Sometimes there is confusion between stress and trauma. One way of understanding the critical distinction is in terms of severity. While stress can have an effect on our overall functioning, it is not as severe as trauma and therefore lacks the gravity of a traumatic event or events. Most people experience a fair amount of stress in their daily lives, ranging from mild to severe. Family obligations, financial worries, or juggling multiple roles can be sources of stress. While stress is rarely invited into our lives, it pales in comparison with trauma.
Trauma comes in many forms and can be generally understood as an event or series of events that are emotionally overwhelming and carry a threat (real or perceived) of death or physical injury to one’s self or others. Trauma is an experience in which individual power is temporarily removed from the survivor. It is important to recognize the subjective nature of trauma and how an individual’s circumstances, developmental stage, cognitive functioning, relationship to the opposing party and available supports must be considered. Two people may experience the same event, and one experiences ongoing challenges while the other bounces back with little long-term impact.
Traumatic events range from accidents to assaults (physical or sexual) to combat duty to natural disasters. It is estimated that 70% of U.S. adults have experienced at least one traumatic event. If we drill a little deeper we find that the majority of sexual assaults happen to 18-34 year olds, with an average of over 300,000 rapes and sexual assaults reported to the Bureau of Criminal Justice Statistics each year.
In the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event, shock and denial are commonly experienced. "I blacked out. I couldn't move. I got up and I tried to run, but I fell.” This illustration is from a young man’s report in the wake of a school shooting: “I heard someone hit the ground. It was so close to me," he said. "I just heard it and then I just, everything was black for a good minute. Like, I could not see anything. I just froze and did not know what to do. Then I got up and I ran."
Longer-term impacts can include flashbacks, emotional dysregulation, neurological impairment, struggles in relationships and physical manifestations such as headaches or gastro-intestinal issues. Most people who experience and survive traumatic events recover without an official diagnosis or long-term treatment. However, it is not uncommon for survivors to experience subsequent physical, emotional and behavioral impairment. For many, the physical body holds on to the traumatic experience.
Yoga is recognized as a healing modality and the capacity of yoga to positively impact one’s life is real. However, for those recovering from trauma there are risks to be considered. Instructors must stay tuned in to the fact that physical sensations might be unnerving for a trauma survivor. Depending on the trauma, flashbacks may be triggered by sound, lighting, scent, and especially touch. For some survivors, having an instructor walking around can work against relaxation Thankfully, yoga is available as part of a healing process provided there is an awareness of how common trauma is in our culture and how it can be activated in yoga sessions.
Lidia Snyder turned to yoga and meditation in the late 1990’s while trying to start a family. She realized yoga’s transformational capacity and is now a devoted practitioner and RYT-200 hour Certified Instructor and 300 hour Trauma Center Trauma Sensitive Facilitator through the Trauma Center in Boston. MA. Her classical Hatha yoga training through the Himalayan Institute included yogic techniques for unifying body, breath, mind, and spirit.
Lidia delivers classes that are accessible yet challenging. Drawing on her background as a licensed social worker, students can expect to be guided through a welcoming experience in which they are given choices.
She is an adjunct faculty member at the UB School of Social Work, a member of the Prison Yoga Project and Liberation Prison Yoga. Lidia is also trained in Trauma Sensitive Yoga, an empirically validated treatment for PTSD and Complex Trauma through the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Center in Boston .
She lives in Buffalo with her husband, son and dog.