Yoga and Internal Family Systems Therapy

Already Whole

Yogic philosophy states that you are already whole and deeply connected to the world around you. 

To engage in yoga does not make you more complete, rather the practice invites you to see past illusions and remove obstacles that prevent you from knowing your innate true nature. 

The physical practice of yoga invites you to experiment with energizing movement and breath practices that are enlivening, empowering, playful, and strengthening. Ultimately, the aim of these practices is to cultivate a felt experience of equanimity as a counterpoint to the destabilizing impacts of stress and trauma. From this foundation, you can settle into stillness and allow yourself to be nourished by states of rest and relaxation.

The integration of Yoga and Internal Family Systems Therapy gives us tools for working with vulnerable emotions and sensations when they arise on the yoga mat. The conscious use of breath, mindful movement, and meditation help us to find our center, the place within that is untouched by the traumatic events of our lives. This act of centering brings us home to the Self and helps us to access a state of compassion and clarity—now we can attend to our wounds with wisdom.

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Beyond Trauma To Healing

Awakening Post-Traumatic Growth

Trauma affects the best of us, and effects can linger, limiting your ability to live your life with joy and abundance.  

Unresolved, traumatic experiences may lead to anxiety and depression, significantly affecting your physical and mental health. 

While experiencing painful events is unavoidable, trauma doesn’t have to dominate your life or detract from your capacity for joy.  

You have the power to determine its ultimate impact on your life, develop methods of resilience, and even rediscover trust, which helps you move past chronic suffering towards hope and true happiness.

Beyond Trauma is a 7-week online event created to support your wellbeing and growth after trauma.  

Let’s Grow Together

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Interoception: A Key to Wellbeing | Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Interoception Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Mindful body awareness awakens you to your inner world…this sensory interior is scientifically referred to as interoception. This key to wellbeing invites you to pay attention to your felt sense. As you get to know the territory of your inner landscape you will learn to trust your gut as a kind of compass that wisely guides your decisions and actions in the world. 

Dr. Stephen Porges, who offered us polyvagal theory, refers to interoception as our sixth sense that allows us to become aware of our instinctual responses to our environment (Porges, 2011). Your vagus nerve communicates all of your body’s sensory cues to your brain—a process that occurs without conscious awareness.

When you pay attention to your internal feedback, you not only enhance your emotional intelligence but can learn to carry this wisdom into the world in a manner that enhances your health and relationships…

Dr. Arielle Schwartz
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Therapeutic Yoga for Trauma Recovery Book

Applied Polyvagal Theory in Yoga

Therapeutic yoga book Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Therapeutic Yoga for Trauma Recovery

Trauma recovery is as much about healing the body as it is the mind.

Yet, so often, the focus of healing involves retelling the story of the past without addressing the physiological imbalances that trauma leaves in its wake.

Therapeutic Yoga for Trauma Recovery bridges this path of healing between the psyche and the body by walking you through the sacred practice of yoga so you can release the burdens of trauma from your body and mind.

Grounded within the principles of polyvagal theory, affective neuroscience, and trauma-informed care, this book will help you gain a better understanding of how our brains and bodies respond to stress and trauma and offer a self-led healing journey toward feeling more empowered, grounded, clearheaded, inspired, and at ease.

This book introduces you to the power of the yogic philosophy and offers a variety of accessible yoga poses and breathing practices that will allow you to:

  • Nourish your nervous system
  • Reconnect with your body
  • Ground yourself in the present moment
  • Release unresolved patterns of fight, flight, freeze, or faint
  • Widen your ability to tolerate emotional discomfort
  • Develop a felt sense of resilience
  • Anchor yourself in self-love
  • Reclaim connection with and trust in your body
  • Create a personalized yoga practice for your own self-care

Based upon Dr. Schwartz’s Vagus Nerve Yoga, Therapeutic Yoga for Trauma Recovery walks you through the sacred path of yoga to facilitate your own courageous journey of self-discovery that will help you release the adverse effects of trauma from your body and mind. You will be invited to become a compassionate witness to your mind, explore conscious breathing, and discover mindful movement practices that enhance your mental, emotional, and physical health.

If you are a therapist or yoga teacher, you will learn how to guide your clients or students through yoga practices that facilitate trauma recovery. The addendum of this book offers guidance on how to design a sequence of postures for an individual client or student, as well as a framework for creating a six-week therapeutic yoga class for a group of students.

Dr. Arielle Schwartz Therapeutic Yoga for Trauma
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Collective Trauma, Embodiment, and Community | Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Our Shared Hero’s Journey

I invite you to think of collective trauma as a call to enter the transformational process of a hero’s journey. Collective trauma refers to the impact of current or historical events that are experienced by groups of people, communities, and society as a whole.

American mythologist Joseph Campbell (2008) described the hero’s journey as a “monomyth,” in which a period of ease is tragically disrupted by a crisis that sends us into exile. The hero fights the dragon, retrieves the treasure, and returns to the community with new gifts and healing capabilities. 

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, writes: “There will always be times when you will feel discouraged. I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it; I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate.”

As I see it, we need to attend to our despair without letting our lives be defined by it. While we are capable of fighting dragons, we cannot fight them alone. While you may feel as though you have been thrown into an abyss; we can overcome these challenges. However, it does require that we have support. We need to go into the dark with our allies, those who stand by our side and help us courageously face the pain of the world.

Collectively, we can carry a light with us as we walk into the darkness. Ultimately, you can tap into you inner strength, wisdom, and hope which will allow you to emerge with an enhanced sense of meaning and purpose. These become the gifts that you have to offer to the world so that you can be a guiding presence for others.

Dr. Arielle Schwartz
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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.

Dr. Arielle Schwartz
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Nourish your Nervous System | Dr. Arielle Schwartz

A Restorative Reset

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

Although rest is an integral part of our body’s rhythm, many of us have a complicated relationship to rest. That’s because our culture tends to condition us to believe that our self-worth is based on productivity. You might feel guilty for resting or believe that it is selfish to take time out. You might fear that if you slow down, you will miss an opportunity. Maybe you fear that you will lose momentum or that you will become stagnant. Perhaps you have received messages that you’re lazy if you’re not working hard or being productive. These ingrained messages can cause you to neglect your health or believe that “hard work” is what brings happiness. Sadly, this can lead you to feel disconnected from your deeper self, and you might question the point of all this hard work.

Over time, an addiction to busyness can also lead to burnout, which can affect your endocrine system functioning and overall physical health. Cultivating a nourishing relationship to rest takes consistency and practice. Paradoxically, when you do embrace the need for rest, you tend to be more focused and attentive during the day, which can ultimately allow you to be more productive.

In order to rest into a place of deep stillness, you must feel safe enough to let go of your defenses, which will allow you to access your parasympathetic nervous system’s relaxation response. Reclaiming a healthy relationship to stillness can take time.

Settling into stillness also allows you to access the inner wisdom that can be found within the depths of your psyche. As if diving deep below the surface of the ocean, you find the slowest moving currents of your soul’s wisdom. Within these depths, you connect to your intuition. As you reside in this deep connection to your heart, you learn to trust this inner knowing, which becomes the guiding compass for your life’s decisions.

Dr. Arielle Schwartz
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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.

While this post offers the science behind eye movements, I invite you to remember that your eyes are a direct connection to your inner most self. Softening your vigilance can allow you to connect deeply to your felt sense. This is the place where your joy and your pain may reside. Therefore, I invite you to explore the practices offered in this post with gentleness and self-compassion. Allow your gaze to soften as if greeting a long-lost friend with a warm smile. This long-lost friend might just be you.

Dr. Arielle Schwartz
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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

A Sacred Pilgrimage

The Post Traumatic Growth Guidebook Dr. Arielle Schwartz

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. 

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.

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.

Dr. Arielle Schwartz
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