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Life after the trauma and physical pain of fire

Double exposure portrait of woman's face and black smoke.

Double exposure portrait of woman's face and black smoke.  


Yoga could ease the agony and apply the salve for domestic violence survivors living through burn scars


When you hear words on women’s rights, women’s empowerment, domestic violence, it’s easy to join the conversation and give your two cents’ worth, reflect on your own struggles, and talk of what needs to be done, and perhaps feel empowered as a woman after uttering a few comments. But when you actually encounter a woman’s face with burn marks, and her body covered with wounds yet to heal, as you try to comprehend the kind of violence she must have gone through, you pause — to take in the pain: the physical, the emotional, the existential.

Yes, it’s weighty to look deep suffering in the eye when the pain seems beyond comprehension, but there are a few daring women who persist in doing just that, day after day.

Prasanna Gitu, project founder of PCVC and Vidiyal, is one. PCVC, or the International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care, has been providing help for domestic violence survivors since 2001. In 2003, Vidiyal was initiated by PCVC for Women Burn Survivors of Violence.

It may come as a surprise to many that, on average between 100 and 150 women are admitted to the Burns Unit of Chennai’s Kilpauk Medical College every month. The medical literature from India reports burn deaths to be unusually high among young married women. Most of these are reported as “kitchen accidents” involving kerosene. Conclusions based on interviews with survivors show there is a deliberate attempt to report all burn injuries as the result of accidents, in order to avoid a police investigation. This is true in cases of suicide and homicide.

While doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and dieticians work hard to save the lives of victims and rehabilitate them, many hospitals are unequipped to deal with the psychological injuries.

Integrating psychological rehabilitation as an institutional policy and practice into medical care still remains an important goal to be set, the sooner the better. In the meantime, it is non-governmental organisations such as PCVC that take on the psychological burden and provide women with counseling to deal with the after-effects of trauma.

“Trauma” is clinically defined as the experience of intense helplessness, fear, and horror when confronted by an event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others. Some people continue to experience persistent symptoms after the original trauma has passed. Post-traumatic stress disorder includes disturbing thoughts, fears, flashbacks, nightmares, guilt, lack of motivation and withdrawal.

Role of yoga

Some specialised therapies have been developed for the treatment of PTSD, and some classical psychotherapies are used to treat the effects of trauma. In India, yoga has traditionally been one of the most widely practised forms of complementary/alternative medicine. It has been used as a form of therapy in old schools of yoga, as in the Krishnamacharya tradition, for physical, psychological concerns.

Yoga can be incorporated into integrative psychotherapies as a grounding and stabilising process which continuously experiments with presence and boundaries. Yoga therapy, being an integrative therapy that studies the relationship between mind and body, seems to prove useful to those who have been through physical trauma.

As the body keeps a memory of all experiences, trauma inhabits the body, especially for burn survivors who have ongoing pain and scarring after trauma. Yoga is a safe practice for them, giving them the ability to reconnect with self and another. It also brings the traumatised burn survivor back into contact with her changed body, and with her capabilities and limits. Most of these patients who practise yoga after burn trauma experience immediate mood enhancement, develop confidence and resilience, and improve stretching, which is necessary for the burn scars to heal well.

An integrative practice of physical postures and movement (asanas), breathing exercises (pranayama), and mindful attention to the moment are useful components of this therapy, which encourages self-regulation and self-care and addresses the disconnect between body and mind that survivors struggle with. It increases awareness, safety and mastery over their body while building skills to effectively interpret and tolerate pain. For these women survivors, after all the losses they have suffered, yoga brings hope.

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2020 4:08:01 AM |

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