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Training With Trauma

We had a plan to focus on our health this year: maybe we bought new workout gear, set an ambitious goal, and even created a new routine. Suddenly, we come up against an overwhelming event that is outside our control. Whether it’s an accident, death, breakup, or another life-altering change, we need time and space to grieve and re-imagine what this means for us, our friends and family, and our future.

Our self-care often suffers during a life transition or other times of major stress. Our bodies and minds feel overwhelmed and unable to manage daily life, let alone our original goal, in the face of this new reality. Questions we consciously or maybe subconsciously ask ourselves include: Do we give up on our goal and start over again later? How do we adapt to our new pace and keep making progress? Can our health even be a priority anymore?

Definitions of trauma range from experiencing a distressing event and feeling unable to cope, to more prolonged pain and suffering that can interfere with long-term well-being and relationships. As we work through emotions ranging from anger and sadness to anxiety and fear, it’s helpful to seek support from friends who are skilled in listening, pastors, counselors, artists and writers who can share their experiences, and from mental health professionals who are licensed in care to support our healing.

As a personal trainer and coach, I have worked with clients who have experienced a variety of traumatic life events, including injuries, health concerns, surgery, family crises, violence, and relational conflict. Sometimes the event is stated up front, and the client recognizes its impact and is actively seeking support. Other times, the trauma reveals itself in a conversation almost spontaneously, or we realize that the event is significantly impacting progress toward their goals. Sometimes we will take a break from training if the situation needs it. What I have learned so far is that listening and offering empathy can go a long way toward supporting someone in maintaining an exercise routine while coping with stress, trauma, and pain. Because of the trust we establish, clients give me permission to challenge and encourage them while they work to keep the healthy habits they want and need to heal.

Healing our minds happens alongside healing our bodies. We might adapt to a lighter pace, find additional resources in the community, and set new short-term goals. We can ask and follow the advice of medical professionals while still working toward the original goal, or we can redefine the goal completely, together.

Progress is rarely linear. We often go through periods of adaptation and adjustment. Consistency, adopting an attitude of kindness and respect towards our bodies and minds, and connecting with our community are what will pay off in the long run, even when the present situation seems impossible or confusing!

Trauma-informed classes and programs also provide us with the knowledge and space we need to re-integrate our internal and external experiences, and they may equip us to support others in their healing. Research shows that physical movement can reduce anxiety, depression, and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Trauma-informed yoga is one example of this integrated, mind-body approach. A variety of resources are listed below for anyone who wants to learn more about working through trauma, including options in the Pittsburgh community, USA and internationally.


Be Well Pittsburgh Mental Health Resources

Pittsburgh Pastoral Institute

Trauma Informed Yoga

Exercise To Support Trauma Healing

Exercise for PTSD

Creating A Safe Training Environment For Clients Who Are Survivors

Trauma Institute International

Women’s Strength Coalition

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