2012-11-21 02:04 pm (UTC)

Date: 2012-11-21 09:37 am (UTC)
rydra_wong: a woman wearing a bird mask balances on her arms in bakasana (yoga -- crow pose)
From: [personal profile] rydra_wong
Here are a couple of links discussing intense emotional reactions in yoga, just in case they're of interest:

Date: 2012-11-21 06:19 pm (UTC)
cathalin: (Default)
From: [personal profile] cathalin
This reminds me of some of the things a friend has described while doing a certain type of physical therapy session. She decided a while ago to post openly about her ptsd and experiences in case it would help anyone (warning; read her cut tag warnings if you have triggers) and even though in a way this is off topic, I thought you might be interested in her descriptions. Edited to add: I found her first post on EMDR, which explains it some: Here are her posts tagged ptsd: I believe the type of therapy she has been trying is called EMDR? And it involves recognizing how one's physical body stores/recalls trauma even when the conscious memory does not. That is what reminded me of your experience, so I thought it might possibly be helpful, though definitely it could just be a "regular" yoga reaction.
Edited Date: 2012-11-21 06:25 pm (UTC)


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