Have you ever wondered what the relationship is between stress and trauma? And what’s the antidote? Is trauma stress, stress trauma, does one lead to the other? What qualifies for trauma, and who decides? How do some people seem to bounce back more easily than others, and why do others seem unable to recover at all? Is this all too subjective, anyhow? I mean, isn’t everyone stressed and don’t we all survive? ripple in blue water

The answer, it turns out, is no, at least not as long we we otherwise would. And the way this linkage was uncovered during a study at Kaiser-Permanente Health Care Systems in 1995-7 is almost as fascinating as the linkages themselves. This study identified 10 types of experiences - adverse experiences - in childhood that were highly correlated to disease, disability and death. While these 10 experiences aren’t definitive of trauma, they give clear examples of the types of experiences that yield physical stress responses enough to impact our everyday life and even our ability to have one.

In 1995, Dr. Vincent Felitti had been running an obesity clinic in Southern California for about 15 years. The success rate for the first months was impressive and Dr. Felitti wanted to expand the reach and help even more people. His clinic wasn’t a place for dropping those stubborn 15 pounds, but a place for morbidly obese individuals whose lives were limited by their mass and its implications to begin to heal. Morbid obesity is defined as 100 pounds overweight, a BMI of 40 or more or 35 with obesity related health concerns such as Type II diabetes or heart conditions. To expand the reach of a program that could reverse such grave, mortal and intractable problem would be a tremendous contribution.

But after initial rousing success, the clinic had a 50% drop out rate. While some people might have written this off as the price of hard work or a sign of weakness in the individuals themselves, Dr. Felitti was interested in causes, solutions, understanding and healing. Why would half of people who saw initial success not continue a journey that promised so much?
The clinic instituted a survey to begin sussing out commonalities in those with similar trajectories. The 21 page survey was tremendously detailed; but even with this level of focus it took a particularly attentive clinician to notice what would become a crucial insight.
One question asked the patient’s weight the first time they had sex. One day a patient answered, “Forty pounds.” The clinician redirected, sure the patient had misunderstood. They had not. The patient was a handful of years old the first time they had “had sex” and it hadn’t been their choice. The clinician had a moment of insight that strung together anecdotal observations that until that point seemed sad but uncorrelated. The original survey asked about a panoply of events and factors that seemed to be correlated with morbid obesity, in an attempt to observe a causal effect. The data crunching would reveal that some of these events were causal and others effects. The events correlated with dropping out of the study were trauma, the effects were illness and disability and the mechanism was stress.

Dr. Felitti would go on to realize through discussions generated by presenting his research that obesity was just one of the illnesses caused by the adverse childhood events (ACEs) his clinic identified. TheACE Pyramid from the CDC website proposes the progression from an accumulation of ACEs to early death: “
Often taking this test is revealing. The evolved version of the test asks 10 questions. “Yes” to more than 4 is correlated with at least one grave illness in adulthood and an increased risk of early death. The questions aren’t exhaustive and of course other types of trauma may contribute and be significant; these are simply the categories uncovered by the research so far.

“The ACE Test:
Prior to your 18th birthday:

Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… Swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you? or Act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt? No___If Yes, enter 1 __

Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… Push, grab, slap, or throw something at you? or Ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured? No___If Yes, enter 1 __

Did an adult or person at least 5 years older than you ever… Touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way? or Attempt or actually have oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse with you? No___If Yes, enter 1 __

Did you often or very often feel that … No one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special? or Your family didn’t look out for each other, feel close to each other, or support each other? No___If Yes, enter 1 __

Did you often or very often feel that … You didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes, and had no one to protect you? or Your parents were too drunk or high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it? No___If Yes, enter 1 __

Were your parents ever separated or divorced? No___If Yes, enter 1 __

Was your mother or stepmother: Often or very often pushed, grabbed, slapped, or had something thrown at her? or Sometimes, often, or very often kicked, bitten, hit with a fist, or hit with something hard? or Ever repeatedly hit over at least a few minutes or threatened with a gun or knife? No___If Yes, enter 1 __

Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic, or who used street drugs?No___If Yes, enter 1 __

Was a household member depressed or mentally ill, or did a household member attempt suicide? No___If Yes, enter 1 __

Did a household member go to prison?No___If Yes, enter 1 __

Now add up your “Yes” answers:
This is your ACE Score __________________________”


So now you know. What can you do? Breathe, move, sense the internal landscape of your body, practice non-judgmental observation of your own reactions. Practicing each of these activities has the effect of breaking the causal links between childhood trauma and illness.

As the blog “Aces Too High” states, “A secure early childhood is helpful, but not necessary.”
Resilience can also be generated by childhood experiences, even some alongside the ACEs. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from difficult experiences, according to the American Psychological Association’s website. You can use the following questionnaire to reflect on your own resiliency and how to cultivate it. The people who are responsible for this questionnaire are clear that it is not exhaustive or definitive, but a starting point for discussion and reflection. I’m taken by the dual score at the end, one for factors in childhood and the other for current time, emphasizing that our trajectories aren’t determined, only predisposed. Our current dispositions and decisions can turn our trajectory at any time, and an accumulation of tiny turns, over time, can result in revolution.

“RESILIENCE Questionnaire
Please circle the most accurate answer under each statement:
1. I believe that my mother loved me when I was little.
Definitely true Probably true Not sure Probably Not True Definitely Not True
2. I believe that my father loved me when I was little.
Definitely true Probably true Not sure Probably Not True Definitely Not True
3. When I was little, other people helped my mother and father take care of me and they seemed to love me.
Definitely true Probably true Not sure Probably Not True Definitely Not True
4. I’ve heard that when I was an infant someone in my family enjoyed playing with me, and I enjoyed it, too.
Definitely true Probably true Not sure Probably Not True Definitely Not True
5. When I was a child, there were relatives in my family who made me feel better if I was sad or worried.
Definitely true Probably true Not sure Probably Not True Definitely Not True
6. When I was a child, neighbors or my friends’ parents seemed to like me.
Definitely true Probably true Not sure Probably Not True Definitely Not True
7. When I was a child, teachers, coaches, youth leaders or ministers were there to help me.
Definitely true Probably true Not sure Probably Not True Definitely Not True
8. Someone in my family cared about how I was doing in school.
Definitely true Probably true Not sure Probably Not True Definitely Not True
9. My family, neighbors and friends talked often about making our lives better.
Definitely true Probably true Not sure Probably Not True Definitely Not True
10. We had rules in our house and were expected to keep them.
Definitely true Probably true Not sure Probably Not True Definitely Not True
11. When I felt really bad, I could almost always find someone I trusted to talk to.
Definitely true Probably true Not sure Probably Not True Definitely Not True
12. As a youth, people noticed that I was capable and could get things done.
Definitely true Probably true Not sure Probably Not True Definitely Not True
13. I was independent and a go-getter.
Definitely true Probably true Not sure Probably Not True Definitely Not True
14. I believed that life is what you make it.
Definitely true Probably true Not sure Probably Not True Definitely Not True
How many of these 14 protective factors did I have as a child and youth? (How many of the 14 were circled “Definitely True” or “Probably True”?) _______
Of these circled, how many are still true for me? _______”


Do you want to grow your resilience and begin to interrupt the chain of stress and illness? Healing Yoga is one way to become resilient, grow “dispositional mindfulness,” and put ACEs in their proper perspective: in the past, as part of a story that doesn’t have to determine our future.

Missy Hart was 13 when she was incarcerated in juvenile hall. She grew up in gangs and on the streets, in and out of foster care and institutions. While she was incarcerated, one of the mandatory program activities was a yoga class that offered trauma-sensitive yoga to the incarcerated girls. Missy said that at first she was uncomfortable, but after being in the class and being asked if she wanted to be touched for an adjustment in the pose, was a real break through. She says that “being asked to be touched, it gave us a little power back in a place where all our power is taken”. Missy was given the chance to be able to have control over her own body, calm her mind and be able to slow down and understand more about herself and her mind and body. She has gone on to begin her vinyasa yoga teacher training certification, you can read more of Missy’s story here.

While your experience may or may not be as dramatic as Missy’s, if you are looking for a way to mitigate the effects of both traumatic and everyday stress, the principles of Healing Yoga inform a practice giving you tools you can apply in every venue of your life.

In a study of adults with ACEs published in Preventive Medicine in 2014, a “greater dispositional mindfulness was associated with fewer health conditions, better health behavior, and a better health-related quality of life”.

Everyone is instilled with the “fight or flight” mode - sympathetic mode of our autonomic nervous system, as opposed to the parasympathetic, or “rest and digest” mode. The sympathetic response is triggered when we encounter events or environments that can be harmful and cause a large amount of stress. With the help of adults who are able to show support and care, children who go through these “fight or flight” experiences are able to recover. Children who have high ACE scores have experienced toxic stress; too much stress from encountering the “flight or fight” experiences often. The effects of toxic stress can cause the child to grow up living in a “red alert mode” for months or years, and this is not only a psychological problem, but can have damaging effects on the body as well.

High blood pressure that results from the constant presence of adrenaline and cortisol is just one condition that can weaken the circulatory system and the heart, which can lead to many health issues in the future.

What if you have discovered that you have a higher ACE score than you thought or would like? What if you have experienced adult trauma that you struggle to recover from? Trauma sensitive therapy, including yoga and mindfulness, can help adults to cope with the trauma they’ve experienced and to be able to lead a healthier, longer life. According to SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), there are six key principles of a trauma informed approach needs to adhere to:
· Safety
· Trustworthiness and transparency
· Peer support
· Collaboration and mutuality
· Empowerment, voice and choice
· Cultural, historical and gender issues

Trauma sensitive yoga focuses mainly on the internal experience of the participant, shifting focus and mind inwards, also known as “pratyahara”, or sense-withdrawal. Studies have shown that yoga sensitive to this need informs a sense of agency, an ability to make choices and to better understand who we are.

Healing Yoga's principles go beyond this to support your resilience through 6 principle actions allowing you to understand and support your body's natural healing ability, subverted by traumatic experiences. One of the principle actions is learning to sense our internal landscape. By empowering adults who have high ACE scores to better understand and know their body, mind and soul through breathing, meditation and modified yoga poses, they have a much higher chance at living a happier, healthier, longer life. aloe up close

At Badlands Yoga we offer and practice Healing Yoga and believe that yoga should always be trauma sensitive according to those guidelines. Yoga heals, in part, through gradual cultivation of internal sensation, also known as "proprioception" and "interoception," as opposed to "exteroception" or sensation of things outside our bodies. Early in life key muscles and sensations are effectively backgrounded by the brain to make room for other forms of learning, sealing in the habits of movement, sensation and reaction we learn early on. For instance, the illiopsoas muscle is used in every motion you make from picking up coffee to walking to getting out of bed as it is a primary muscle of stabilization and balance. It's also one of the most actively learning muscles when we begin to walk, so the sensory and motor connections are very active at this time. Once we've learned to walk, however, that information and skill becomes habitual to make way for the massive energy and attention that will be necessary to learn to speak and understand spoken language. Learning to reconnect to the sensations of this and other internal structures begins to give us access to habits of processing, perception and coping that might previously have seemed to be determined.

Yoga regards habits as "samskara," or grooves and one of its main functions is to bring these grooves back into our awareness so we can let go of unuseful habits, create new ones with more awareness and choice baked in. Beginning to sense these muscles that we learned to ignore very early on is the beginning of illuminating these grooves so we can begin to fill them in and redirect the flow into more functional grooves we actually choose and remain aware of. By becoming more aware of sensations in our body and becoming present during yoga, adults who have scored high on the ACE’s quiz or are seeking to mitigate stress and enhance well being are able to find more peace with themselves, recognize any warning sign their bodies might be slipping back into old habits and be able to correct them, so that they may go on to live longer, healthier lives. woman embracing the future