TADASANA AND TRAUMA
by Janna Leyde
We walk, scurry, plan, type, talk, execute, and breathe through our days. We move fast, and rarely do we pause and think about how these actions define us, how we define ourselves. We move through time and space with little to stop us. For us yogis and yoginis, Tadasana is the voluntary stop, our check-in.
Stand at the top of your mat with big toes touching, heels slightly apart—or whatever your Tadasana is today.” I say to my students. “Close your eyes. Press your palms together at your heart. Feel the weight in your…” And so the awareness of the body in space begins.
Trauma, on the other hand, is the involuntary, unwanted, stop. Sometimes the stop lasts a day, a week, an afternoon. The bigger the trauma, the longer the stop lasts. Sometimes the stops morphs into a big ol’ gap where the mind and the body have seemingly agreed to disconnect, because how else could our little human existence handle the events?
It makes perfect sense that my father remembers nothing about his car accident. He can’t. We’ve tried. He’s tried, a little. It’s like your first birthday party—do you really remember it? Most likely not, you just know it happened, because people have told you or there are pictures; however, these are not memories you can truly claim. Ah, the powerful and protective power of the mind.
My dad’s trauma has left him with a ginormous gap—months and months gone with holes left in so many of his years. One minute, his life was waterskiing and racquetball buddies and selling cars and life with his wife and daughter. The next it was his wife and daughter begging him to be who he used to be as they wheeled him around in a wheelchair with everyone in sight reminding him how badly his brain was broken. My father didn’t have a clue what man we were talking out. As far as he was concerned, he was here and now. He was him.
Loss of identity is one very severe and certain symptom of a trauma the size of a traumatic brain injury. Forget where or how you got hit on the head, anyone that survives that kind of trauma is bound to struggle with who you are now. Others can explain—family members, doctors, specialists—and you can guess you had a brain injury, if that’s what all this fuss is about. It becomes an identity conundrum: you think and feel you are one person, yet the world sees you as another.
So how do we reconnect the mind and body? How do we find ourselves in the now?
Tadasana is a good start. No matter what person you are, no matter what your trouble or your trauma, you can come to stand on your mat. The pose has an illusive discipline that comes easy to some, and for others it’s a challenge. In this pose, all the chakral centers have the chance to align, from the heels to the crown of the head. Inhales and exhales string together and the body becomes aware of the breath, the balance. Eyes close and the body might sway, maybe even topple, or perhaps you stand as strong as an oak. It’s a good place to notice who you are and where things might just feel off.
We identify (or re-identify) through points of awareness. My dad’s first Tadasana was a hot mess. He and I both became supremely aware that the man on the mat in the summer of 2012 was not the man either one of us thought he’d be. This man was vulnerable and unsteady. Standing wasn’t easy for him, yet he was aware of this and receptive to the discomfort. Tadasana was the first step for father and daughter to begin to peel back the layers and identify the man after the accident.
The pose begs the question: how easy is it to stand when we can’t identify with who we are?
Tadasana (mountain pose): Benefits for Brain Injury
- develops concentration
- increases awareness (on both physical and psychological levels)
- improves impulse control
- improves self-confidence
- grounding / centering
- increases mindfulness
- improves self-awareness
- invites receptivity
- relieves Sciatica
- tones ankles, thighs, abdomen and buttocks
- reduces flat feet
- improves posture
EXTRA: place a block between the inner, upper thighs
Janna Leyde is a yogi and writer living in Brooklyn and the author of He Never Liked Cake, a coming of age memoir that tells the story of growing up with her father’s traumatic brain injury. Oscillations: A Yogic Exploration of the Brain offers her perspective on the practice through the lens of the complex human brain. When she’s not on her mat or at the front of the room teaching, she is working on her second book about yoga for brain injury. You can buy her first novel, He Never Liked Cake, here.