Trauma-informed yoga (TIY), also known as trauma-sensitive yoga, is a therapeutic yogic intervention that is designed to address the specific needs and experiences of trauma survivors. It emphasizes that trauma impacts the entire mind-body system rather than acknowledging trauma to be solely mental distress experienced separately from the physical body.
Trauma-informed yoga recognizes that trauma is not just an event that took place in the past, but it leaves a deep imprint on the mind and body that must be addressed in order for proper healing.
The Difficulties With Healing From Trauma
There are several different types of therapeutic interventions available that work to address and promote healing from past trauma. Not all of these interventions are proven to be effective.
One of the most important things to consider is that healing from trauma takes time. A person that is still experiencing physical or psychological effects of trauma is not likely to be ready to heal from it. Revisiting trauma can be triggering, even when the traumatic event took place months or years ago. Revisiting trauma must involve careful preparation and emotional evaluation of the person struggling.
Another reason why healing from trauma is difficult is that many interventions try to use a psychotherapy approach, when in reality, talking about trauma can be more harmful than helpful. While talking about trauma can help a person to get out of their own head, psychotherapy does not recognize the importance of releasing trauma from the body. As mentioned earlier, interventions for trauma healing must take on a full-body approach.
What Makes Trauma-Informed Yoga Different From Other Yogic Practices?
While general yoga is considered a mindfulness-based intervention, not all mindfulness interventions are beneficial for trauma survivors.
For example, the most popular practices of yoga are taught by yogis that were not trained to treat or learn medical/mental health conditions. Trauma-informed yoga teachers are trained to be conscious of mental health, particularly trauma, and to understand how trauma can surface amidst yoga practice.
When Yoga Can Be Harmful
Any type of yoga can offer incredible mental health benefits. When trauma plays a factor in a person’s life, though, mainstream yoga may do more harm than good. One way to understand how TIY is different from traditional yoga practices is to understand what examples of yoga can become triggering to trauma survivors. For example, consider:
- Yoga poses that may be triggering to survivors of physical or sexual assault, such as postures that aggressively open the hips
- Holding yoga postures for a prolonged period of time
- When yoga teachers try to fix an individual’s posture without consent of physical touch
- Yoga environments that are artificially heated and can increase feelings of anxiety
- Certain breathwork practices
Traditional yoga aims to facilitate calmness, clarity, and mindfulness. It works to activate the body’s “rest-and-digest” response, opposite of the body’s “fight-or-flight” response. The fight-or-flight response is what causes our body to be on high alert when we experience a threat. Trauma survivors regularly experience this response, and in some cases of mainstream yoga, yoga can reactivate this response.
Trauma-Informed Yoga vs. Mainstream Yoga
Most yoga studios will work to provide a safe and predictable environment for any participants. While regular yoga emphasizes working through physical and emotional discomfort, trauma-informed classes teach participants to tune into their emotional bodies and to not push themselves past any limits.
When participants experience triggers, they are encouraged to pay attention to their signs of distress or dissociation and to respond however they need to. The safe and supportive environment provides nourishment for the mind and body to heal properly with intimate compassion and support provided by other participants and by the teacher.
While mainstream yoga may focus more on how poses are executed, trauma-informed yoga emphasizes the importance of feeling comfortable within your own body with every posture. It is about addressing any disconnect between your mind and body and working to experience a newfound sense of grounding in the present moment.
Trauma-informed yoga teachers teach participants how to address internal awareness in a way that feels comfortable and safe. They may create variations of a given pose or skip a pose entirely, depending on the energy experienced in the class. Classes deliberately incorporate more inclusive language that helps participants to make choices for what is best for them instead of having to follow instructions step by step. Instructions in TIY are given as invitations compared to instructions for regular yoga given as commands.
Your First Trauma-Informed Yoga Class
If you are interested in doing so, consider experiencing trauma-informed yoga as a participant. If you have unresolved trauma, it is important that you are aware of potential signs and symptoms that your stress may surface as.
It is normal for trauma survivors to experience dissociation and emotional distress. Symptoms may surface as
- hot flashes
- flushed face
- excessive perspiration
- shallow breathing
- general frustration
If these signs surface in you or a loved one during a session, it is important that you try your best to return your attention back to your breath. Focus your mind on anything in the room that feels safe, while moving your body into a posture that also makes you feel safe. If your yoga teacher senses discomfort, they should be able to guide you in the direction of more comfortable movements and thoughts to make your experience more worthwhile.
Trauma-informed yoga is a therapeutic approach that recognizes potential yoga triggers that may impact trauma survivors. This form of yoga emphasizes the importance of recognizing trauma to affect the entire mind-body system, not just the mind. Healing from past trauma poses it’s own unique challenges, especially because it takes time to know when a person is ready to address their past. Psychotherapy does not normally provide necessary clarity from trauma as it encourages clients to verbalize their traumatic past. West Coast Recovery Center utilizes yoga practices as a valuable source of healing the mind and body simultaneously. We understand that trauma-informed yoga offers a unique way to process and work through traumatic experiences without having to talk about it. We offer yoga as one of our many holistic treatment therapy options alongside our traditional therapy approaches to help individualize client care. For more information, call West Coast (760) 492-6509 today.