The Brain, The Nervous System, and our Capacity to Heal Trauma through Yoga
An overview and introduction to the neurobiology of sexual trauma and the intersection of yoga
This course provides an introduction to trauma, reviews the unique experience of sexual assault survivors, the neurobiology of trauma, and the intersection of yoga. This course is part 1 of a 7 part series.
"Trauma has a deep and long-lasting effect on the entire organism, from chemical and anatomical changes in the brain, to changes in our body’s physiological systems, to the subjective impact on the experience of a survivor. We believe that treatment for trauma must consider the person as a whole and address the broad-ranging effects of trauma on an individual. This needs to be done through an equal measure of patience, compassion, and gentleness. If we are to help people recover from the insidious violation of their humanity that is trauma, we must be able to offer a varied array of tools to aid in this task.” - Bessel A. Van der Kolk, MD
Survivors of trauma, in the broadest definition of the word, share the experience of navigating their lives in the aftermath of a life-changing event. Survivors have a range of body-based symptoms that pervade their entire lives, long after the assault occurred. So often survivors of trauma are registering their experiences not necessarily as stories, but as felt, physical sensations in the body. Sexual trauma survivors commonly dissociate, which is an out of body experience, when someone disengages or disconnects from the body. This occurs because trauma symptoms have overwhelmed the survivor's nervous system. These visceral feelings are a result of the vagus nerve disengaging. This nerve plays an instrumental role in the expression of emotions in our body. Practicing yoga helps to stimulate the vagus nerve, which can support survivors in managing a variety of somatic symptoms.
During trauma, the nervous system becomes very reactive in order to respond to a real or perceived threat. But even if a threat is not real, triggers are very real. Trauma can push us into a state of hyperarousal where we may have increased sensations, flooded emotional reactivity, hypervigilance, flashbacks, etc. The trouble with constantly being in a state of hyperarousal is that our bodies are not designed to cope with this intensity. It is exhausting. The way this can manifest in the body is through depression, exhaustion, flat affect, and continued experiences of dissociation.
The key to healing is about balancing the nervous system. Trauma-informed yoga practices support the therapeutic goal of bringing clients back into the window of tolerance, where they can operate from a space of feeling more whole.
This lecture will provide a basic overview of the impact of trauma on the brain and the critical need for body-based modalities to be integrated into the treatment process.
Having the opportunity to transform her own trauma through the practice of yoga, Zabie Yamasaki, truly believes in the healing power of asana practice. For years, Zabie's unwavering support for survivors of sexual trauma has manifested itself in many forms. She has ultimately made it her life's goal to help empower survivors of assault to regain their strength and self-worth. She is extremely passionate about yoga and its ability to help individuals connect to their emotions, be present on the mat, develop peace of mind, and take the necessary steps to become their most true, authentic self.
Zabie received her undergraduate degree in Psychology and Social Behavior and Education at the University of California, Irvine. She has a Master's degree in Higher Education Administration and Student Affairs at The George Washington University. Zabie received her 200-hour yoga teacher training certificate through Core Power Yoga and attended a 40-hour workshop on trauma-sensitive yoga instruction through the Justice Resource Institute at the Kriplau Center for Yoga and Health.
During her graduate career, Zabie engaged in numerous efforts to help prevent sexual assault through her campus role as the Coordinator of Sexual Violence Prevention. Zabie was previously the Assistant Director of UC Irvine Campus Assault Resources and Education (CARE) where she developed an 8-week therapeutic yoga program for survivors of sexual assault. She is now working as the Program Director of Trauma-Informed Yoga Programs at UCLA where she oversees the Yoga as Healing program for survivors. She is a founding individual practitioner of The Breathe Network, an organization that connects survivors of sexual violence to holistic healing arts practitioners that offer all services on a sliding scale. She is the Founder of Transcending Sexual Trauma through Yoga, an organization with the mission of empowering survivors to heal through the practice of yoga. Her organization offers group and private trauma-informed yoga classes for survivors, trauma-informed yoga trainings, consultation for colleges and agencies interested in implementing yoga therapy programs, survivor yoga retreats, and mentoring for yoga instructors.
Zabie consistently advocates for the rights of survivors and works tirelessly to help these individuals find healing. She is widely recognized for her hard work and dedication to her field. She has created a model therapeutic yoga program and curriculum which is now being implemented at:
- Stanford University
- Johns Hopkins University
- University of Southern California (USC)
- Occidental College
- California State University, Long Beach
- California State University, Fullerton
- UC Irvine
- UC Santa Barbara
- UC Merced
- UC Berkeley
- UC Riverside
- UC Davis
- UC San Francisco
- University of San Francisco
- East Los Angeles Women's Center
- Center for Pacific Asian Families
- Community Service Programs (CSP) Rape Crisis Center
She was recently awarded the Victim Service Award in Orange County for the impact of her yoga program on survivors in the sexual assault and human trafficking unit. Her work has been highlighted on NBC News, the Huffington Post, OC Register, Elephant Journal, and in a variety of online publications.
It has been her dream to fuse her worlds together, creating a space where survivors can heal by flowing breath to movement through trauma-informed practice.By focusing on a holistic approach, Zabie is helping to change the way our world responds to trauma and provides support to survivors at various stages in their healing.