I was sitting recently next to a woman who was enquiring about meditation, how to do it, and how she found it very difficult. Prior to that she had been talking about some of her (considerable) life traumas.
I told her that I could teach her how to meditate, but I also advised her against it. I did not feel that it was suitable for her.
Why is meditation not suitable for some people?
It is a very simple answer, in this case. People who have been traumatised can have unfavourable experiences trying to meditate. When the eyes are closed, up come the suppressed feelings from the traumas, often creating panic-type sensations. And sometimes, disturbing thoughts. If the gaze is turned upwards with the eyes closed, memories can also come up which are difficult to handle.
In yoga parlance, one is often advised to "go through" these memories, sensations and disturbances. To Just Handle Them in a "detached, non involved" way. Why? I wonder. In cases of trauma I feel that meditation would just add to the stress of trauma. As a healer, I am appalled at the insistence that meditation "helps" everything. As a yoga teacher, I just get exasperated about the misuse of meditation.
What else can a person do, instead
When stress hormones are flooding through our blood stream, feeding the whole body, telling us that we are in danger, we generally do one of a few things which are part of The Stress Response
- we fight,
- we take flight
- or we shut down. Shutting down is "numbing" ourselves. It is an inactive state. A not doing state of being. Unfortunately, the numbness pushes trauma even deeper into the recesses of our being, where it can create unhealthy patterns of the body, mind, and emotions.
Our body, mind and emotions, are all designed to move. In other words, they are supposed to be active. The body sends signals to all parts via the nerve impulses. All the time. Our blood pumps. Our breath continues. Our body shuts down completely at death. When we keep numbing ourselves, in many ways we are creating "tiny deaths", that can culminate and end in illness.
Our emotions flitter and flutter, we will always have them. Our thoughts, which come from our emotions.... they never stop whilst we are alive. They are always moving, always restless, except in rare moments, such as in the state of being that is known as meditation. Our bodies, our emotions and our minds are always active.
Fight and flight are activities. They are doing states. When we are in the throes of stress, we can go with these natural inherent dictates of our being: move! In severe stress, our entire being is trying to get the message through to ourselves that we need to get away from the stress. Fast. Which implies movement.
How can we do that? We can walk, run, swim, clean, hammer, garden....there are so many things that we can do, and often it's best to just do whatever is immediately accessible.
meditation for stress, not trauma
However, for the stresses of modern life, meditation is excellent. Both for minimising the effects of stress, physically, mentally and emotionally, and for reducing our own everyday responses to stress.
This sort of stress is quite different than the stresses of trauma, and for yoga teachers, they should know and respect that.