Trauma through the Lens of Ayurveda
When we experience something overwhelming, something we are not equipped to respond to, then the only way to live through it, is via dissociation. We separate or disconnect from a part of ourselves, as a way of response. To feel a little less pain and to continue with life. Trauma inducing events fall into a wide spectrum, ranging from – Being punished for expressing yourself as a child, bullied by a boss at work, sexual abuse, death of a loved one,…..
With dissociation, what was once present, is now absent. With the absence, an empty space is created. Where there is excessive space there is a tendency for vata to become aggravated.
In Ayurveda, Vata is a physiological force within our body that is made of space and air. It is dry, light, cold, rough, subtle, mobile and clear. Within the body it governs the process of circulation, movement and elimination. Vata, when in balance expresses in the person as inspiration, creativity, sensitivity and enthusiasm. When aggravated, it manifests as ungroundedness, space-iness, insecurity, anxiety, erratic thoughts, worries and confusion
The space that is created with dissociation, aggravates vata, triggering an overpowering need for the organism to fill it. Depending on the predominant constitution of the individual, this can manifest as emotional eating, workaholism, substance addiction, endlessly scrolling through social media, excessive gaming, excessive shopping. All in an attempt to fill the space and to feel better grounded, but depleting one of the life force (prana) eventually. Filling the space with prana depleting activities further increases vata and causes instability of the organism.
Thus with trauma, it is essential to first start by pacifying the vata dosha to create the foundation for the healing process.
Here are some practical ways to balance vata
Eat warm, nourishing meals and at regular times during the day. Offering your body the much required predictability and nourishment to counter the dry, erratic and cold nature of vata. Doing this will help you feel less anxious and better anchored in your body.
- Make sure to drink enough water everyday. Drink warm or room temperature water as it supports deep hydration compared to cold water.
- Avoid coffee and tea as they are drying in nature and will further aggravate feelings of anxiety and nervousness.
- Consuming healthy fats is also important. You can add some to the meals that you cook. Sesame oil and ghee are good choices.
Relaxation and Rest
- Shin-rin Yoku or forest bathing can be very calming for the vata provoked nervous system
- Enjoy a few hours of gadget-free time before you go to sleep. This will ensure you have a restful night. Practicing Yoga Nidra can also be quite helpful.
- Prone to excess movement (Could be mental, physical or both), balance it with equal amount of stillness.
- Breathe slowly and deeply whenever you can bring your awareness to it. Nadi Shodana Pranayama can be very helpful to practise.
- When possible, walking bare feet on earth can be extremely grounding
- Similarly, swimming in a natural water body like a lake or sea when it is warm, can help restore awareness back to the body
- Aromatherapy is highly effective for sensory grounding, as when you inhale a fragrance it travels straight from your nose to the olfactory bulb and amygdala in the brain. Some natural essential oils that you can favour for topical use or in a diffuser: Lavender, Cedarwood, Vetiver, Frankincense, Cinnamon.
- Touch being an attribute of the air element is an effective way to calm vata dosha and feel connected to the body. Physical affection and warm massages are great ways to feel grounded
- Vata dosha if in excess can cause constipation due to being drying in nature. If you have trouble with elimination or to offer additional support to your body in this regard, you can consume Triphala with ghee
- A practise of gratitude and appreciation for all the good in our life, helps us let go of things that no longer serve us easily. You can start your morning by thinking of three things that you are grateful for.
- Journal for 5 minutes on the beliefs, habits, people, things that you might want to let go of inorder to support a happier and healthier you.
Finally, for my favourite ‘go to’ way to balance the vata dosha, Snehanam. Snehanam, the Sanskrit word, stands for Oleation. Giving yourself a warm oil massage before a shower is a great way to bring yourself into balance every morning. It is like a warm hug for the nervous system. The best oil for this is dhanwantharam thailam. If that is not available you can use warm sesame oil or coconut oil for pitta prakruti. Snehanam also means Love. Unconditional affection and love is essential or I would say, fundamental to calm the vata. In addition to surrounding yourself with loved ones, ask how you can shower yourself with this unconditional love.
Once the Vata dosha is balanced, it is essential to make choices to fill the space that are prana-positive. Mindfully choose food, activities, habits, people that amplify and reinforce the healthy life force and not drain you of it. Always ask yourself how something makes you feel afterward, to understand if it was a healthy choice for you or not. Over time you will develop the wisdom that making healthy choices would become second nature.
With a strong foundation in the body and healthy prana, next would be to address the mental and emotional components of trauma. More on that in a later post.
Ayurvedic student at Rasayana Wellness