From Trauma-informed to Trauma-transforming: Yoga, Social Justice & Spirit
Recent decades have seen a phenomenal growth in our understanding of trauma and trauma-informed practice. Likewise, research in neuroscience and interpersonal neurobiology has brought a deeper understanding of the benefits of the ancient practices of yoga and mindfulness. Together, they have given rise to ‘trauma-informed yoga’ – an adaptive approach to yoga aimed at supporting safety, minimizing retraumatisation, building personal agency and resiliency, and enhancing the therapeutic potential of embodied and awareness-based practices.
Yet this approach still typically understands trauma as individual and pathological – there is something ‘broken’ within the individual that needs fixing, and it is the individual’s responsibility to heal.
But the foundational teachings of yoga, neuroscience and ecology tell us that life is relationship: all things are interconnected and exist in a dynamic process of balance and harmony. Disharmony, disconnection and illness are the signs life gives us to tell us we are out of balance. The Indian science of Ayurveda calls this prajnaparadha, which means crimes against nature or wisdom. The solution for balance and harmony is to work with the wisdom of nature.
Yet our world today is built on so many crimes against the wisdom of nature. It is dominated by a history, culture and systems of patriarchy, colonisation and capitalism. It concentrates power in the hands of certain groups (men, white, able-bodied, heterosexual) through the oppression and exploitation of others. It privileges the individual over the collective. It values independence and ‘expert’ knowledge over collaboration and collective wisdom. It sees humans, nature and the planet as objects to consume, own and profit from. It is built on ideas of linear growth and progress. It has lost sense of the natural cycles, mystery, interdependence and sacredness of life. It undermines our fundamental sense of connectedness, interdependence and belonging.
Our global condition is marked by disconnection, oppression and trauma. Wherever you sit on the spectrum of human experience, it affects each one of us by disrupting our fundamental relationships with ourselves, each other and the earth. If trauma is a condition of deep disconnection and disharmony, then the remedy must be restoring connection and harmony at all of these levels.
So trauma healing must be more than nervous system regulation, personal agency and relative ‘safety’ to function as ‘healthy’ individuals within a broken system. We need more than a trauma-informed practice, we need a trauma-transforming practice.
True to collective, syncretic and evolving knowledge, I see trauma-transforming practice as a whole human, whole system approach that gathers from and honours the intersections of trauma theory, social justice, and embodied spirit-centered practice such as yoga and indigenous traditions. It is a personal and collective practice that invites us to:
Expand our understanding of ‘trauma healing’ beyond recovery, nervous system regulation and integration, to explore possibilities of transforming trauma into personal and collective growth, strength, meaning and social transformation.
- Honour each individual as a whole, unique and sovereign human being, and supports connection, harmony and personal meaning-making between body, mind, heart, spirit, and relationships.
- Understand, feel and honour our fundamental interconnectedness: working with body, mind, heart, spirit, each other and the world as one great interdependent living ecosystem.
- Recognise the social, cultural and historical components of individual and collective trauma, as well as personal and collective wellbeing, and work intentionally to transform these social relationships, culture and norms from systems of oppressions to systems of collective care.
- Encompass transformational and embodied ways of being, knowing and doing – with our compass clearly set towards love, harmony, collective care and wellbeing.
In the words of Australian indigenous elder Noel Nannup, let us work “together, steady steady” into this hopeful possibility.