The COVID Shift Part 3: Yoga & Post-Traumatic Growth
By Kristine Kaoverii Weber | April 30, 2021
I’ve been living in Christchurch, New Zealand since January. It’s the second biggest city in New Zealand, but has a small-town feel with little traffic, quaint, tree-lined streets, and sleepy suburbs. People are friendly, sweet, and self-effacing. It’s a very fitness-y, outdoorsy city – I always see people out running, hiking, biking, swimming, surfing, or going to yoga, and there’s no COVID here so life is relatively normal.
But this town is no stranger to trauma.
In September of 2010, the city was assaulted by an earthquake that destabilized many structures and afterwards, there were dozens of aftershocks for months. A friend, who’s a nurse, told me that the aftershocks were so frequent that eventually, she and her colleagues at work started manageing their nervousness by playing the “Guess how big that one was” game.
In February 2011, a second big earthquake, that may have been an aftershock, collapsed many already weak or damaged buildings, houses, and chimneys and killed 185 people. The pictures of folks desperately searching for loved ones and dragging out bodies are gut wrenching.
Power went out, water and sewage lines broke, and almost immediately, the shaking caused damp silt and sand beneath the city’s surface to bubble up in streets and backyards (they call it “liquefaction”). More than 8,000 properties had to be demolished by the government. The city was devastated.
Christchurch after the 2011 quake with dust clouds drifting through the business district
My friend Annette told me she and her neighbors almost immediately started checking in on each other and sharing resources – food, water, blankets, etc. They dug outhouse toilets in their back yards, helped clean up each others’ rubble, took in neighbors whose houses were rendered uninhabitable, and cooked meals together on camping stoves.
They leveraged community to survive.
When I asked her how she thought the town had changed since that time, she said, “Christchurch used to be a conservative, pretty white place. People were all about which boat your family came over on and which suburb you lived in. There’s still some of that of course, but things have changed so much in the past 10 years.
“Lots of immigrants came to help rebuild the city and then decided to stay here with their families. And they were welcomed and accepted. We’re much more diverse now, and we care more about each other and the things that really matter. We have to – the earthquake forced us all to change.”
Annette and I at Brighton Beach in Christchurch
Post-traumatic growth is a theory developed in the 1990s by two psychologists – Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun. The idea is that as trauma is processed and integrated, it can lead to personal and social growth – and new ways of knowing and being.
“People develop new understandings of themselves, the world they live in, how to relate to other people, the kind of future they might have, and a better understanding of how to live life,” said Tedeschi.
Deep shocks to communities, (or in the case of COVID, the whole world) have the potential to create deep personal and social change. Like flowers from the cracks, life persists, and presents potential for an expansion of consciousness.
In Christchurch, people expanded their ideas about who was part of their community. I asked another friend who’s a healer originally from Japan, why people here never ask me where I’m from. I wondered if it was because they don’t like Americans or just don’t care.
She responded, “No, that’s not it at all. The reason they don’t ask you where you’re from is because it doesn’t matter. Everyone is welcome here.”
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like everything is perfect here of course. I’ve begun to think some of the excessive exercising I see here is also a trauma response (it’s a healthier way to manage but it doesn’t necessarily integrate it). And, being a British culture, well…let’s just say talking about hard things doesn’t necessarily come naturally. 😬
But when I think about how the Christchurch community grew because of its collective trauma, I realize that post traumatic growth is almost inevitable – a necessary evolutionary response. Big changes force an expansion of consciousness. Sometimes we think things will never change, there are too many people who are too deeply dug in to their beliefs – but that’s not the case at all.
When we cling to old ways and refuse to expand, it’s actually just backlash against the expansion of consciousness. We can see the writing on the wall and change feels way too scary, or we don’t have the resources, context, or support to grow.
A fundamental principle of tantra is that obstacles will either finish us off, or force us to grow. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. In other words, forget about asking Ganesh to remove my problems, without them I will remain stagnant. Or, like a butterfly cut out of its chrysalis, I will languish.
The work that I put into overcoming challenges is the work that extracts the diamond from the rough. And then the continued work is to keep polishing the heck out of that thing.
What if the pandemic is the chrysalis or the rock covering the diamond? What if a new mythic consciousness is arising in us all – a consciousness that values life, relationship, love, compassion, diversity rather than profit, greed, excess, and celebrity? What if that consciousness changes our myths about the meaning of our existence?
I don’t think these things are possible – I think they are inevitable.
For post-traumatic growth to be initiated, we all need tools to help us soothe and soften our frayed, traumatized nervous systems. Otherwise, we’ll end up relying on old, unsustainable approaches like addictive substances, behaviors, and/or entrenched, dogmatic belief systems to deal with the challenges before us.
You understand personally that yoga practice offers a deep potential not only for soothing the nervous system, but also for reframing, rethinking, and the birthing of newer, more expanded perspectives.
It’s not easy. But nothing worthwhile ever is.
If you missed it, read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
Please check out my free eBook Weather the Storm: A Subtle Yoga Guide for Building Resilience