Film Review: The Wisdom of Trauma

Written by Yoga Institute faculty member, Mischa Telford

Although I grew up in a loving family, adverse early childhood experiences left me with complex PTSD and a highly dysregulated nervous system, which was over-reactive to sensory stimulation of any kind. This made social situations quite complex to navigate, particularly in the emotional terrain of relationships. Whilst I discovered yoga in my late teens, many of my early yoga experiences unintentionally further increased my emotional instability, rather than developing my capacity for self-regulation and resilience. In part, this was due to the environmental context where I chose to attend classes at the time – which unconsciously appealed to me as there were aspects which resonated with my earlier traumatic experience.

Thankfully, some years later, my healing journey led me to doing a yoga teacher training, and subsequently to become a certified Yoga Therapist in the much more person – centred Krishnamacharya lineage. In this tradition, I have had the immense good fortune to have studied with experienced teachers Karen Schaefer, Mark Breadner, Michael de Manincor, and Saraswathi Vasudevan, who have all treated me with open hearted compassion and respect. Along the way, I studied Gestalt Psychotherapy, and began to be interested in how individuals can heal from trauma, which helped me enormously when I was diagnosed with cancer in 2017.

In recent times, Bessel van der Kolk “The Wisdom of the Body”, along with others, have greatly supported the field of yoga through modern scientific validation of some of the psychological, neurological and & physiological effects that yoga practice can produce, adding to the classical wisdom yogis have been exploring for centuries.

The Work of Gabor Maté

One person who has been working in the field of trauma extensively for many years, is Gabor Maté, who as a retired medical doctor, began his work in the field of trauma with a community of severely traumatised individuals who were addicted to substance abuse of various illegal drugs.

 “The Wisdom of Trauma”, released in June 2021, gives a brief introduction to Gabor Maté’s approach to working with traumatised individuals, which is based on Compassionate Inquiry, a person-centred approach which offers people a chance to be listened to, without judgement, & with acceptance of them as they are.

How It Relates To Yoga

I find this approach resonates so beautifully with the compassionate approach Patanjali describes in Yoga Sutra 1:33, and which forms the basis of our work as Yoga Therapists.

maitri karunā mudita upeksānām sukhaduhkha punyāpunya visayānām bhāvanātah cittaprasādanam –

“By cultivating an attitude of friendship toward those who are happy, compassion toward those in distress, joy toward those who are virtuous, and equanimity toward those who are non- virtuous, lucidity arises in the mind.”

I highly recommend any yoga therapist who is interested in working in the field of trauma, to watch this movie.

View trailer here

More details on how to watch the movie here

Selected quotes from “The Wisdom of Trauma” – Gabor Maté

“When I see human faces, I see beauty, tremendous suffering, and I see enormous potential for transcendence.”

“Our job as human beings, is to learn from our suffering.”

“Working through trauma can reveal the beauty of our existence – that we had lost sight of.”

“The common template for virtually all addictions is in fact, trauma.”

“There is a wisdom in trauma – when we realise that our traumatic responses and imprints are not ourselves, and we can work them through and thus become ourselves.”

“Trauma is what happens inside you as a result of what happened to you.”

“Trauma really means a disconnection from ourselves – why do we disconnect? Because it is too painful to be ourselves. I no longer know how to deal with emotions in relationships – I withdraw so I don’t have to feel those (painful) emotions. It also means if I have gut feelings, I don’t follow them, so I create situations of risk for myself.”

“Adverse Childhood Experiences does not give the child a safe, predictable environment, so their nervous system is constantly on high alert. How we respond, react to stress affects development of the mid frontal cortex, which is responsible for higher executive functions of the brain.”

“If parents are alienated from their own gut feelings, they cannot respond appropriately.

Children get traumatised because they are alone with their hurt.”

“Our two fundamental needs as children are: attachment and authenticity – a connection to ourselves.”

“Addiction is any behaviour that a person finds relief from in the short term and craves, but suffers negative consequences from, and cannot give up.”

“When people are suffering, they want to escape their suffering – it is normal.”

“Meeting people where they are at and treating people like human beings, and not trying to change them – actually opens up the possibility of transformation for them.”

“Are we free/ Are we conscious? Am I making decisions based on full awareness, or am I driven by unconscious dynamics that I inherited or developed in response to (my life experience)?

In so far as we are not conscious, we are not free!”

“The modern medical paradigm separates the mind from the body and the individual from the environment.”

 When illness comes along, we can ask ourselves: What does this (tell me) about my life, about my relationships, particularly, what is this telling me about how I treat myself – what is the teaching?”

“We can only heal when we answer the 3 fundamental questions: Why this disease? Why this person? Why now?”

“Psychedelics get the conditioned mind out of the way. In an appropriate, compassionate, safe context, individuals can experience these mind states without having to be driven to insanity/ or having to escape.”

“We don’t respond to what happens – we respond to our perception of what happens: it is in our minds that we create the world. We don’t respond to the present – we respond to the past – when we see the source (of our suffering) as ourselves, it can be liberating.”

 “When we start the journey of being compassionate with ourselves, not only does it change us individually, it changes our communities.”

“Every human being has a true, genuine, authentic self – and the true, genuine authentic self can never be destroyed.”

“As we heal, that same energy (that we use to push away the pain of our suffering) is liberated for being alive, for being present.”

Other Resources

There is a series of discussions linked to the movie – this one with Stephen Porges, who developed Poly Vagal Theory, is of particular relevance for Yoga Therapists with regard to how vagal tone helps self – regulation.

“Our underlying emotional state shifts our perspective of the world.” Stephen Porges

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