Embodiment in Trauma Recovery | Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Awakening to your Felt Sense

Embodiment is as an active process of self-discovery that you renew and strengthen by repeatedly attending to your sensations, emotions, and instinctual movement impulses. Mindful body-awareness practices help you learn to sustain the focus of your attention on how your body feels or moves in the present moment.

Embodiment in trauma recovery involves setting aside time to focus your attention on your breath and body sensations as related to traumatic events. You attend to the burdens of adversity whether they reside in your body as protective armoring or a loss of integrity at your core that leaves you feeling collapsed and defeated. 

Awakening to your felt sense allows you to reclaim healing movements. You release defensive bracing or vigilance from your body and mind. You explore moving out of freeze or collapse into the presence of a balanced and regulated nervous system. With regular practice you accumulate a reservoir of embodied wisdom that resides as a reliably accessible sense of self.

Somatic Intelligence

Embodiment in Trauma Recovery Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Often, we think of intelligence as our knowledge of facts, as it is traditionally measured through mental and verbal capacities. However, kinesthetic awareness is a form of somatic intelligence, meaning that paying attention to your felt sense of self provides information that can wisely guide your decisions and actions in the world. Embodiment increases your emotional intelligence and enhances interpersonal relationships as you will be more sensitive to the needs or emotions of others.

The vagus nerve is an essential part of this information highway. Awakening your mind-body connection also helps to improve your physical health. Listening to your body sensations allows you to notice feelings of discomfort which can lead you to move in an intuitive manner that helps you to release tension naturally. For example, perhaps you have been sitting in one position for too long and you suddenly become aware that your foot has fallen asleep. Now you can explore a new way of sitting or moving to restore blood flow to this area. 

In truth, we all have aspects of ourselves that are asleep, sometimes as a way of disconnecting from painful emotions or memories that were once overwhelming. Embodiment in trauma recovery offers opportunities to compassionately awaken these parts of yourself that have been hiding beneath the lens of your awareness.

Dissociation from the Body

Embodiment in Trauma Recovery Dr. arielle Schwartz

As your cultivate your ability to stay present with your sensations, you will also become adept at recognizing when you disconnect from the body. It is completely normal to lose awareness of your felt sense of self at times; however, if you have a history of trauma you may have learned to dissociate from your body as a survival based coping mechanism.

You might notice a desire to avoid or escape uncomfortable sensations or emotions. This can arise as fidgeting, being “in your head,” feeling distracted, or pushing yourself physically in a way that overrides your sensations. You may need to proceed slowly with mindful body-awareness especially if you are prone to dissociation. This allows you to consciously choose how you would like to respond to distress. 

Embodiment in Relationship 

Embodiment in Trauma Recovery Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Embodiment is an everchanging, dynamic relationship between you, your circumstances, your relationships, and the world. In other words, how you feel in your body will change depending on many factors, including what you eat, how you sleep, where you are, who you are, and what is happening around you.

This was especially true in your earliest relationships with the caregivers who shaped your sense of self. A sensitive caregiver attunes to an infant’s facial expressions, vocalizations, gestures, and body movements. This attunement guides the caregiver’s use of touch, eye contact, and tone of voice, as well as the timing of interactions. Over time, the accumulation of these empathic relational exchanges reinforces our ability to feel connected to our bodies, recognize our emotions, and respond effectively to our needs.

This is why childhood neglect or abuse can leave a powerful imprint on you physically and emotionally. An infant cannot flee from or fight against a frightening or hurtful caregiver, making them more likely to collapse into immobilization, fall asleep, or dissociate.

Embodiment and Trauma Recovery

The Post Traumatic Growth Guidebook Dr. Arielle Schwartz

With a history of trauma, any embodiment practice can be a vulnerable undertaking. We cannot deny the impact of unresolved trauma on the body. It is often said that “our issues are in our tissues” and that they impact how we move and breathe. Perhaps you find yourself avoiding embodiment practices because they evoke difficult emotions, such as shame or grief.

Mindful body-awareness might also evoke difficult feelings if your relationship with your body is complicated by a negative body image, feelings of self-loathing, or gender dysphoria, in which you feel a mismatch between your physical body and the felt sense of your own gender identity. If you find that relating to your body brings up difficult beliefs or emotions, try to focus on what your body is capable of doing rather than what it looks like. For example, you might say to yourself, “My body is strong!” or “My body is wise!” Ask what your body needs from you rather than trying to change or control your body.

Embodiment as a Practice

Dr. Arielle Schwartz Embodiment in Trauma Recovery

Embodiment in trauma recovery involves setting aside time to focus your attention on your breath and body sensations. This can be done while resting in stillness or during mindful movements. Explore the practices that nourish your soul—mindful walking in nature, yoga, tai chi, seated meditation. Or, you can explore embodiment in trauma treatment within somatic therapy with the caring and compassionate presence of a psychotherapist who can help you turn toward your pain.

Since vulnerable feelings cannot be entirely eliminated, mindful body-awareness involves learning to accept, rather than merely tolerate, the presence of your own painful emotions. With acceptance, you can recognize that your emotions and sensations are not permanent; rather, they come and go like waves on the ocean.The most important element for sustaining a regular embodiment practice is to find sufficient reward as you deepen into your healing journey. Rather than pushing yourself into a practice, see if you can find enough support so that even the challenging emotional moments feel healing for your soul. 

About Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Dr. Arielle Schwartz Complex PTSD

Arielle Schwartz, PhD, is a psychologist, internationally sought-out teacher, yoga instructor, and leading voice in the healing of PTSD and complex trauma. She is the author of five books, including The Complex PTSD WorkbookEMDR Therapy and Somatic Psychology, and The Post Traumatic Growth Guidebook.

Dr. Schwartz is an accomplished teacher who guides therapists in the application of EMDR, somatic psychology, parts work therapy, and mindfulness-based interventions for the treatment of trauma and complex PTSD. She guides you through a personal journey of healing in her Sounds True audio program, Trauma Recovery. 

She has a depth of understanding, passion, kindness, compassion, joy, and a succinct way of speaking about very complex topics. She is the founder of the Center for Resilience Informed Therapy in Boulder, Colorado where she maintains a private practice providing psychotherapy, supervision, and consultation. Dr. Schwartz believes that that the journey of trauma recovery is an awakening of the spiritual heart.

Nourish your Nervous System | Dr. Arielle Schwartz

A Restorative Reset

Nourish your Nervous system
Nourish your nervous system (IC: Jes Kimak)

The holiday season is quickly approaching; the time of year that is celebrated for being joyful but is frequently stressful. As we approach the darkness of the winter solstice we often feel a natural inclination to rest and take time out from our busy lives. However, this season tends to be emotionally demanding. It can be hard to maintain a sense of inner peace when we feel over-extended or resentful. 

Navigating the holidays within the pandemic can also be confusing. You might be asking, “Is it safe to travel?” “Do I wear a mask when visiting with relatives or friends?” You might wish you could travel home to be closer to family but feel stuck far away. Or, if you are travelling to be with family other challenges can arise. You might face critical parents or distant children. Maybe you take the role of caregiver for family members leaving little time for yourself. Or you might feel pressure to create perfect memories for your children to maintain the “magic” of the season.

In truth, there is no single right way to approach these challenges. We are all trying to find our way in a unsettled and confusing world. Since it is hard to find our answers outside of ourself, it is even more important to turn your attention inward. This will allow you to nourish your nervous system and can increases your chances of moving through this season with equanimity and ease.

Nourish your Nervous System

Nourish your nervous system Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Arriving (IC Jes Kimak)

Our yoga practice can become essential any time of year to help us maintain balance and stay realistic about what we can actually accomplish. The softer side of yoga invites you into restorative shapes that allow you to rest into stillness to support your parasympathetic nervous system.

A sense of safety is always rooted in choice, and resting in stillness can never be forced. Just as you may need to build up tolerance to engage in strength training or endurance exercises, you may also need to build up a tolerance for restful states. As you work to build this tolerance, you might find that when your body becomes still that your mind speeds up. Or you might feel restless or notice the urge to fidget. Or you might feel collapsed or immobilized. 

Remember that you can move your body freely as needed and that you can turn toward cues that help you recognize that you are safe now. Once you recognize that you are safe, you can practice learning to let go of your vigilance and soften into stillness.

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The Vagus Nerve and Eye Movements: Tools for Trauma Recovery | Dr. Arielle Schwartz

The Window to your Soul

Eye Movements and Vagus Nerve Stimulation Dr. Arielle Schwartz
IC: Eyes by Bruno Henrique

It is often said that the eyes are a window to your soul. Indeed, your eyes provide great insight into how you are feeling. When we are stressed we tend to furrow our brow which contracts the muscles around your eyes making them appear smaller. When we are tired our eyelids grow heavy. When we feel connected and excited to see someone our eyebrows lift and our eyes appear brighter and larger. While you might try to hide your true emotions by controlling the muscles of your face, you really can’t stop your eyes from revealing how you really feel. This is because the eyes are closely tied to your autonomic nervous system.

When you are on alert, your pupils dilate helping you scan your environment. This is one reason why individuals who have experienced traumatic events at night are often able to describe the scene as if it was in broad daylight. And when you feel safe, your eyes tend to sparkle and express warmth as a signal that you are engaging your social nervous system. This is because four of your cranial nerves are directly associated with vision or eye movements and your vagus nerve connects your eyes to your heart.

Eye movements have been integrated into many healing practices such as in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy and Yoga. This post shares more about the Vagus Nerve and eye movements, how they can facilitate health through natural vagus nerve stimulation, and how they help with trauma recovery. The video at the end guides you into a simple practice for self-care…

The Neurochemistry of Courage

Catch the Upward Spiral Build Resilience-Dr. Arielle Schwartz
IC: Courage by Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Our eyes naturally move from side to side as we walk through the world; it is a way of observing our environment. From an evolutionary perspective, this action is necessary for survival for it allows us to scan the world for food and potential predators. This action evokes the neurochemistry of courage because the pairing of physical movement and lateral eye-movements appears to suppress the amygdala’s role in initiating a fear-response while simultaneously signaling the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps increase a felt sense of pleasure and reward (See Dr. Andrew Huberman discuss his research on eye movements).

Adding eye movements while confronting a difficult memory helps to reduce the fear response in the body and mind and helps to distance you from the negative emotions related to historical traumatic events. EMDR Therapy engages bilateral eye movements to facilitate communications across left and right hemispheres in a way that mimics REM sleep. Dr. Francine Shapiro discovered the power of eye movements for trauma recovery purely by chance during a walk in the park when she noticed that her eyes were moving back and forth. She was talking with a friend about something difficult and the disturbance went away. Over time she developed EMDR Therapy as a trauma treatment model that helps clients to process traumatic life experiences and related symptoms.

Eye Yoga and the Vagus Nerve

Eye Movements
IC: Gerd Altmann w/ Pixabay

Many yogic practices also facilitate integration between left and right hemispheres of the brain through movements that engage left and right sides of the body. For example, eye yoga typically involves lowering and lifting your gaze from the tip of your nose to the center of your forehead, moving your eyes back and forth from left to right, and circling your eyes in both directions.

Yoga also incorporates use of a single point for your gaze, or drishti, to help settle your mind. It is also recommended that you spend some time each day allowing your eyes to rest in total darkness by placing a light eye pillow or resting your palms gently over your eyes which allows your eyes to recover from strain.

The vagus nerve and eye movements are interconnected. Oculocardiac convergence visual therapy helps reset vagal tone and reduce anxiety through shifting the focal point of the eyes from close-in to far-off in the distance. If you would like, explore stretching and engaging the eye muscles, which can ultimately help these muscles relax. You can start by holding a pencil or small object about four to six inches in front of your face. Allow your eyes to focus on this object for about 20 seconds, and then shift your focus to look off in the distance for about 20 seconds. Continue back and forth for about four cycles, and then softly relax your eyes.

The Vagus Nerve and Eye Movements

Vagus Nerve Stimulation and Eye Movements
IC: John Hain w/ Pixabay

Your vagus nerve passes through your belly, diaphragm, lungs, throat, inner ear, and facial muscles. Therefore, practices that stimulate or relax these areas of the body can influence the tone of your vagus nerve through the mind-body feedback loop. Within the medical field, vagus nerve stimulation (VNS), also referred to as neuromodulation, involves surgically implanting a bioelectronic device or using a non-surgical transcutaneous (through the skin) device which sends a stimulating yet undetectable electrical current to the vagus nerve. You can also naturally stimulate your vagus nerve to relieve keyed up or shut down nervous system states.

You can Naturally stimulate your vagus with techniques such as altering the rhythm of your breath, practicing mindful body awareness, and exploring gentle yoga postures to create greater balance in your body and mind. Learn more about Vagus Nerve Yoga.

Eye movements are particularly powerful because they have a direct connection to the suboccipital muscles that sit at the base of your skull. As you move your eyes you create subtle movements that help to release tight muscles in your neck which in turn can reduce tension around the first and second cervical vertebrae. In his book, Accessing The Healing Power of the Vagus Nerve, Stanley Rosenberg combines eye movements with gentle movements that release the muscles of your neck help to increase blood flow to your vertebral artery which supplies blood to the brainstem and vagus nerve.

This video explains more about the vagus nerve and eye movements and invites you to try an exercise for your own self-care:

Learn more about The Vagus Nerve:

About Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Arielle Schwartz, PhD, is a psychologist, internationally sought-out teacher, yoga instructor, and leading voice in the healing of PTSD and complex trauma. She is the author of five books, including The Complex PTSD WorkbookEMDR Therapy and Somatic Psychology, and The Post Traumatic Growth Guidebook. Dr. Schwartz is an accomplished teacher who guides therapists in the application of EMDR, somatic psychology, parts work therapy, and mindfulness-based interventions for the treatment of trauma and complex PTSD. She has a depth of understanding, passion, kindness, compassion, joy, and a succinct way of speaking about very complex topics. She is the founder of the Center for Resilience Informed Therapy in Boulder, Colorado where she maintains a private practice providing psychotherapy, supervision, and consultation. Dr. Schwartz believes that that the journey of trauma recovery is an awakening of the spiritual heart.

Books by Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Learn more about Books by Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Coping with Climate Grief

A Backpacking Travelogue

Coping with Climate Grief Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Alongside the ongoing weight of the global pandemic, another area of distress that is increasingly coming up for people is climate grief as we face fires, hurricanes with greater intensity or frequency or intensity, as well as rising waters and flooding. It is easy to feel helpless and a looming existential fear now referred to as “eco-anxiety.” 

Even if you haven’t been directly impacted by one of these events, you have likely been exposed to images and stories through the media leading to a form of anticipatory fears or about the potential for additional disasters or the extinction of species and ecosystems such as coral reefs or glaciers. Or maybe, you too have had eerie orange skies at sunset from fires far away. Just like any ongoing stressor, it is important to have strategies to cope with climate grief.

Recently, I had an opportunity to go backpacking on one of my favorite trails here in Colorado. For the second summer in a row, my trips to the hills have been colored by a backdrop of haze and smoke. However, I found some tools that helped me work through my feelings while walking on the trail that I’ll share in this post. My hope is that my own feelings about climate grief might help you know that you are not alone and that my sharing of coping strategies might help you find a path forward. 

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Applied Polyvagal Theory in Yoga

Embodiment Strategies for Trauma Recovery

Dr. Arielle Schwartz polyvagal theory in yoga

Healing from trauma invites you to befriend your body; and this needs to occur at a pace that honors your unique needs. Initially, this involves developing the resources to handle challenging emotions, disturbing symptoms, and distressing memories. The goal is help you find your ground through a felt sense of stability and safety. Within applied polyvagal theory in yoga, you learn to trust the predictability of the support that your yoga mat provides. 

A Sacred Pilgrimage

The Post Traumatic Growth Guidebook Dr. Arielle Schwartz

One of the defining features of traumatic events is the loss of choice over what happened to you. They can leave you feeling trapped, helpless, or powerless. Therefore, recovery from trauma involves realizing that you do have choices available to you now (Emerson & West, 2015). A therapeutic approach to yoga involves recognizing that you have choice now. Throughout each practice, you can decide how to move and breathe. You can decide whether you want your eyes open or closed. 

When we do not feel as though we have choices, we can begin to feel trapped our nervous system perceives a threat.

I invite you to think of your yoga space as a sacred ground…and each time you return is a pilgrimage to your body, mind, heart, and soul. Therapeutic yoga for trauma recovery is best supported when you have a calm, peaceful, and safe environment for your practice. You might find this within a class; however, if you are choosing to begin a home-based practice, I encourage you to take some time to create a space that feels nourishing to your body and mind.

A sacred space, whether it is found in nature or created by humans, provides a sense of solace and respite from the unpredictable or chaotic aspects of life.

Ideally, your space feels safe enough for you to relax. This baseline of safety will then allow you to observe your body and mind for patterns of tension or changes in how you are breathing that are arise as you release trauma related emotions from your body. See if you can allow yourself the gift to feel held within your peaceful, calm space.

Applied Polyvagal Theory in Yoga | An Orienting Practice:

  • Take a moment to arrive on your mat and look around your space. You can turn your head to look right and left and you might even turn your whole body to observe the space behind you. Notice any cues that serve as reminders that this is a safe and sacred healing space for your practice.

Neuroception and the Polyvagal Theory

Dr. Arielle Schwartz Applied Polyvagal theory in yoga

Applied polyvagal theory in yoga guides you to become a compassionate witness to your body and mind. This provides a powerful foundation for self-knowledge. At times, your body might react to a stressful event even before you are aware of the trigger. Even without conscious awareness, your brain and body have released a cascade of stress chemicals such as cortisol and adrenaline. This is one reason why you cannot simply think your way out of the symptoms of trauma; rather, you must work with the body to maximize healing. Having a regular yoga practice can play an instrumental role in this process. 

Dr. Stephen Porges coined the term neuroception to reflect the process by which the your vagus nerve is communicating internal and external cues about whether situations or people are safe, dangerous, or life threatening. Your nervous system will find these cues within the body, in our external environment, or in the body language, facial expressions, or voice tones or other people. For example, changes in heart rate or subtle shifts in muscle tone impact your sense of self but you might not be aware of these changes as they occur.

The vagus nerve plays a key role in neuroception because of the many extensions throughout your body. It is the tenth cranial nerve and can best be described as a bidirectional communication highway between your body and your brain. The term vagus is Latin for “wandering,” which is an apt descriptor for a nerve that extends from the brainstem into the stomach, intestines, heart, lungs, throat, and facial muscles. Approximately 85 to 90 percent of vagus nerve fibers are afferent which means that they bring sensory information from your body to your brain.

Read more about Vagus Nerve Yoga here

Applied Polyvagal Theory in Yoga | An Awareness Practice:

You can learn to pay attention to neuroceptive cues by consciously observing signs that your body is responding to a threat. For example, you furrow your brow, tighten you jaw, grip your hands, or clench your buttocks. You have an opportunity to engage in this practice awareness in any yoga practice whether you are moving in asana, resting in savasana, practicing pranayama, or seated in meditation. 

  • Begin to notice to whether it feels easy or difficult for you to sit still. Are you moving more or less than usual? Do you feel the urge to fidget? Do you feel restless or jittery? Do you feel lethargic or sluggish? Do you feel collapsed or slumped? Do you feel frozen or excessively still? Do you feel relaxed and at ease?
  • Begin to notice how you are breathing. Do you notice a tendency to hold your breath? Are you breathing in a shallow manner? Does your breath feel quickened or do you notice a shortness of breath, like you cannot get enough oxygen? Are you breathing freely and easily?
  • Do you notice any tension around your eyes? Do they narrowed or is your brow furrowed? Do you have tension in your forehead or around your temples?
  • Bring awareness to your jaw and mouth. Do you notice that you purse your lips or clench your teeth together? Is your tongue pressed firmly against the roof of your mouth? 
  • Notice if you feel tension in your throat, neck or base of your skull. Perhaps roll your shoulders forward and back and notice any tightness or constriction around your shoulders, upper back, or chest.
  • Bring awareness to your belly. Do you notice any tension around your diaphragm, stomach, or low back? 
  • If you feel comfortable, bring awareness to your pelvis and hips. Do you notice a tendency to clench the gluteal muscles in your buttocks or to grip in your pelvic floor. 
  • Notice your legs and feet and see if you tend to carry tension by gripping the muscles in your thighs. Perhaps you carry habitual tension in your calf muscles. Do you tend to grip your feet or curl your toes? 
  • When you feel complete, take the time to notice any observations about yourself during this awareness practice. 

Breathing for your Vagus Nerve

Dr. Arielle Schwartz yoga

The breath plays a key role in your health in part because the vagus nerve extends into the smooth muscle of the lungs and heart. The nerves connecting to the heart and lungs have both sympathetic and parasympathetic functions. The sympathetic nervous system is associated with quick, intense breaths into the upper lungs, a condition often referred to as over-breathing or hyperventilation. During times of stress, your nervous system initiates the release of cortisol via the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA-axis) to mobilize your self-protective defenses through an increase in heart rate and respiration. When this continues overtime, rapid upper chest breathing leads to over-breathing or hyperventilation which is associated with panic attacks and anxiety.

While changes in breathing happen automatically in response to stress, we also have the ability to alter our physiology through conscious, mindful changes in our breath rate. Long, slow exhalations engage the vagal break and the parasympathetic relaxation response slows down your heart rate.

The health of the autonomic nervous system is measured through vagal tone and vagal efficiency. Vagal tone is measured by changes in heart rate in relationship to the breath. The heart rate typically increases on each inhalation which reflects a subtle engagement of the sympathetic nervous system and decreases during each exhalation as the parasympathetic nervous system re-engages. The relationship between your breath and these changes in heart rate is referred to as heart rate variability (HRV). Having higher vagal tone means that you have greater variability between the number of heartbeats on the inhalation as compared to the number of heartbeats measured on the exhalation. Simply put, vagal tone is measured by your ability to move between stress and relaxation efficiently and easily. You can think of this as the physiological basis for resilience which allows you to flexibly respond to inevitable challenges of life.

Read more about Breathing for your Vagus Nerve Yoga here

Applied Polyvagal Theory in Yoga | A Breathing Practice:

This practice involves creating an even length of your inhalation and your exhalation with diaphragmatic or “belly” breathing. I encourage you to study the effect that a simple practice has on your body and mind. 

  • Find a comfortable place to sit where you feel supported and at ease. Begin by simply noticing your breath. Notice the length of your inhalations and exhalations. Notice the transitions between the inhales and exhales. Notice if you are feeling any physical, emotional, or mental distress or tension. 
  • I recommend bringing one or both hands over your navel and focusing each inhale into your lower lungs by expanding this area like a balloon and exhaling as your draw your navel back toward your spine.
  • When you are ready, begin to create a measured length of your breath with a count of four on each inhale and a count of four on each exhale. You can easily tailor this breath to meet your needs by increasing or decreasing your count.
  • When you feel complete, take the time to notice any observations about yourself during this breathing practice. 

Posture and Vagal Tone

Dr. Arielle Schwartz yoga

Postural shifts also influences your vagal tone through blood pressure receptors called baroreceptors which send signals to your brainstem. These signals will either increase or decrease your vagal tone in order to regulate your heart rate. For example, sitting or standing up quickly will temporarily decrease vagal tone which will increase your heart rate and a visceral feeling of activation. Ideally, this is followed by re-engagement of your ventral vagal complex which allows you to return to a calm and relaxed state. 

Tolerating postural changes such as moving from laying down, to sitting, to standing, can provide a good measure for resilience of your nervous system. Yoga practices often involve moving through postural transitions in a repeated, rhythmic manner that allow you to alternately increase and decrease your heart rate. You might think of this as strengthening the resilience of your nervous system in addition to the physical endurance required in these actions.

Applied Polyvagal Theory in Yoga | A Movement Practice:

  • I invite you to build the resiliency of your vagus nerve as you move between standing in mountain pose to a standing forward fold. Move slowly enough to notice the subtle ways that your nervous system accommodates these transitions.
  • From standing, inhale as you bring your arms up overhead.
  • Exhale as you fold forward over your legs. Keep your knees slightly bent to reduce tension in your lower back or legs.
  • Slowly, inhale as you explore coming to a half-way lift by placing your fingertips on the floor, your shins, or on blocks in front of you.
  • Exhale, as you return to the forward fold.
  • Inhale, return to standing in mountains as you lower your hands by your sides. Take several breaths here and notice how you feel.
  • If you would like, repeat the forward fold sequence as you mindfully stay connected to your body and breath.
  • When you feel complete, take the time to rest in stillness either sitting or lying down and notice any observations about yourself during this simple movement practice. 

Focusing Inward

Dr. Arielle Schwartz yoga

Focusing inward invites you to gently soften or close your eyes so that you can notice your internal sensations. For example, you can pause while reading this and bring your awareness to the sensations of your body as you make contact with your chair. Or you might notice the feeling of your belly rising and falling with your breath. From a yogic perspective, you can think of this process as directing your life force energy toward yourself. Ideally, this can be offered as a way to nourish yourself with self-awareness.

This next practice invites you to focus your attention inward while in a child’s pose. For some, the name “child’s pose” brings up discomfort because it evokes memories from a vulnerable time. If this is the case, you can choose to rename this pose giving it a new meaning for you. For example, you might call it “wisdom” or “resting” pose.

Applied Polyvagal Theory in Yoga | A Resting Practice

  • Begin to settle your hips toward your heels. There is no single right way to create this shape. Take your time to adjust your shape until it feels supportive for you. You might place your knees close together which will allow your chest to rest on your thighs or, if you widen your knees, your chest might soften closer to the floor. You might prefer to have a folded blanket or bolster between your hips and your heels to reduce pressure behind your knees. You might choose to rest your forehead on the floor in front of you or on a soft pillow. You can also explore whether you prefer to have your arms outstretched in front of you alongside your head or resting back beside your torso. 
  • Child’s pose is a forward fold that naturally draws your attention inward. Your belly and vital organs are protected in this shape. How does your mind respond as you slow down? As you allow your forehead to make contact with the floor or on a blanket see if you can allow the muscles in your neck to relax. This inward turn, invites you to soften your vigilance and let go into a sense of support and safety. Take a few more deep breaths and whenever you feel ready to come out of this shape, place your hands underneath your shoulders and slowly press into your hands to lift your spine until you have returned to sitting up. 
  • When you feel complete, take the time to rest in stillness either sitting or lying down and notice any observations about yourself during this simple movement practice. 

A Path to Freedom

A Path to freedom Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Eventually, you will develop the inner strength to attend to your suffering with greater compassion. With applied polyvagal theory in yoga, you can build your capacity to turn toward your emotions, sensations, and memories associated with traumatic events. As you sense the weight of traumatic events held in your body, you can begin to deepen your experience by following how your body wants to breathe or move in response to what you are feeling.

As you release burdens and grieve the past you will also begin to cultivate a new felt sense of freedom and possibility.

Curious to Learn More about Applied Polyvagal Theory in Yoga?

polyvagal institite yoga webinar

In collaboration with the Polyvagal Institute, I created a 4-hour training which provides 2 hours of on-demand recorded lectures sharing the application of the polyvagal theory to the practice of yoga. These lectures are accompanied by a 1-hour guided physical yoga practice in which you are invited to move and breathe allowing you to experientially embody and integrate the course material. This course concludes with a 1-hour recorded discussion between Dr. Schwartz and Dr. Porges which explores topics such as:

  • compassion based practices to facilitate greater resilience within the nervous system
  • conscious breathing to work with imbalances in the autonomic nervous system
  • how yoga asana and movement can assist in reducing physical and emotional pain
  • the key role of co-regulation in facilitating an optimal healing relationship

Through the lens of polyvagal theory, you will learn all about how the vagus nerve is a bi-directional information highway between mind and body—more importantly, you will learn to fine-tune your health with breath, movement, and awareness practices that become the building blocks of a life-changing daily practice.

Learn more and Sign up for the Polyvagal Yoga course here!

Arielle Schwartz, PhD, is a psychologist, internationally sought-out teacher, yoga instructor, and leading voice in the healing of PTSD and complex trauma. She is the author of five books, including The Complex PTSD WorkbookEMDR Therapy and Somatic Psychology, and The Post Traumatic Growth Guidebook. Dr. Schwartz is an accomplished teacher who guides therapists in the application of EMDR, somatic psychology, parts work therapy, and mindfulness-based interventions for the treatment of trauma and complex PTSD. She has a depth of understanding, passion, kindness, compassion, joy, and a succinct way of speaking about very complex topics. She is the founder of the Center for Resilience Informed Therapy in Boulder, Colorado where she maintains a private practice providing psychotherapy, supervision, and consultation. Dr. Schwartz believes that that the journey of trauma recovery is an awakening of the spiritual heart.

Books by Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Learn more about Books by Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Trauma Recovery: A Mind Body Approach to Becoming Whole

A Podcast with Sounds True

Trauma Recovery and Post Traumatic Growth Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Recently, I had the honor to have a heartfelt conversation with Tami Simon with Sounds True, host of Insights at the Edge Podcast. Within this podcast, I share aspects of my personal journey through trauma recovery. You will learn some of my favorite healing resources and tools to help you find your own sense of being at home in your body. Discover the healing power of choice, movement, imagination, and how grounding can be a relational experience.

We deepen into a conversation about my passion for resilience and The Post-Traumatic Growth Guidebook which explores some of the key ingredients to transform trauma into the gold of self-awareness by walking your own Hero or Heroine’s journey.

Listen to this enriching podcast with Sounds True

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Fascia and the Vagus Nerve | Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Healing from the Inside Out

Fascia and your Vagus Nerve Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Connective Tissue tendon, Berkshire Bioscience Library

Have you ever had a morning in which you wake up with a painful knot in your neck? What happened? Did you sleep in a funny position or was it the wild dream that had you tossing and turning? Maybe it was due to the stressful work meeting you had the day before or because you feel worried about something in the future. While this may sound strange, your tight neck could even be related to what you ate the night before or an event that happened many years ago.

Intuitively, we all know that stress shows up in our bodies as muscular tension. But, when we look more closely at the body-mind connection we recognize that fascia plays a key role in how we physically experience stress and heal from traumatic events. Furthermore, since the vagus nerve plays an important role in communicating changes in fascia to your brain, we explore how attending to vagal tone helps you to heal. 

Fascia also plays a key role in your resilience. You can nourish fascia and the vagus nerve by attending to your body and mind through sensory awareness, conscious breathing, and mindful movement. These tools help you to recover more quickly from stressful experiences and heal traumatic events from your past. 

Understanding Fascia

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The Complex PTSD Treatment Manual | Dr. Arielle Schwartz

An Integrative, Mind-Body Approach to Trauma Treatment

The Complex PTSD Treatment Manual Dr. Arielle Schwartz

I am thrilled to announce the publication of The Complex PTSD Treatment Manual: An Integrative, Mind-Body Approach to Trauma Treatment. This book is written for clinicians who are helping clients navigate the consequences of repeated or chronic traumatization. This is a roadmap for therapy with clients who have experienced prolonged and chronic exposure to traumatic events.

This book offers a deep dive into the ways in which therapy is a combination of head and heart, of science and art. A mind-body approach to trauma recovery is now recognized as essential to successful treatment for we simply cannot think our way out of these innate, physiological responses to trauma. Successful treatment requires a compassionate therapeutic relationship and effective, research-based interventions. This integrative model brings together relational therapy, mindful body awareness, parts work therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), somatic psychology, and practices drawn from complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). 

“Our brains are malleable and have the capacity to develop new neural connections throughout our lifespan. That means that the effects of trauma, which are known to adversely impact the brain, are not immutable. With therapy, the brain can rewire itself and heal from the emotional injuries of the past. An integrative approach to treatment allows us to adapt the focus of our work to meet the needs of each specific client by recognizing that there is no single therapeutic method that is appropriate or effective for all clients. A compassionate approach to care asks us to nonjudgmentally accept each client within the context of their unique social and cultural challenges.”

High Praise for The Complex PTSD Treatment Manual

“Arielle Schwartz has written THE guidebook for clinicians seeking to understand Complex PTSD and how to treat it!   On every page, she interweaves up-to-date theoretical ideas with practical clinical wisdom.  Every word of this book can easily be implemented by therapists regardless of their training or approach.” ~Janina Fisher, PhD author of The Fragmented Selves of Trauma Survivors and Transforming the Living Legacy of Trauma

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The Fawn Response in Complex PTSD | Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Emotional Regulation and Childhood Trauma

The Fawn Response Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Children require healthy, caring, and attentive adults to help them develop their social and emotional intelligence. It is the job of a parent to help children feel safe enough to express uncomfortable feelings. When children feel supported, they learn that stressful moments are only temporary and that they can resolve into positive experiences of empowerment or deepened connections in relationships. 

However, when parents are emotionally withholding, controlling, or abusive, they fail to help their children develop a healthy emotional landscape. Within this unsafe territory, children become explosive or cut off from their feelings. In some cases, children become hyper-aware of their parents’ distress or are compelled to take care of their parents’ emotional needs. This process of abandoning self for the purpose of attending to the needs of others is called the Fawn Response. 

The fawn response involves people-pleasing to the degree that an individual disconnects from their own emotions, sensations, and needs. In childhood, this occurs because they must withhold expressing their authentic emotions of sadness, fear, and anger in order to avoid potential wrath or cruelty from a parent or caregiver. As a result, they turn their negative feelings toward themselves in the form of self-criticism, self-loathing, or self-harming behaviors. In adulthood, an unresolved fawn response can then become the root of co-dependence, depression, or somatic symptoms of pain and illness.

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Vagus Nerve Yoga for Trauma Recovery | Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Yoga and the Vagus Nerve

vagus nerve yoga for trauma recovery

Vagus nerve yoga for trauma recovery integrates information from neuroscience, psychology, and the yogic path to illuminate who we are and how we heal from adverse and challenging life events. This post applies Dr. Stephen Porges’s polyvagal theory to illuminate the physiological underpinnings of how we, as humans, respond to stressful or traumatic events. 

Read on and learn how you can fine-tune your health with yogic breath, movement, and awareness practices which can become building blocks for a life-changing daily practice.

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