“When can we become aware of the sensations in our bodies, it becomes possible to put space between those sensations and our actions.” – Words of wisdom from my TIMBo manual
This article recounts my experience that led me to a Trauma-Informed Mind Body (TIMBo) intensive training and describes the methodology that underpins the practice.
Finding my residues of stress
A few years into practicing yoga, I began to think there was something fundamentally flawed with my body. During moments of stillness and silence, I would start to feel panicked. Usually, the feeling would start as the class would begin to wind down toward savasana. As the pace of class would begin to slow, I would start to feel that my brain was operating at a faster wavelength than anyone else’s in the room. I would become overwhelmed by the tension that was still held in my body, so terrified to let it go.
I couldn’t just relax. Even the word “relax” seemed to trigger me. “Relaxing” would sometimes be anguishing – fighting for my life to hold onto control. Heat would wave through my body. My heart would race. My stomach would wrestle itself into rigid knots. Sometimes, the room would spin. Sometimes, I would even feel as though I were spinning out of my body. Often, it took every ounce of resistance my body could muster to stop myself from running away. The more I became aware of these sensations arising, the more terrified I would become, and the worse these episodes would get.
What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I just relax like the people who came into class wearing “I came for savasana” tees? Why did it take me a few years of practice to start feeling my body? And how could I make it stop? Ironically, I wondered if my anxiety was too bad for me to even practice yoga.
Of course, it wasn’t only yoga when I felt near-panic attacks arise. It was also in silent classrooms, in meetings with my professors, in stuck elevators, in stalled subway cars – basically any situation that I felt I couldn’t control. Yoga was simply a unique scenario because it served as a magnifying glass for my embodied sensations. Each class, I would count down the minutes and count down the breaths until I knew I was safe to stop watching my body with the sound of the closing “Om.”
Stubbornly, I kept showing up to yoga – and to my daily life, strategically positioning myself close to the nearest exist wherever I went so that I could make a clean break for freedom if and when I needed it. And slowly, my brain began to relearn that the sensations in my body – the same sensations I had spent years numbing out when I was anorexic – were in fact safe. Like watching waves in the ocean, I could watch the roots of a panic attack rise to the surface of my body eventually settle back. Sometimes, in sweet, precious moments between sensations, I could let go.
In many ways, yoga may have saved me from myself. And yet, I don’t want to say that yoga healed of fixed me. Because I can sit with subtle sensations in my body now, I know that stress is still bound into my tissues. I can feel my muscles like armor slumping my shoulders forward to shield off my heart. I can sense my jaw cinching itself shut, restraining me from speaking without intellectualizing. And yet, I don’t know how to fully let these residues of stress release.
What is TIMBo?
In my quest to take a deeper dive into the emotions that I harbor in my own body – and become a better teacher to my students who inevitably hold their own residues of stress – I found Trauma-Informed Mind Body program (TIMBo). TIMBo is a program that offers tools to navigate symptoms of trauma, emotional reactions, and triggers as they arise to enhance daily functioning and empower healing in others. TIMBo works with the following tools: group discussion, breathing, yoga, healing touch, meditation, and education on the theory behind the tools (e.g., the neurobiology of stress and learning, how mindfulness interventions reduce the effects of traumatic stress, theory of adaptation, theory of emotional anatomy).
Primarily, TIMBo works with women who have oppressed, underserved, and traumatized (aka ALL women), and it has been implemented in substance recovery programs, correctional facilities, mental health clinics, homeless shelters, domestic violence agencies, and globally in countries with histories of collective trauma (e.g., Haiti, Kenya, Iran).
Anyone who has interacted with me over the past summer knows that I have been desperately asking the universe for opportunities that combine my passions for yoga, global health, and social justice. The moment I stumbled across a qualitative pilot study on TIMBo in Kenya in Complementary Therapies in Medicine, I wanted to jump out of my chair in the coffee shop in Boulder, screaming, “This is it!!”
How convenient that the organization is based right outside of Boston, and that its founder replied almost immediately to my fangirl email asking if I’d like to go to Rwanda with the group in February and linking to details on a first-step facilitator training during my birthday week in October. Obviously, I signed up.
Part I of TIMBo training
As fate would have it, I’ll be in India when the TIMBo group will be in Rwanda, but that didn’t put a damper on my enthusiasm for the four-day experiential intensive training at a farmhouse-style lodge in Framingham. My only exposure to Framingham prior to the training was the strip-mall side of the suburb. These green pastures tinted streaks of orange leaves were absolutely not what I imagined. Each day, I commuted from Cambridge and ran on the nearby trails during our lunch break because I absolutely needed to discharge energy.
Despite all the teaching I had done, I found that it took an enormous amount of energy to try to truly speak from my heart among a group of strong women. And perhaps it took even more energy unintentionally trying to hold myself back from bearing my soul, for fear of being truly vulnerable. After four days of learning from one another, I felt emotionally raw. And yet, I was energized because I had created a sort of muscle memory of the sensation felt the few courageous moments that I truly spoke from my heart rather than meekly speaking from my head. It felt empowering. But I shouldn’t be surprised when TIMBo’s mission is to “heal and empower women from all walks of life” and “support TIMBo changemakers in making the impact they are passionate about in the world.”
TIMBo encourages its participants to move from fear to perspective, guilt to creativity, shame to confidence, resentment to compassion, feeling stuck to communication, denial to awareness, and doubt to our faith in our own inherent abilities to create positive change. So where will it take me?
It’s impossible to peer into the future, but somehow its uncertainty seems less daunting and more in my favor than before the training. After “speaking my truth” in the training, I even felt as though I could let go into the uncertainty of the future, even if only for a few blissful moments.