All of us will experience some sort of trauma at one time in our lives. It takes different degrees to affect people, but we all see something. Maybe it’s just passing a car accident on the freeway, a painful conversation at work or school, or a catastrophic natural disaster making its way through your town. Whatever it was, you are allowed to feel scared, upset and uneasy. But you don’t have to feel that way forever.

After a traumatic experience many people feel that they no longer have control over their lives and the things that happen to them. Depending on the type of trauma, they may even feel that they have lost control of their bodies. These feelings of loss of control share one thing in common: they belong to you. They are in your mind or your body and you have every right and all the tools to reclaim them as your own.

Yoga fosters the connection between mind and body through the poses, or asana, and the breath. Through the asana, you become more familiar with your body. You become aware of how the body reacts to different stimuli on the mat, and can take that into your life. When you are aware of how your body reacts and how you “accessorize” (like allowing the shoulders to creep up to your ears when you become the slightest bit stressed) you can change habits. Instead of reacting by tensing up your body whenever your boss walks into a room, when you start to feel the tension, you know how to release it, because you learned it in yoga.

Hormones and the sympathetic nervous system control the feeling of anxiety that follows trauma. Your body reacts as if you are constantly being chased by a giant bear and are in a life or death situation. But the trauma is over, and a bear isn’t chasing you. Now it’s definitely not as easy as just forgetting what you saw/heard/experienced; the difference is how you react to it. In yoga, you work on relaxing completely, but also relaxing and focusing the mind while working through the asana. When you are balancing in tree pose, you can’t replay your day over and over and expect to not fall over. You have to stay focused to stay upright, and most importantly, keep breathing. During savasana (my favorite part), you learn to relax the body, while focusing on the breath. When you take deep breaths, you actually stimulate a nerve within the torso, which in turn calms the sympathetic nervous system. When those feelings of anxiety creep up during your regular day, it is amazing how soothing a deep breath is. Just as when you are scared and you begin to take quick, shallow breaths, the body is calmed when you take deep, slow breaths.

After trauma, yoga helps you to reclaim your body and mind as your own. You have the control to relax your mind and body. So don’t let an experience put you in the backseat of your life. You’ve only go one, so why not call the shots and the destinations?

“Basically, you can live your life in one of two ways. You can let your brain run you the way it has in the past. You can let it flash any picture or sound or feeling, and you can respond automatically on cue, like a Pavlovian dog responding to a bell. Or you can choose to consciously run your brain yourself. You can implant the cues you want. You can take bad experiences and sap them of their strength and power. You can represent them to yourself in a way that no longer overpowers you, a way that ‘cuts them down’ to a size where you know you can effectively handle things.”

— Tony Robbins in Unlimited Power

Has yoga helped you through a traumatic experience? Share your own experience in the comment section below.