Trauma, Nonviolent Communication and Yoga

Dr. Shyam Ranganthan leaning against a wall smiling.
Image Description: A photo of Dr. Shyam Ranganathan in a light room with a window in the background. He is wearing a dark t-shirt leaning against a white wall, and is smiling.
Dr. Marshall Rosenberg smiling.
Image Description: A photo of Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. He is wearing a blue, collared shirt and is smiling.
Dr. Gabor Maté leaning against a glass wall smiling.
Image Description: A photo of Dr. Gabor Maté in a light room. He is wearing a red, collared shirt with a black blazer over top, and is leaning against a glass wall smiling.

Pictured above are three powerhouse researchers that I am so grateful for the opportunity to learn from. From left to right, they are Dr. Shyam Ranganathan, Dr. Marshall Rosenberg and Dr. Gabor Maté.

I acknowledge that there is a huge gap in representation of a diversity of identities here. If you have recommendations for researchers who explore topics of trauma, NVC and/or Yoga, please share them in the comments below so that we can all benefit!

Today I watched The Wisdom of Trauma featuring Dr. Gabor Maté.

This is the synopsis of the film: “Trauma is the invisible force that shapes our lives. It shapes the way we live, the way we love and the way we make sense of the world. It is the root of our deepest wounds. Dr. Maté gives us a new vision: a trauma-informed society in which parents, teachers, physicians, policy-makers and legal personnel are not concerned with fixing behaviors, making diagnoses, suppressing symptoms and judging, but seek instead to understand the sources from which troubling behaviors and diseases spring in the wounded human soul.”

Below is also the trailer if you’d like to check it out!

 

Healing trauma is a practice that is close to my heart as it is (a) a journey that I am on myself, and (b) a major underlying concept that informs all of my offerings.

As such, inspired by the synergies presented in this film, today I’d like to share with you how trauma studies, Nonviolent Communication (NVC) and Yoga weave together to form a robust basis for The One Person Revolution.

read more about all of the conceptual underpinnings of the one person revolution here

trauma

Let’s start with Trauma, and from there weave in Nonviolent Communication and Yoga.

In the film, Dr. Maté refers to trauma as, “what happens inside of you as a result of what happens to you.” When something is deemed too painful, one might  disconnect; instead of experiencing the extremely dense emotions that come along with certain experiences, one might be forced to withdraw as a strategy for safety and security.

It is when we to continue to use withdrawal as a strategy that we might start to see adverse physical, psychological and behavioral effects occur; in the film, people who have experienced cancer, addiction and incarceration are invited to share their stories.

Dr. Maté speaks to the cycles of trauma that continue to replicate themselves generationally as these patterns become normalized, entrenched and also reinforced by the consistent presence of systemic oppression.

 

Systemic oppression is spoken about by all three of the researchers featured in this article.

Dr. Ranganathan specifically has written on the philosophy behind the roots of systemic oppression which results from a tendency towards interpretation mixed with Virtue Ethics; this way of thinking is only found in the Western Tradition of thought.

click here to learn about the roots of systemic oppression

Long story short, the Western Tradition’s inclination towards interpretation as a way of thinking coupled with Virtue Ethics is what has led to the domination culture that we currently reside in.

And this experience of systemic oppression is traumatic! None of us are immune.

 

As Dr. Maté shares, in order to uphold the system – as well as just to cope with traumatic responses that we are dealing with – we have been taught to cut off from our feelings. Think: grind culture, no pain no gain, praise of the workaholic.

So looping back to the need for safety and a strategy of withdrawal, we have been taught not to pay attention to our feelings because it is PAINFUL to live this way. So we numb, we suffer, we are traumatized and re-traumatized.

 

Instead of only looking at the symptoms of trauma (i.e. disease, addiction, incarceration), in the film, Dr. Maté advocates for a, “root cause analysis.” It is here that I think the work of Dr. Rosenberg and NVC shines.

nonviolent communication (NVC)

In one scene, Dr. Maté is in a room with multiple people who have a history of addiction. They are telling their stories, and afterwards, using one word each, Dr. Maté boils down the reason for their substance use: freedom, aliveness, completion, self-esteem.

These are all Needs as defined in the NVC model!

Therefore the root cause analysis of their trauma involved discerning their strategies, listening for their feelings, and uncovering their needs.

 

This analysis directly aligns with the essence of NVC, as described in three assumptions of the model below:

  1. All human beings share the same Needs.
  2. All thoughts, words and actions (aka Strategies) are attempts to meet Needs.
  3. Feelings and thoughts point to the Needs alive in us.

 

To start to tap into feelings and Needs, you start Part 1: Observation (what has happened that is either enriching or not enriching your life).

An observation is not an interpretation/evaluation! You can read more about this distinction and how it relates to systemic oppression and trauma in this social media post.

From there, in the spaciousness of observation you are invited to move onto Part 2: Feelings.

Tune into emotions and sensations in your body. The idea is that dense feelings indicate unmet Needs, while expansive feelings indicate met Needs. Essentially, you get to play the researcher in your internal landscape! You search for feelings and, once you find them, dig down to determine the (un)met Needs that lie underneath them. This is Part 3: Needs.

Finally, you arrive at Part 4: Requests. This is an opportunity to make a request of yourself or another to (a) meet a Need that is not currently being met, or (b) continue meeting a Need that is currently being met. 

An important trauma-sensitive note: a request is not a demand! You can read more about this distinction in the following blog post.

Finally, you arrive at Part 4: Requests. This is an opportunity to make a request of yourself or another to (a) meet a Need that is not currently being met, or (b) continue meeting a Need that is currently being met. 

An important trauma-sensitive note: a request is not a demand! You can read more about this distinction in this blog post.

 

NVC offers an example of value/Needs-based decision making. Instead of blaming or shaming others for ‘making you’ feel a certain way, you practice taking responsibility for your actions and reactions. This is made possible by (and creates) increased connection to yourself through the unlearning of systems of oppression and reuniting with your feelings and Needs,

This is a form of trauma healing.

And it is also a practice of radical self-responsibility.

Enter: Yoga.

yoga

As it is presented in The Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali, Yoga is a formal contribution to moral philosophical disagreement from the South Asian Tradition of thought.

Based on breakthrough, philosophical research by Dr. Ranganathan – there are four basic ethical theories. They are:

  1. Virtue Ethics: good character causes right choice
  2. Consequentialism: good outcome justifies right choice
  3. Deontology: right reason justifies good choice
  4. Yoga/Bhakti: right procedure causes good outcome

 

Earlier in this post we briefly touched on Virtue Ethics as it was used in the Western Tradition of thought. There is also evidence of Consequentialism and Deontology employed in the Western Tradition.

Yoga – on the other hand – is completely absent. It is a fundamentally different way of thinking and decision making which focuses on right [procedure] rather than any type of good [character, outcome or choice].

It is a practice of radical self-responsibility.

In Yoga, you are not looking to anyone or anything external to you to explain your life. In fact, the Sanskrit word for liberation in Yoga is kaivalya which can also be translated as ‘aloneness’ or ‘isolation.’

This isolation is not to be conflated with the social/physical distancing phenomenon that we have come to know during these pandemic times. Rather, isolation/aloneness/liberation is referring to how much of your life can be explained as a function of your choices. You can read more about this in the following blog post.

It is this quality of consciousness and this type of decision making that holds the basis for the NVC process that was outlined earlier.

Observation -> Feeling -> Need -> Request

A simple and effective procedure.

 

But the synergy runs deeper than that.

Nonviolent Communication is truly expression of Yoga philosophy. And Yoga philosophy is an effective response to trauma at the individual, institutional and cultural levels.

 

The pre-practice of Yoga starts with creating an environment that is safe to practice living life in, as is described in the first limb of Yoga, the Yama-s.

Patañjali – the compiler of the Yoga Sūtras – shares that when one practices interrupting harm (through direct action, civil disobedience, activism, etc.) (āhimsa), what results are the facts of the world (satya) that leave people’s property intact (asteya), and their personal boundaries intact (brahmacarya), all while the practitioner does not hoard or enrich themself in this pre-practice process (aparigrahā).

A great expression of this in NVC is letting go of interpretation and embracing observation. When we observe, we interrupt harmful, oppressive patterns of thinking like judging, labelling and criticizing (all forms of interpretation). This creates space to understand the fullness of what actually happened, not just what happened from your perspective. In doing this, it leaves room for everyone’s perspectives in a situation – no one is right or wrong. And no one has to change their mind or give up their dignity. The practitioner is then left with an appreciation for all perspectives involved in the situation.

 

Once the practitioner has started engaging in their pre-practice, they can move on to making their formal commitment to Yoga practice itself as is outlined in the second limb of Yoga, the Niyama-s.

As a trauma-sensitive note: you have the choice about whether you practice Yoga or not. This is outlined clearly by Patañjali in the Yoga Sūtra I.2-.4; he states that you can either choose to lose control of your mental content, or you can take responsibility for your thoughts, words and actions.

If you choose to practice taking control of your mental content, then you are choosing to practice Yoga.

 

The three characteristics of Yogic practice are:

  1. Unconservativism: it pushes against your inherited limitations, self-challenge (tapas)
  2. Self-Governance: it exercises self-discovery and a setting of your own agenda without external influence, self-ownership (svādhyāya)
  3. Devotion to Sovereignty: you do it as an expression of your devotion to an abstract type of person that is unaffected by ignorance, egotism, attachment, aversion, clinging to bodily security, tendency impressions, action, and the effect of action. (Īśvara Praṇidhāna)

 

So let’s go back to NVC as an expression of Yoga.

When you are dismantling your learned tendency to interpret and are moving into observation, if you are doing it in devotion to Sovereignty, then it is an expression of all three of these characteristics. (1) It is challenging, (2) you are taking self-responsibility, and (3) you are approximating yourself to these qualities of Sovereignty.

The same thing can be said as you reunite with your body and felt sensations, and as you get to know yourself better through tuning into your Needs. Finally in making requests, you are unlearning demands and creating room to honour both your own devotion to Sovereignty and others’. 

in conclusion

When Yoga is practiced, identification with past trauma and experiences is released, resulting in personal freedom for the practitioner.

And yet, it is not this outcome that is motivating for the Yogi; remember, Yoga is about the right [procedure] rather than the good [character, outcome or choice]. It is instead their commitment to the practice itself that is made at the Niyama-s that has the Yogi experimenting, researching and practicing what that commitment looks like for them in each moment.

 

Practicing yoga serves as an unlearning tool for white supremacy and the Western Tradition of thought in general. Interrupting these systems of harm within and without creates space for healing from trauma, while also reducing the generational trauma that is passed forward on the individual, institution and cultural levels.

Nonviolent Communication is a practical and approachable way of getting a taste for – and implementing – Yogic philosophy in your life.

 

If you have made it this far, I would LOVE to hear from you in the comments. What are your thoughts? This stuff is my passion and these synergies truly inspire me; I would love to chat with you about them more.

 

In inspiration,

Tara

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Trauma, Nonviolent Communication and Yoga – From The Hearth