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What About Movement?

While walking out of the gym, I can’t help but notice that I’m feeling very positive after my favorite exercise class. My mind is clear, my mood is pleasant, and physically, I feel tired but energize

d from a great workout. Even though I knew going would be good for me, it still took some effort to motivate myself to actually go. Movement helps me feel grounded, self-aware, and comfortable being present in my body, but how does this relate to a larger conversation about stress and trauma?

During times of intense stress, and especially during and after traumatic events, we can often feel disconnected from the present and our bodies. This can also make it more challenging to notice bodily sensations such as hunger or thirst. Other times, our muscles may feel tense, we may experience headaches, or even changes in our appetite. Even if we’re not experiencing significant stressors, the day-to-day demands can impact our ability to notice bodily sensations and cues. It’s easy for our minds to be away from our bodies and experiences, so things like movement force us to be in our bodies and the present moment

In recent years, activities like yoga and weightlifting have been incorporated with various trauma-informed theories that focus on the mind-body connection and self-regulation. In Boston, MA, an organization called the Center for Trauma and Embodiment, part of the Justice Resource Institute, is the home of two forms of trauma-informed movement; yoga and weightlifting. Trauma-Informed Yoga blends principles of Hatha Yoga, neuroscience, and various trauma theories to offer participants the opportunity to explore embodiment and the mind-body connection. Emphasis is placed on individual choice, non-judgmental awareness, and establishing feelings of safety in the body. Trauma-Informed Yoga has been studied and is now considered an evidence-based treatment for traumatic stress. Trauma-Informed Weightlifting is newer, and explores similar principles of empowerment, embodiment, and building both physical and emotional strength. It’s exciting to see two very different forms of movement combined with what we have learned, and continue to learn, about the impact of trauma on the mind and body.

In May 2021, the memoir “Lifting Heavy Things: Healing Trauma One Rep at a Time,” written by Laura Khoudari, was published. Throughout the book, Laura describes her experiences with trauma, feeling disconnected from her body. She also describes her experiences overcoming trauma through her involvement with weightlifting. She describes her early life as one of ridicule from others, body shame, and feeling unworthy because of judgment she received for her body. Due to a number of distressing incidents that took place during her school gym classes, she developed an aversion to going to the gym. It often seemed like a place that only a privileged few could exist in, and the determining factor was whether the person was perceived to be “fat” or “in shape.” Things took a turn for her in her early 20s when she experienced a back injury at work. Because of the messages she had received throughout her life about her body, she felt like there was something inherently wrong with her body if her back suddenly gave out during mundane work activities. When her doctor recommended physical therapy and strength training, she was hesitant but soon found herself in a private gym working with a personal trainer. As she continues through the memoir, she details her experiences of working through feelings of shame, unworthiness, and brokenness as she continued to lift weights, and after some time, she noticed the benefits outweighing the negatives and continued using weightlifting to heal both physically and mentally.

Bottom line: Movement is already very powerful and healing in so many ways. It strengthens the for mind-body connection, enhances physical health, and gives us the opportunity to strengthen the mind-body connection. By adapting popular types of exercise to be more trauma-informed, we can continue to add to the greater conversation about what it means to heal in both mind and body.

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Lifting Heavy Things Memoir

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