10 Ways To Boost Trauma Recovery: 1. Yin Yoga

Are you in therapy to recover from a bad experience, and wish you could see more progress faster? Well then, welcome to the first post of this blog series about different ways to boost the effectiveness of trauma therapy. I am interviewing professionals in the Boulder, CO area who provide services that experts recommend to help you optimize your recovery from trauma.

Yin Yoga For Trauma Counseling in Boulder with Bari Campbell

My first interview is with Bari Campbell, a wonderful instructor of Yin Yoga and other forms of Yoga here in Boulder. I have had the great fortune of being a regular in Bari’s Sunday afternoon Yin class for the last few years. I’m so excited to share Yin Yoga and Bari with all of you!

What is Yin Yoga? How is it different than other yoga?

Peg: How about if we start by describing a little bit about Yin Yoga? 

Bari: Yin yoga involves floor postures that facilitate ease, space, and deep release in the body’s connective tissues (which include fascia, ligaments and joints). Its focus is increasing pain-free range of motion, healing injuries, calming the mind and nervous system. My classes are either 60 or 75 minutes, have soothing music, are all-levels class so no yoga experience is required, and done in a non-heated room. 

The overall idea is to be in postures a while and allow time and gravity (vs. force or effort) to put gentle, appropriate, prolonged pressure into areas of the body.  That gentle pressure in turn can stimulate circulation and bring repair, nourishment and healing to areas (including the mind and soul).  Much like the theory of acupressure.  

In Yin Yoga there is no right or wrong, good or bad, or even a particular way the posture is supposed to look since everyone's body is unique.  The yoga student hopefully gives themself permission to meet themself where they are in that moment, with no expectations or judgment. It's a safe, non-competitive environment where we can allow ourselves to just "be", without goals or agendas.  We connect with ourselves and eventually trust ourselves to know what we need. 

Yin Yoga allows the body to access the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the "rest and relax" response, and is literally where the body and mind can calm and heal.  

Peg: For a lot of people who are recovering from trauma, it's hard to feel safe in a situation -- like lots of yoga classes -- where instructors might touch them. I've noticed that you almost never give hands-on adjustments.

Bari: There are different styles, and I do know other instructors that give physical adjustments in Yin. But in Yin, we're dealing with ligaments and tendons, which have a very specific range of motion.  I don't pretend to know what someone's range is, nor would I want to take a chance on pushing them too far. The hope is for the student to learn what's right for their body. 

Peg: I notice that the attendance in Yin tends to be more diverse. I see all ages and body types there, and more men than in most yoga classes. I've even seen older kids from time to time. Also, I've noticed that you tend to give a lot of options and there is a lot of variety in how people do the different postures. I never feel inadequate when come to a posture I can't get into.

Bari: Yin should be accessible to everyone. I encourage the use of physical supports (props) and offer lots of modifications to set people up for success and feel good about where they are.  I try to hold space for the student and their self-exploration. I hope to give people the permission to meet themselves where they are and I try to create a safe space for people to find exactly what they need.  

How Yin Helps Resolve Trauma

Reconnecting mind and body

Peg: One of the reasons I really wanted to talk to you about Yin is that my experience in your classes includes a couple of really important ingredients to trauma resolution. The first is: Reconnecting with our bodies in a way that feels safe. I'm curious what you think about Yin in terms of exactly why it's so good at that?   

Bari: Peg, you are 100% on target! Yin is an awareness practice, which means we tap into ourselves, what we feel, think, and need.  It's done in a safe, nonjudgmental way.  Many people, for a variety of reasons, become dissociated with their body -- this is a way to reconnect.

Calming the nervous system

Peg: Another ingredient to trauma resolution that I think Yin addresses is calming our nervous systems, which often have become habitually aroused and are constantly watching for danger.

Bari: Technically speaking: Yin yoga concentrates on forward folds, which are calming for the nervous system.

Generally speaking: Most of us, whether through a trauma or just our overly plugged-in, busy, chaotic lives, stay in the Sympathetic (Yang) part of our brain and nervous system which is responsible for the fight or flight response.  Although fight or flight is an important ability especially in a dangerous situation, it's not a place we want to stay constantly.  That fight or flight response eventually takes it's toll via cortisol running through the body which can negatively impact the immune system, inflammation levels, blood pressure, weight, depression, and more.    

To be in a more balanced, harmonious state, we also need to cultivate "Yin", the Parasympathetic side, which has to do with rest, relaxation, and healing.  

This is the symbol of Yin (rest, relax, heal) and Yang (fight or flight).  It represents the necessary, complementary, coessential nature of the two energies.  We need both to be in balance.  Interestingly, these energies are always changing depending on what's needed in a situation.  Sometimes we need a yang response, other times a Yin response, quite often a combination of both.  As Abraham Maslow said, "If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail."  A sledgehammer isn't the appropriate solution for every situation.  

Many of us need to cultivate the Yin side because we spend most of our time in the Yang side

The yoga mat becomes a sanctuary for many.  Yin yoga allows us time and a safe environment to tap into ourselves and observe how we're doing -- whether that be how our body is feeling or what our mind is doing.  There is no right or wrong in a posture, no right or wrong in our thoughts, so there is no judgment.  And in the (relative) stillness of each posture, where we reconnect with ourselves, our body, our breathing, our thoughts, our inner being and true essence, (rather miraculously) the nervous system begins to calm.

Re-activating the thinking brain

Peg: Another problem a lot of trauma survivors have is that their cognitive brain - the part that thinks, makes meaning, allows creativity and makes decisions - is much less active. It happens because survival depends on faster brain processes than these parts can provide. But sometimes people get stuck in that mode, and then can't process their trauma. Do you think Yin can help reactivate the thinking part of our brain as well?

Bari: Absolutely!  

The body has meridians, a.k.a. energy pathways, which are different than arteries.  Meridians, and accompanying energy and hyaluronic acid, flow through connective tissue (fascia, ligaments, joints).  Bringing attention, via prolonged gentle pressure, to connective tissue allows energy to be directed to bolster or unblock areas and bring healing.  Meridians are associated with various qualities including kindness, sympathy, compassion, creativity, potential, true essence, resistance, anger, fears, courage, and decisiveness. Yin postures target meridians (and those related qualities) in a deep way and tap into those parts of the body and mind.

Discovering a strong sense of self

Peg: One of my main goals in working with rape survivors is to help them rediscover (or sometimes discover for the first time) a sense of themselves as confident and capable and effective. 

Bari: Yes, the Yin practice, which is very individualized and customized, illuminates issues and empowers one to successfully address them. 

Peg: Yin has helped me, personally, with that, because it requires me to really tune into myself, in a kind way. I think about how, when we really get to know someone, we usually end up liking them. Only this time, it's me that I'm getting to know!  

Bari: Yay Peg, this makes me so happy!  Getting to know and love oneself -- what could be more important!  

Bari's Style of Yoga Instruction

Peg: The instruction you give and the way you give it is such a big part of why I think Yin Yoga can help trauma survivors. I feel very supported there!  

Bari: It's so gratifying to hear you feel this way!  I hope everyone feels supported, and eventually self-supported.  Masters of their own destiny and knowing they have free will! 

Trust is integral to any relationship, including teacher-student, and of course therapist-client. When a student feels like they can trust a yoga teacher, the student hopefully feels safe and supported enough to dive into that what they need.  

I believe kindness and support are all around us all the time, although sometimes we're unaware of it or even afraid to ask for or accept it.  Sometimes we don't know all the support we're capable of for ourselves.  With the right guidance, Yin Yoga can open new worlds of kindness and support.  In my experience that can be life enhancing!

Peg: I'm curious about where your style of instruction comes from? 

Bari: I was fortunate enough to train with 2 of the founders of modern day Yin Yoga, Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers, and really learned from the masters what Yin Yoga can fully be. While there is an approach to the practice of Yin, inherent in the practice is the flexibility to address students' specific needs and allow an instructor's personal style to come through.  

I hope Yin energy (kindness, compassion, non-judgment) informs everything I do including my instruction. I sometimes find tidbits or quotes that students might find interesting, but mostly I get my inspiration from insights students share with me.  That's why I'm out there listening to students after class.  Truly the student is the best teacher!  The longer I teach (and live), the more I know that everyone has a different path, a different body, different needs, different learning styles, different timing and ways things come through to them. 

Ideas For Getting Started

Peg: For a rape survivor who would like to try Yin, but is anxious about trying something new, what would you say? 

Bari: First I would say congratulations that they are aware they feel anxious.  After all, having awareness is honoring and respecting how one feels instead of ignoring or overriding it. 

Having said that, I would also say that almost everyone feels uncomfortable entering a new class. It's universal! It's much worse, I'm sure, for trauma survivors. But if I hear one comment more than anything else, it is, "It was so intimidating coming into the first class. I feel like I'm the only one who can't do this." Being a little bit anxious or uncomfortable is OK, even "normal".  Discomfort is often part of growth and healing.  Learning to breathe in and through uncomfortable situations is one of the very best things yoga teaches us.  

For many, a private session or two can be a more comfortable point of entry before a class environment. One-to-one instruction, with the ability to ask questions, voice concerns, get a sampling of what postures or a class will be like, etc., can help calm anxiety.  

Peg: You often say in your instruction, "Bend forward, if that makes sense." I like that, because it gives people permission to feel what they really feel, which might be, "Oh, I actually can't even move in that direction at all."

Bari: (laughing) "I don't even know what she's talking about." Right?

Peg: I think having that kind of permission to be wherever you are is key to doing this work as a way to help heal from trauma.

Conclusion & Contact Info

Peg: Thank you Bari! It was great to talk with you about this.

For anyone who would like to reach out to Bari for more information or to schedule a private session before entering the class environment, please contact her through www.baricampbell.com. Also, please contact me (Peg) if you are interested in having me attend your first Yin Yoga class with you, to provide support!

Was this interview helpful to you in your journey to heal or help others heal? Is there anyone else you would like me to interview, or additional information you’d like to see in these posts? Please add a comment below!