Working Through Trauma with Yoga: Healing heart meditation


The following is an excerpt from Mindfulness & Yoga Skills for Children and Adolescents by PESI author Barbara Neiman, OTR.

When I was 16, my 18-year-old brother was killed as he walked along a train track on a college campus in the Midwest. For many years after this, the sound of a train, seeing a train track, the name of the college or the state where it occurred would be a trigger for me. It would send me back to the memory of our Rabbi at our front door crying as he delivered the news of the tragedy to our family. Within seconds of any of the triggers, I could somatically re-experience the trauma of feeling the disorientation, dissociation and nausea I felt in those moments of first hearing the heartbreaking news.

The shutting-down of all feelings and body sensation began later that evening when I was asked by my disoriented mother to call my brother's girlfriend, Elle, and tell her about my brother's death. Dutifully, and unconsciously, I completely turned off all feelings and made the call. As grace was with me, Elle's mother answered the phone. I relayed the sad news to her and she was able to buffer the news to her daughter. My own post-traumatic stress went unrecognized for years as therapy was not as accessible at that time. It wasn't until I began meditating, chanting and doing body work and talk therapies that I could get near processing this trauma.

Yoga was the first healing process that I was able to see tangible results from. At that time, my experience of yoga was chanting and meditation with a few physical poses. Here is a meditation that I find to be healing for my clients struggling with trauma.

Healing Heart Meditation

  • Place your hand on your heart. Begin to layer through the body of skin, fascia, bones, and into the heart organ.

  • Allow yourself to be still with yourself for a moment and filled with the heart's own vibration of love for yourself and others. Even if your mind is busy, put the thoughts on the imaginary shelf and focus on the breath.

  • Breathing, bring to your mind's eye an image and thought of anything that evokes joy for you.

  • Allow that joy to fill your being. Focus on the immediate feeling of joy as your heart leaps when you bring your beloved image to mind. It can be of nature, a friend, music, art, family or any images that speak to you.

  • It is this actual moment of remembrance of the joy that we are focusing on (such as seeing an old friend, tasting favorite food, relishing a beautiful color). This yogic technique from the ancient yoga scriptures that teach us how to connect with the universal consciousness of joy.

  • Breathe with an inhale for 4 counts and hold the breath for 2 counts. Then allow a long exhale for 6 counts and hold again for 2 counts to empty the breath. Repeat this several times.

As we do this meditation we bring ourselves to the awareness that joy is our natural birthright and our inherent nature. As we connect to our deepest self, we find the strength to let go of pain.

Often as the body relaxes while doing the physical poses and the deep breathing in yoga, feelings may surface that are generally armored in the body-mind. It is important to give space and be open to whatever may occur in a yoga session and neither judge nor hold to any routine that would shut down any client's emerging feelings. This is why we do Sponge pose (Savasana) the relaxation pose at the end of a yoga session. We rest deeply after all the activity, integrating the experience nonverbally and meditating while we lie quietly. Also at the end of the session, it can be helpful to do a hand mudra that can be calming and comforting to seal in the practice.

Barbara Neiman is an Integrative Occupational Therapist, Yoga Teacher 200RYT in Embodyyoga®, a coach for professionals seeking a holistic practice and a National Seminar Presenter. She teaches courses on Yoga and Mindfulness around the country. She created her company, Health Discovery, in 1988, to provide services for infants through school age children. As a Certified Practitioner of Body Mind Centering since 1989, Barbara has taught experiential hands on, movement, and meditation classes to hundreds of students.
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