Healing Trauma Through Yoga
At least half of all persons in the United States have reported having experienced at least one traumatic event in their lives. The psychological repercussions of trauma are becoming increasingly well-known, but what many people are unaware of is that it may also have a significant influence on one’s physical health. As a result, more doctors are turning to body-based treatments, such as yoga, to help trauma survivors heal.
Trauma and the Body
According to research, when we are subjected to or witness trauma, our bodies respond by activating the fight, flight, and/or freeze response. In the event that you are going down the street and someone comes up to you and attacks you, your brain and body will instinctively react by either fighting back, fleeing the situation, or remaining still. The instinctive response of our animal-like instincts is to appraise the circumstance and behave in the way that it believes would most effectively help us survive.
They are then able to continue on with their lives without experiencing trauma symptoms.
It is possible that the tension of the circumstance may build up in our bodies as a result of this.
We become “locked” in the fight, flight, or freeze response and suffer the consequences of this in situations where the stresses are low and non-threatening.
This response can have a negative impact on one’s general well-being by causing sentiments such as fear, anger, and hopelessness.
Fortunately, it is entirely feasible for us as humans to assist our brains and bodies in recognizing that they are no longer in danger, as well as to reduce the symptoms associated with traumatic events. However, it is vital to remember that while some information about trauma can be retained in our conscious, logical minds, memories that contain trauma are more likely to be stored in our implicit memory, which is unable to be remembered consciously. This is why techniques that are focused on the brain and the body are required to treat trauma.
Trained in Trauma-Informed Yoga, this gentle, meditative practice allows participants to establish a connection between their minds, bodies, and spirits in a safe environment.
It represents the many ways in which trauma affects the body and allows users to investigate the link between trauma and prana – an individual’s vital energy or life force – in a safe and controlled environment.
How Does Yoga Help?
Trauma-informed yoga, according to studies, blends the mind-body effects of trauma with spiritual health and consciousness to provide a holistic approach to healing. The process allows you to reconnect with your body in a secure environment, restoring whatever control, love, or acceptance that may have been threatened after a traumatic event. There are several ways that the practice of trauma-informed yoga might help to liberate the body from this continuous stress reaction. Through yoga, we may cultivate mindful awareness of the link between our body, mind, and breath, so activating our parasympathetic nervous system and reducing stress.
- It has been demonstrated that two yogic practices can elicit this response: breathing methods (pranayama) and bodily positions (asanas) (asana).
- Trauma, according to this perspective, not only has an impact on our bodily and mental health, but also on our spiritual well-being.
- According to scientific theory, the chakra system follows the same path as the vagus nerve, which connects to important glands in our body and regulates how we respond to stress when we are under stress.
- When we are traumatized, our chakra(s) might become uniquely out of balance as a result of the stress we are under.
- Growing our awareness of how trauma affects our spiritual self through the chakra system offers room for both individuals and healing professionals to examine and resolve these problems, which is beneficial for both.
Things to Consider
Please speak with your doctor before attempting any of the approaches listed here, and always remember to respect and appreciate where your body, mind, and spirit are at the present. You should stop a workout if it does not feel right for you or causes you any discomfort. You should also seek appropriate help if you are having trouble. If you’d want to increase the effectiveness of these techniques even more, feel free to spend a moment after each practice to bring your attention back to your body.
Take some time to be an inquisitive, compassionate observer of any physiological sensations, emotions, cognitive thoughts or impulses that may have entered your consciousness during this time. Making a written record of your experience can aid in the process of reflection and digestion.
It is described as the movement of an individual’s energy, or prana, through the body by means of the breath. It aids in the regulation of our breathing as well as the distribution of oxygen more gradually and evenly throughout our body. When faced with a stressful situation, our bodies have a tendency to hold or speed their respiration. This reaction decreases the amount of oxygen available in the body and activates the sympathetic nervous system, raising our level of discomfort. When we cultivate our capacity to regulate our breathing, we are better equipped to restore equilibrium to our system following a traumatic event.
By deliberately inhaling and directing oxygen to these places via the practice of pranayama, we may not only relax but also reduce the pain and tension we experience and hold in our body.
Ujayi, often known as “ocean breath,” is a pranayama method that helps to keep the breath steady and produce a sensation of tranquility. If you want to learn Ujayi, start by inhaling through your mouth as if you were attempting to fog up a mirror. Utilize the same breathing strategy as before, but this time with your mouth closed. Gently tighten the muscles of the neck, then inhale and exhale through the nose with the same audible breath on either side. Continue to breathe through this method for a total of thirty seconds.
We can benefit from practicing ocean breath since it helps to improve our throat muscles and voice chords.
Asana is described as “a seat” in its literal sense. It refers to any pose in which the body is positioned and aligned in a precise way in order to achieve a sense of power (shtira) and ease (sukha) within the physical, psychological, and spiritual selves of the practitioner. By engaging in asana practice, we may increase our awareness of and connection to certain areas of the body. Vital because trauma may frequently cause us to feel alienated from our body, this is important to remember. It is believed that this sense of detachment, also known as disconnection, has a protective purpose by allowing the individual to be separated from the full effect of what is happening during and after a traumatic incident occurs.
Allowing ourselves the room and time to participate in particular asanas while being safe, we may begin to repair and deepen the connection between our minds, bodies, and breathing.
We may also send breath to them by include our breath in the practice of asanas. This can improve the possibility for blocked energy to shift, flow, and finally evaporate as a result of the action.
Istadasana, also known as mountain posture, is an asana that is essential throughout every individual’s yoga practice. Tadasana is a yoga pose that helps you become more aware of your body and its connection to the earth beneath you. The position directs the body towards a deeper alignment, allowing greater free flow of pranato to occur. To begin practicing mountain pose, begin by standing tall and spreading your feet hip-width apart on the floor. The outside borders of your feet should be parallel to one another, and you should be able to bend your toes slightly inward.
- As you ascend upwards, soften the knees and engage the thighs to raise the knee caps off the ground.
- As you bring your awareness to your pelvis, engage the pelvic floor to help direct energy upward and away from the body.
- After that, align the position of your neck in relation to the remainder of your spine.
- Allow the crown of the head to stretch towards the sky, as if it were being guided upwards by a string of light.
- It is possible to increase our sense of being anchored and supported by the soil beneath our feet.
- This helps to clear the way for our breath to go more easily through our bodies and to release trapped energy and tension.
Healing with Trauma-Informed Yoga
We as human beings are affected by trauma in a variety of ways, including our minds, bodies, and spirits. The opportunity to heal ourselves via approaches such as trauma-informed yoga, on the other hand, provides a great deal of hope. When you are ready to give this practice a try, there are certain key elements to consider, which we advise you to do so. First and foremost, evaluate how you will feel most supported during this one-of-a-kind healing process. Working through the physical symptoms of trauma may result in a variety of physical, psychological, and spiritual changes as a result of the experience.
It is possible that having a skilled healing expert to turn to will make you feel more comfortable and supported during this difficult time.
You can also choose whether you’d want to work with a yoga instructor or a therapist who has received trauma-informed yoga training. The next step is to find a trauma-informed yoga instructor who has been trained and certified with the Yoga Alliance and with whom you feel comfortable.
Finding a Trauma-Informed Yoga Instructor
Some characteristics that indicate whether or not a person is a trauma-informed yoga teacher include the following characteristics:
- You should speak in a way that permits you to have total control of your motions
- Check in with you at the beginning of each session to determine your current psychological, physical, and spiritual needs
- Encourage you to pay attention to your body’s signals and to respect its natural boundaries. Hands-on assistance should always be sought first, and if possible, should be avoided entirely. Allow for tweaks and props to be used to accommodate people of varying skill levels. Individuals’ wants and desires should be identified and included into each session. Individuals should be able to think more inwardly on the overall influence of their yoga practice if they are given the opportunity. Instruct students in how to enter and exit various pranayama and yoga poses using straightforward language. Permit your system to incorporate the influence of the exercise by giving it enough time once it has finished
- At the conclusion of each lesson, allow time for questions, comments, and personal observations.
You have the ability to choose which person, place, and path best suits your needs when it comes to utilizing trauma-informed yoga. If you are interested in learning more about trauma-informed yoga and how to incorporate it into your life, please visit our website to see a list of our professionals who have received training in this discipline. The impacts of complex trauma, sexual assault, difficult grief and bereavement, anxiety, and depression are all addressed by Arielle Mesa, LGSWArielle is a licensed professional counselor who specializes in counseling adolescents and adults.
She uses a psychodynamic approach that includes mindfulness, yoga, and Brainspotting techniques.
Trauma-Informed Yoga for Healing
Subscribe to Outside+ now to get unique access to all of our content, including sequences, instructor tips, video lessons, and much more. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the consequences of trauma can range from modest to devastating. It might make you feel exhausted, unhappy, or anxious—or just numb and disconnected—depending on how you react to it. After experiencing a traumatic incident, some people may have nightmares, flashbacks, or intrusive recollections.
Symptoms might continue for years or go completely in a matter of weeks.
In order to take a trauma-informed viewpoint, we must first believe that the actions we observe are an attempt to regulate an out-of-control neurological system.” Throughout Savasana (Corpse Pose), for example, a student may not want to close their eyes because they do not feel secure doing so, or a student may need to be near the door during class because they feel safer being near the door As far as understanding our particular ties to trauma is concerned, Khouri believes that it is equally as vital to develop practices that promote our overall well-being.
Yoga’s Effect on Trauma
The pillars of yoga might be beneficial if you’ve been through a traumatic situation. According to a 2015 study, yoga may be beneficial in reducing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Also highlighting the benefits of yoga is Dr. Gail Parker, who believes that it can help people heal from race-related traumatic stress (RBTS). You may use yoga breathing techniques to assist you relax your nervous system the next time a panic attack comes on. Svadhyaya, or the discipline of self-study, can assist you in recognizing when your body is responding to a traumatic event.
- Make a conscious effort to bring yourself into the current moment.
- Keep your attention focused on what is happening right now, rather than on recollections of the past.
- Try something like a guided meditation or a body scan.
- When we are confronted with a traumatic event, whether physical or mental, our instinctive response may be to respond immediately or seek ways to numb the pain.
- AYoga is a good option.
- Pay attention to your body.
- Observe your breathing pattern.
Are there any parts of your body that are particularly painful or tense?
Alternatively, throw a solo enthusiastic dance party to get rid of your nerves.
Allowing oneself to experience your emotions is important.
Write, draw, or paint your emotions on a piece of paper.
If you are a yoga instructor, keep in mind that every student in your class may have suffered some type of trauma, and you never know what could be a triggering situation for them.
Keep an eye out for pupils who appear angry or unhappy, and without drawing their attention to themselves, give them permission to pause or do a restorative position.
What Is Trauma-Informed Yoga?
“Trauma-informed” has become something of a term in many yoga and healing circles, referring to practices that are attentive to the needs of trauma survivors, as well as practices that particularly treat the symptoms of trauma survivors. The primary goals of a trauma-informed yoga practice are to assist you in regaining a sense of grounding and support in your body, to connect with sensations in a safe way, and to utilize the practice to assist you in learning to trust your body’s signals again.
Trauma-informed technique is less concerned with specific poses or sequences and more concerned with concentrating on each stance and the way in which it is occupied.
The effects of unresolved trauma may keep you in a condition of perpetual detachment; trauma-informed yoga is about learning to bear discomfort so that you can progress through it rather than run away from your problems.
Refer to the following:
- How Yoga Can Help You Regain Your Health After a Trauma
- Breathing is a liberating act
- It is a source of empowerment. How Yoga Aided Me in Coping with Childhood Trauma and Loss
- What Yoga Did for Me
- Better Mental Well-Being Can Be Achieved by Understanding the Five Kleshas. Meet Your Nervous System for Well-Being
How Yoga Can Help You Heal From Trauma
Subscribe to Outside+ now to get unique access to all of our content, including sequences, instructor tips, video lessons, and much more. I was two weeks shy of turning twenty-one when I found myself alone on an emergency room table, my head down, looking at my nervously trembling feet. I attempted to make sense of the events of the last 24 hours. “What is it about me that I can’t recall anything?” At that moment, a police officer with the humorous last name Lucky entered the room, interrupting my efforts to compose myself.
- “We’ll have to take some pictures of those injuries as well,” she says.
- On the previous night, I’d been raped and drugged by three guys, one of whom I’d regarded to be a friend of mine.
- Some visuals are bright, but there’s a lot I can’t make out since it’s like watching a fuzzy television that comes and goes.
- Every day for a year, I was chained to my bed, trapped in feelings of guilt, humiliation, concern, and terror.
- My response, which is to forget and withdraw, is a regular occurrence.
These emotions might include nightmares, grief, dread, and rage. Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness can be used in conjunction with trauma therapy to aid in the development of resilience and recovery.
What Is Trauma?
As time progressed, I gained a deeper understanding of my particular traumatic experience, as well as a broader understanding of trauma as a general concept. For example, I later discovered that there are four different forms of trauma:
- Acute trauma, such as mine, is one that occurs suddenly and intensely
- Chronic trauma is defined by persistent exposure to stressors and is a type of psychological injury. For example, being subjected to sexual abuse on a regular basis. A complex trauma is a series of big events that are stacked on top of one another. To provide an example, imagine getting hurt in an accident and then losing a family member as a result of the same event. Vicarious trauma is a type of indirect trauma that occurs when someone else is mistreated, such as witnessing someone else be assaulted or viewing a film of someone being harmed.
According to Gail Parker, PhD, author of Restorative Yoga for Ethnic and Race-Based Stress and Trauma, public health specialists have also begun to acknowledge race-based traumatic stress (RBTS), which is the outcome of generational stress and repetitive trauma suffered by people of color. And let’s not forget about the coronavirus that is still present. Researchers have begun investigating the long-term effects of COVID-19 on mental health, and they have discovered that many people suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of their pandemic experiences.
- Yoga for Healing with a Trauma-Informed Approach It is an act of liberation to take a breath. How Yoga Aided Me in Coping with Childhood Trauma and Loss
- What Yoga Did for Me
- Better Mental Well-Being Can Be Achieved by Understanding the Five Kleshas. Meet Your Nervous System for Well-Being
Yoga For Trauma : A Holistic Treatment Pathway For PTSD
- Yoga Therapy for Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Historical Overview
- The Physiological Characteristics of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Why Should Yoga Be Used as an Adjunct Treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
PTSD is a condition that affects survivors of traumatic events and is thought to be caused by a malfunction of the autonomic nervous system. Given the expanding body of data indicating that yoga might assist in PTSD recovery, this guide provides an introduction to yoga’s potential as an adjuvant treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. Unfortunately, many people will experience major trauma at some time in their lives, which is a sad reality of life. For the majority of people, the weeks or months of distress that follow a traumatic experience will pass, and they will be able to go on.
Yoga Therapy for Trauma and PTSD
It takes a range of ways to manage the mental and physical symptoms that are characteristic of post-traumatic stress disorder, which can become overwhelming for people who are affected. The application of evidence-based approaches from yoga and mindfulness to help in the recovery of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a promising field of yoga therapy, where increasing scientific research indicates that yoga can lessen symptoms of PTSD through a variety of processes. “The reality of the matter is that we are all living with the unseen scars of some form of conflict.
When it comes to treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), yoga is particularly effective because it works with both the mind and the body, while also helping to create a feeling of safe community from which sufferers may draw comfort and support.
Yoga therapists can gently help PTSD sufferers towards recovery in a safe and educated manner by integrating a thorough understanding of the neurobiology, psychology, and physiology of trauma with yogic practices and other complementary therapies.
Furthermore, they can act within the framework of a broader treatment plan and assist clients in completely engaging in counseling or therapy sessions.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Background
“After a traumatic encounter, the human system of self-preservation appears to be placed on high alert at all times, as if the threat may reappear at any time.” Judith Lewis Herman is a psychiatrist who practices in New York City. The majority of us are first exposed to the concept of post-traumatic stress disorder in the context of military service. While there have been written descriptions of symptoms that are analogous to our modern understanding of PTSD dating back to the Ancient Greeks, the term “shell shock” was coined to describe the long-term effect trench warfare had on some soldiers during the First World War, and it was through this term that the illness first entered the public consciousness.
The risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) increases for those who are frequently exposed to life-threatening or traumatic situations (such as soldiers, paramedics, and firefighters) and for those who have survived traumatic events such as violent or sexual assault, serious accidents, or difficult labor.
Although it is yet unclear why some people get this condition and others do not, it is believed that inadequate assistance in the immediate aftermath of experiencing or witnessing a stressful incident may increase the chance of developing the disorder.
- Through flashbacks, dreams, and bodily feelings, the traumatic incident is re-experienced. Avoidance of anything that recalls the victim of the traumatic incident is encouraged by the doctor. They will also try to push away thoughts and memories, and they may suffer emotional numbness and dissociation as a result of this. Excessive arousal and a persistent sense of being “on edge,” which is frequently coupled with hypervigilance, irritability, and sleeplessness
- Anxiety, sadness, alcohol/substance abuse, and relationship disintegration are all examples of co-occurring disorders.
A variant type of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can also manifest itself in those who have experienced chronic stress or dread, which is known as complex post-traumatic stress disorder (or c-PTSD). Individuals who have encountered trauma at an early age, have suffered several traumas, or have experienced trauma that has lasted a long period of time, such as in situations of childhood abuse, are more prone to develop chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (c-PTSD).
The Physiological Characteristics of PTSD
We will activate a defensive biobehavioral response – an instinctive “survival mode” – when we are exposed to or witness a life-threatening, violent, or otherwise traumatic event. This response can manifest itself in two distinct ways: (1) we will become more aggressive; (2) we will become more passive. The fight-or-flight reaction is a physiological response in which the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) of an individual is engaged in order to prepare the body to fight or flee from a perceived threat.
- In order to evade discovery or to act dead, this results in the creation of stillness, which might lead to dissociation.
- They may also regard their body’s response to trauma as equally dangerous and unstable.
- Because of the overpowering nature of this trauma – and the bio-behavioural reaction it evokes – it can result in the memory of the incident and the accompanying pictures, sensations, and emotions becoming dissociated from normal conscious experience.
- For people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the dysregulation of their body’s defensive response(1) causes them to release greater amounts of stress hormones and behave as if they are under attack even in seemingly innocuous settings.
They may also suffer from anhedonia (the inability to enjoy pleasure) and detachment, among other symptoms.
Why Use Yoga for Trauma as an Adjunct Treatment for PTSD?
As neuroscientists have discovered, becoming aware of one’s inner experience and learning to befriend what is going on inside oneself are the only ways to alter one’s emotional state. Bessel A. Van Der Kolk is a doctor and author who lives in the Netherlands. Trauma has an impact on an individual’s physiological, cognitive, and emotional well-being, with the consequences felt in both the mind and the body. Yoga therapy works across all of these domains, causing patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to increasingly resort to this mind-body practice as part of their rehabilitation path.
Even when a person is logically aware that they are not in danger, they might nonetheless experience hypervigilance and even fear as a result of an instinctual and unconscious reaction.
Following the triggering of a traumatic memory, yoga therapy may assist patients in returning to a more normal physiological state more rapidly.
Trauma survivors may perceive a disconnection between their minds and their bodies, as well as a loss of awareness of their own bodies.
A fundamental component of yoga is the development of body awareness, which can assist people in “developing abilities in tolerating and modifying physiologic and emotional states that have been dysregulated as a result of trauma exposure”(4), which is connected with less severe symptom severity.
Because persons suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are physically prepared for danger, their ability to socialize and manage successfully in social situations can be significantly impaired, and even their closest relationships can become strained.
A complex approach to treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is typically required since no two people will have the same experience of trauma.
When it comes to treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), yoga therapy is an excellent technique that helps people move on and build a new life after trauma.
Order a copy of Yoga for Mental Health to learn more about the research underlying yoga’s effectiveness in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). (1)(2)(3)(4)(5)
Could Yoga Hold the Key to Healing a Patient’s Trauma?
In the United States, about 10 million women have been physically attacked at some point in their lives. That is a frightening statistic, to be sure. However, the long-term consequences of violence against women are far more ominous. In addition, more than a third of these survivors suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is associated with higher risks of depression, obesity, and heart disease. So, where can we even begin to begin the process of healing from such a massive and overwhelming event?
- As well as improved results from present treatment procedures, I wish they were available.
- Only little more than half of the patients demonstrated any clinical improvement at all.
- People who experience traumatic memories can quickly become overwhelmed with or disconnected from their emotions, which can have a severe impact on their ability to resolve such experiences.
- In this case, however, Bessel A.
From 2008 to 2011, they randomly assigned 64 women who were suffering from trauma-induced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to one of two groups: half were assigned to a weekly women’s health support class (the control group), and the other half were assigned to a weekly trauma-informed yoga class.
- The Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS) and the Davidson Trauma Scale were used to assess patients at various stages of therapy, including pretreatment, midtreatment, and posttreatment (DTS).
- What they discovered was somewhat startling.
- Even on its own, this was an encouraging outcome.
- During the final CAPS assessment, they discovered that 16 of the 31 people in the yoga group no longer fulfilled criteria for PTSD, compared to just 6 of the 29 participants in the control group.
- However, the yoga group was able to retain their improvements all the way to the end, whereas the control group relapsed.
- Is there anything we can take away from the practice of yoga and its long-term consequences?
- If you’ve ever practiced yoga, you’re probably aware that it is based on the concepts of body awareness and opening one’s awareness to the transient nature of one’s current state of consciousness.
The implication of this is that, rather than attempting to avoid painful memories, the women in the yoga research group were better able to isolate and confront them in a non-threatening manner.
This is a promising sign.
This would imply that the physical and interoceptive features of yoga – rather than the social composition of the group – may have had a role in the reduction of PTSD symptoms in the participants.
Approximately the same number of individuals in both groups had the same degree of education and household income.
More information on the trial may be found on the ClinicalTrials.gov website, which can be found by searching for the study identifier NCT00839813.
Have you ever had the opportunity to work with PTSD sufferers in your own yoga practice?
Is it something you’d be interested in trying?
In the event that you have any previous experience with this technique, we’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on the subject as well as how you integrated yoga into a comprehensive client treatment plan. Please share your tale with us by leaving a comment below.
Trauma-Informed Yoga: How it Heals, Benefits, and Poses to Try
A trauma-informed approach to yoga makes the practice safer and more accessible for trauma survivors, while also addressing the specific needs of those who have experienced trauma. Yoga is intended to be healing, yet it has the potential to be harmful for individuals who have suffered from trauma. Tragedy is common and may be extremely detrimental to both individuals and society. It is estimated that around 61 percent of people in the United States have had at least one adverse childhood experience (ACE), which are potentially traumatic experiences that occur throughout childhood that are related with a lack of security.
Moving toward trauma-informed practices has the potential to help many individuals begin to feel secure and heal from traumatic experiences.
As a result, mind-body activities such as yoga can be difficult, if not detrimental, for persons who have experienced any type of trauma, whether it is acute or chronic.
Jivana Heyman, founder of Accessible Yoga and author of Yoga Revolution, a trauma-informed approach to yoga teaching is essential, according to Heyman.
Using trauma-informed teaching methods, he explains, “we presume that all of our students have experienced some type of trauma in their lives and that we educate in such a way that allows them to recover from trauma rather than being triggered by it.” Yoga teachers who are trauma-informed are taught to be cognizant of their own trauma as well as how trauma connects with the practice of yoga.
- Body awareness (interoception) may be increased in a safe and regulated manner, which can help people feel more secure on all levels: physically, emotionally, and psychologically. deal with the nervous system dysregulation, dissociation, and feelings of separation from one’s own body or surroundings that are typical following traumatic events
Many yoga instructors are not certified to diagnose or treat physical or mental health issues. And for people who have suffered from physical trauma, particularly sexual trauma, many yoga positions can be quite upsetting for them. The cornerstone for this style of practice is a safe, secure, and predictable setting surrounded by a supportive community of like-minded individuals. In contrast to many typical yoga courses, which push students to progress through emotional pain, trauma-informed yoga offers a safe environment where individuals may pay attention to indicators of dissociation and suffering that may arise and pause when they need to.
Establishing presence and establishing a feeling of grounding might assist you in connecting with your mind and body in a way that is comfortable.
The goal of any yoga practice is to encourage the parasympathetic nerve system’s “rest-and-digest” reaction, which is the polar opposite of the sympathetic nervous system’s “fight, flight, or freeze” response, which keeps many trauma survivors hostage in their bodies.
This, however, can have unintended consequences. Some popular yoga practices can stimulate the fight-or-flight response in trauma survivors, throwing the sympathetic nervous system into overdrive and causing them to feel more anxious. Yoga has been shown to cause trauma in the following situations:
- Physical assistance without permission
- Certain breathwork (pranayama) practices
- Artificially heated environments that are hotter than the body’s normal temperature
- A teacher’s language and sequencing that is exclusive rather than inclusive
- Yoga postures that aggressively open the hips and spine
- And any other practice that is harmful to the body.
Against the status quo
In the Western world, modern yoga has been hijacked, commercialized, and whitewashed, stressing the power and flexibility of the able-bodied body and frequently targeted towards slender, rich, white females. Yoga should not be approached in a one-size-fits-all manner since it undermines personal agency. Heyman describes the difficulty as follows: “The challenge for yoga instructors is to focus on how we can teach safely and clearly while still offering students the alternatives they need to make their own decisions.” Insufficient is the hierarchical top-down style that we are often taught and practiced in.
- In contrast to a demonstration of strength and flexibility, an accomplished practitioner does not execute such feats.
- “Different people have different triggers, but there are certain general things we can do to facilitate a gentle and safe reconnection with the body,” says Heyman.
- “This is the foundation of trauma-informed teaching.” In trauma-informed yoga, one of the most crucial notions to grasp is that the learner has a sense of control over their practice and their body.
- It is possible to establish a secure and supportive atmosphere by using inclusive language that invites choices.
As Heyman points out, “trauma-informed teaching also implies that we are more conscious of our bodily presence as teachers.” The instructor explains that this might include refraining from touching students, remaining on our mat throughout practice, and instilling in students a sense that their mat is a secure zone where they will not be interfered with.
As Heyman explains, “I don’t believe there are certain postures that are uniquely trauma-informed because it is more the method they are taught that is the important,” she adds.
Conscious breathing is Weaver’s go-to technique, which she uses either lying down or sitting up, depending on the trauma population.
“Rather than focusing on the complete expression of a posture, my primary focus has always been on syncing movement with breath as the priority.” The following are examples of positions regarded to be usually safe:
- Warrior postures, gentle twists, most standing positions, plank pose, and more are all possible.
Attempting specific postures, such as certain sitting positions and backbends, with caution or avoiding them completely is recommended in most cases. Teachers who deal with jailed children should avoid asking them to place their hands behind their heads or face a wall when they are teaching. Those who deal with survivors of sexual assault should refrain from using sexually suggestive postures such as the “Happy Baby.” “For survivors of sexual assault, a child’s stance might be quite traumatic,” adds Weaver.
What to do when trauma shows up in your body during a yoga class
When trauma survivors practice yoga, it is possible for them to experience dissociation and suffering. Consequently, the learner may respond to stimuli with the incorrect side of their body, or they may breathe quickly and deeply and suffer general irritation. Other indications are as follows:
- A heated face, profuse sweat, and clumsy movements are all signs of stress.
Try to regain control by returning your focus to your breath or a safe body part or an item in the room, and then going into a posture that feels safe to you when you become triggered during a yoga session. You have the option to leave the room at any moment. When working with a trauma-informed yoga instructor or therapist who has undergone specific training, whether you are a trauma victim or have a mental health problem, it may be quite beneficial.
Yoga therapists vs. yoga teachers
An extra 500 hours of training is required for a certified yoga therapist (C-IAYT), in addition to the normal 200 and 500-hour certifications, in order to address possible trauma triggers in certain populations. Many yoga teachers continue their education to become certified to deal with cancer survivors, jailed populations, and service members in the military. In order to choose the most qualified instructor, it might be beneficial to verify their training qualifications and study their biographies.
Many experts believe that all yoga instruction should be trauma-informed, however the majority of group programs do not presently use trauma-informed techniques. Despite this, many yoga instructors work to ensure that all students feel appreciated and comfortable when practicing in a group environment. It is possible to be safe even if trauma-informed yoga is not currently accessible in your region. Here are a few suggestions:
- Identify the best location in a room for you to set up
- You may not want your back to the entrance or other people behind you. Consider enrolling in an all-levels class so that you may practice at your own pace. You should modify your postures or abandon a stance completely if you begin to feel insecure. If you are provoked, you should leave the room or studio.
Keep in mind that, while group sessions can provide a supportive environment for practitioners, there is frequently a higher propensity toward competitiveness and externally-focused goals in these settings. As Heyman points out, “the instructor must discover strategies to avoid this by making purposeful language choices.”
According to Heyman, online instruction has the potential to be more trauma-informed than traditional classroom instruction. According to him, “with online programs, students are frequently at home practicing alone in a setting where they feel secure.” Having the ability to turn off their video allows students to escape the sense of being watched and to have greater independence in their practice. It may also be more accessible to people who cannot afford the costs of in-person sessions or who are limited in their availability due to other commitments.
“I believe COVID has shown us that online teaching is an effective approach for many individuals to include yoga into their lives,” adds Heyman. “I believe COVID has taught us that online teaching is an excellent way for many people to incorporate yoga into their lives.”
Depending on your exact requirements, a variety of tools and databases are available to assist you in locating a trauma-informed yoga studio, school, instructor, or teacher training program in your local region or on the internet.
- In addition to the Yoga Alliance and Yoga Unify, there is also Trauma Center Trauma Sensitive Yoga, Exhale to Inhale, Rise Up and Yoga Medicine, as well as the Prison Yoga Project and Warriors at Ease.
According to a 2015 study, emerging evidence indicates that physicians and healthcare professionals may explore yoga as a supplemental treatment for patients suffering from trauma-related mental health disorders. It has been noted in a study published in 2021 that the clinical ramifications of a trauma-specific approach to yoga can be considerable. Founder and co-founder of Connected Warriors Judy Weaver explains how trauma separates the body and mind and how this exercise helps to reconnect them.
As a trauma-informed approach, Weaver believes that members of the military should be given chances for curiosity, creativity, and challenges.
Retired and active duty service members
The practice of trauma-sensitive yoga may be beneficial to anybody who has been in the military, but for many service personnel, the trauma began long before the conflict ever began. As Weaver explains, “a huge percentage of our service members had experienced earlier child abuse or neglect, which results in a deeper trauma groove as they progress through adulthood.” In a study published in 2021, researchers discovered that yoga classes for active-duty military members can be effective in the treatment of symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.
In addition, “our veterans are spending less PTSD days at home; they have lowered some of their meds; and they are becoming more connected with their families,” Weaver says.
Sexual assault survivors
According to a review published in 2016, trauma-sensitive yoga can assist women who have suffered intimate partner abuse improve the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Additionally, a 2014 study discovered that yoga was effective in alleviating symptoms in women suffering from treatment-resistant post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Yoga, according to the authors, can allow people to withstand bodily and sensory sensations linked with anxiety and helplessness while also boosting their emotional awareness and self-consciousness.
The findings reveal that TIY was more effective than cognitive processing therapy (CPT), a kind of PTSD treatment, in terms of reducing symptoms and having longer-lasting benefits.
According to a study published in the year 2021, trauma-informed yoga can aid in the rehabilitation of at-risk minority communities. People of color suffer from a cumulative detrimental impact as a result of racial trauma, and other oppressed groups suffer trauma at disproportionately high rates. “Take a look at the ways in which COVID has had a disproportionately negative impact on those with chronic diseases, the Black community, and the elderly,” adds Heyman.
Because trauma may impact practically anybody, a trauma-informed approach to yoga can be beneficial to a wide range of people, including those who have experienced the following:
- Among the issues include abuse, addiction, bodily dysmorphia, chronic disease and suffering, intergenerational trauma, suicide ideation or attempts, imprisonment, mass violence or war.
Those who work in sectors where they are more likely to face trauma, such as caretakers and first responders, may also benefit from this program. Many physical and mental health advantages may be obtained by practicing yoga, but not everyone is a good candidate for a mainstream yoga class. Yoga that is trauma-informed can help trauma survivors grow and heal after they have experienced a traumatic event. A trauma-informed yoga instructor will place greater emphasis on your experience while in a yoga position rather than on your ability to execute.
In Heyman’s opinion, trauma-informed yoga is “a critical component of making yoga inviting, effective, and safe for anybody who is interested in practice.” “It’s not so much an issue of the kind of yoga as it is a question of how the practice is being communicated,” says the author.
The Science of Using Yoga to Heal from Trauma
Yoga may be viewed as a sport or as a spiritual discipline by certain individuals. However, experts are investigating if it might aid in the healing process after a traumatic event. Liz West contributed to this photograph. When I agreed to take part in a scientific research investigating the impact of practicing yoga on the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, I wasn’t just a little hesitant. I felt it was a ridiculous concept at the time. I’d tried yoga at the gym previously, and while it’s a terrific kind of exercise, it didn’t help with my post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.
- In response, when my therapist invited me to participate in an eight-week yoga study for a local psychology professor, I agreed since it would allow me to participate in free yoga courses for the next two months.
- I mean, what the heck is going on?
- It turns out that I was completely incorrect.
- I mean, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) occurs in people who have undergone major trauma, and I wasn’t ready to acknowledge that anything awful had truly occurred in my life.
- It’s possible that it was diabetes.
- In fact, when I walked inside my first study session, which took place in a small yoga classroom on the second floor of an old downtown building, I felt as if I’d built my own spiritual fort around myself.
To confess to myself that I belonged in this group was something I dreaded doing.
So I lay out my mat in the furthest end of the room, sat down, and squished myself down to the smallest possible dimensions.
I wasn’t there to make new acquaintances.
After the lesson ended, I went home and suffered from a severe headache for the next few days.
My parents, on the other hand, did not raise a quitter, therefore I did return.
I wasn’t certain that my body had changed at the conclusion of those eight weeks, but I couldn’t deny that the findings of my post-yoga tests were eye-opening to say the least.
My pre-yoga test revealed that I was never entirely calm over the course of the examination.
My baseline level of stress, on the other hand, has decreased dramatically after eight weeks of yoga.
Other tests were performed as part of the study, but it was the skin conductance test that convinced me that, despite my best efforts, I do indeed suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of being sexually assaulted, and that practicing yoga for an hour a week for eight weeks helped to reduce the severity of my PTSD symptoms.
- Liz West contributed to this photograph.
- A chronic interrelational trauma (such as childhood sexual abuse or domestic violence situations) can actually change the brain, according to David Emerson, director of yoga services at the Trauma Center at Justice Resource Institute in Massachusetts.
- In Emerson’s words, “you have a bodily feeling, followed by an emotion, and finally an action.” “I’m hungry,” I say.
- There is an emotional valence somewhere in the middle.
Protecting ourselves from exposure to our feelings and our bodies is the key to surviving trauma.” Essentially, this means that the brains of people who have experienced complex interrelational trauma are not receiving clear information from their bodies, resulting in dysregulated body experiences, or a disconnect between what is experienced by the body and how the brain interprets that experience.
Dysregulated bodily experiences effectively impair a person’s capacity to manage their physical and emotional reactions to the environment in which they live and operate.
Erin Fisher, a psychologist with a PhD in psychology and the study’s organizer, likens it to turning on a light switch after it has been off for a while.
“One of the most important steps toward recovery is to turn off or at the very least convert that light switch to a dimmer switch.” It is necessary for victims to communicate about their trauma and for caregivers to assist them in consolidating their memories, but it is counterproductive if their brain is still on fire.”
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A study led by Bessel van der Kolk, founder and medical director of the Trauma Center at JRI, and conducted in collaboration with Emerson found that a yoga model designed specifically for survivors of complex interrelational trauma increases activity in the interoceptive regions of the brain, which results in a reduction in PTSD symptoms in those who practice. The yoga practice is geared toward assisting participants in feeling what is occurring in their bodies when they flex and lengthen their muscles, with the goal of rebuilding or rewiring the interoceptive parts of their brains in the process.
- Trauma-sensitive yoga is not the same as the yoga you could find at the gym.
- The emphasis is on observing what you feel in your body rather than on producing precise yoga postures.
- Each of these aspects, according to Emerson, is “very trauma informed.” “The dynamics of power are critical,” argues Emerson.
- In order to facilitate effectively, the facilitator must understand power dynamics, and welcoming language is an expression of this understanding.
- We’re all in this together, after all.
- It all comes down to effectively exploiting power.
- What I was looking for in my gym yoga session, to paraphrase Emerson, was an exteroception response—what was the instructor expecting from me.
How long do they expect me to maintain my position?
Augusto Mia Battaglia captured this image.
According to Tamara Bogard, the yoga instructor for the research in which I participated, “quite mild.” In the event that yoga is similar to exercise, it might stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, since exercise in general has been shown to stimulate the sympathetic nervous system.
It’s going to bring it to a halt.
Instead of fighting or fleeing, it will encourage relaxation and digestion.” Fisher agrees with Bogard’s appraisal of the situation.
You also become more in tune with the changes that take place in your body as a result of stress.” Jill Shockley took part in the same study that I did in order to aid her in her recovery from an abusive upbringing.
She’d only done a few yoga videos at home before the research, but she’s now a regular at Bogard’s studio, where she attends yoga sessions once a week.
I’m feeling significantly more energy.
“I’ve seen a significant reduction in tension headaches.” Shockley encourages that other persons who have suffered from trauma give yoga a try as a preventative measure.
It’s daunting to be so conscious of your body, especially as a woman, and I believe it’s a positive experience that shouldn’t be avoided at all costs.
Holm suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of being in an abusive marriage for 28 years.
In the beginning, she resorted to yoga while still married in order to find a haven of serenity in the midst of an otherwise tumultuous existence.
Holm was able to replace her abuser’s voice with her own in the peace and quiet of the yoga class, and she gradually began to reclaim her sense of self as a result.
“You’ve gained in strength now.
“He can’t do anything to you,” Holm says of her self-talk approach.
With out yoga, counseling, and medicine, I don’t know if I would have been able to get to that place.” Trauma is a difficult condition to understand, and there is still much we don’t know about it.
In Emerson’s opinion, “we appear to be learning that when we have interrelational trauma with abusive power, such as college rape, we should address it as quickly as possible with trauma-informed solutions.” Over time, symptoms will begin to appear and will progressively worsen, with the resulting consequences becoming more severe.
Does the trauma from earlier in life have a larger and more profound influence over time?
Before attempting any treatment technique, whether it’s a new medicine, a different form of therapy, or a change in activity, you should always talk with your healthcare professional.
The discipline of yoga has been around for thousands of years, and there are far too many yoga studios in the United States that culturally appropriate this spiritual practice.
In the event that you decide to begin practicing yoga, please do it with the reverence and respect that this discipline deserves.
Even if there are no yoga instructors on that list in your area, Emerson, Bogard, and Holm all advocate interviewing possible yoga instructors before enrolling in a class to ensure that their teaching style and philosophy are a good fit for your requirements.
Yoga was widely practiced in New York City as a means of healing after the September 11th attacks, according to Janet Zinn, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a New York–based therapist, even before Emerson launched his pilot research at the Trauma Center.
At a time when there weren’t many resources to help people deal with something that “turned their life upside down,” Zinn believes that practicing yoga provided them with a method to grieve as well as a means of soothing and calming themselves.
Just be picky about where you choose to put your skills to use.
I continue to work out in Bogard’s studio.
She’s created a safe haven for me, and the impact of that is far greater than I could have anticipated.