Trauma Informed Yoga: Exploring How Yoga Can Help You Heal

CW: This article discusses trauma and mentions other topics related to the subject like assault, violence, and death. Please engage in self-care as you read this article.

No matter your age, gender identity, background, nationality, or profession, at one point or another in your life you have gone or will go through a traumatic experience.

Trauma is not the event itself, but the lasting impact and effect that it has on the person.

Fifty people could be at the same place at the same time and witness the exact same event, yet their stories, their perspectives, and how they move through the next phase of their lives, will be vastly different.

When trauma happens and is experienced, the person’s body sometimes gets stuck in a state of terror, and from that point forward it can impact every area of their life.

Trauma informed yoga intends to approach the needs that are specific to trauma survivors and provide them with tools that can potentially support their healing.

Stephen W. Porges, American psychologist and neuroscientist and author of the Polyvagal Theory says: “Trauma replaces patterns of connection with patterns of protection”.

In this article we will introduce you to:

  • What is Trauma?
  • Types of Trauma
  • Principles of Trauma Informed Care
  • What is Trauma Informed Yoga
  • Principles of Trauma Informed Yoga
  • 6 Trauma Informed Yoga Poses to Try
a woman doing a woman doing trauma informed yoga cobra pose on decking

What is Trauma?

Trauma has been defined in various ways.

The dictionary defines Trauma as “a distressing or disturbing event”.

SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), however has a much more detailed definition of what trauma is:

an event, series of events, or set of circumstances experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening with lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.

Types of Trauma

  • Simple Trauma: Simple trauma is often experienced once, as an isolated event in the person’s life, for example, an assault.
  • Complex Trauma: These traumic events are often multiple, and of invasive and interpersonal nature; causing long-term impact on the person. For example, abuse or neglect.
  • Developmental Trauma: This trauma happens in early childhood, and it often refers to trauma that happened in close relationships. For example, divorce, the death of a parent, or incarceration.
  • Secondary Trauma: this type of trauma occurs when a person either witnesses someone else experiencing a traumatic event, for example, someone witnesses a fatal car accident right in front of them on the highway. Secondary trauma can also happen due to exposure to explicit details about said traumatic event, like someone giving particular details about a case of sexual assault.
  • Vicarious Trauma: This is the type of trauma inherently experienced by those working as first responders (police force, firefighters, doctors, nurses, teachers), and caretakers. It is the trauma often sustained by the people tending to those that have just experienced acute trauma as well as social workers and those working daily with people living with and healing trauma.

If you’re interested in diving deep into childhood trauma and it’s effects, as well as how to work through it, we invite you to read The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk.

a woman doing childs pose on a blue yoga mat

6 Principles of Trauma Informed Care

Maxine Harris (2004) describes a trauma-informed, or trauma sensitive service system as

a human services or health care system whose primary mission is altered by virtue of knowledge about trauma and the impact it has on the lives of consumers receiving services”.

According to the CDC there are 6 principles to providing trauma-informed care:

1# Safety

2# Trustworthiness + Transparency

3# Peer Support

4# Collaboration

5# Empowerment

6# Humility & Responsiveness

a man in forward fold pose

What is Trauma Informed Yoga?

Trauma-informed yoga is not a yoga-style per se, but an approach to teaching yoga that first and foremost, keeps into consideration the fact that many, if not all of us, have experienced at least one type of trauma in our lives.

These traumatic events have a way to manifest in our body, mind, emotions and behaviors, and trauma-informed yoga intends to bring a holistic, therapeutic approach to the techniques of yoga, meditation, and others to support each individual.

What trauma sensitive yoga intends, is to facilitate a variety of tools for the individual that has suffered or lived through these traumas and is aware of the impact it is having in their lives.

Trauma-informed practices help individuals reconnect to their body and mind.

There is not one particular style of yoga that is trauma-informed, but pretty much any style of yoga can be Trauma informed.

Some of the yoga practices that have embraced trauma-sensitive care are:

  • Yoga Therapy
  • Accessible and Adaptive Yoga
  • Mindfulness
  • Pranayama
  • Meditation Practices
a woman doing legs up the wall pose- a trauma informed yoga pose

Principles of Trauma Informed Yoga

Applying the principles of trauma-informed care into the yoga space is one of the easiest ways to ensure that yoga classes and offerings are intrinsically accessible and inclusive.

Here are some of the most relevant principles of trauma informed yoga to keep in mind when undertaking the task of inviting yoga teachers, studios, and corporations to train in trauma-informed yoga with the intention to bring the many benefits of yoga to more people and be able to support students from wherever it is that they start.

  • Understanding trauma and its impact on individuals and communities
  • Promoting Safety and Safe Spaces
  • Ensuring Cultural Competence of all Staff
  • Supporting Consumer Control, Choice and Autonomy
  • Sharing Power and Governance
  • Integrating Care
  • Healing Happens in Relationships and in Community
  • Believing that Recovery is Possible
a black and white photo of a woman doing a yoga twist in front of a lake

Benefits of Trauma Informed Yoga

Teaching and practicing yoga from a trauma informed or trauma sensitive lense is beneficial to people, communities and institutions, and increases access to minorities and marginalized folks.

When stuck in trauma, people often lose perspective and get stuck in a feeling that things will never change.

When practicing yoga asana and the person is in a pose where they are uncomfortable, they suddenly realize, the pose is over, only a few breaths, returning a sense of time, and perspective to the person.

Trauma-informed yoga gives trauma survivors with a space to safely explore and express themselves, learning to notice what comes up and find self-compassion, helping you gain courage to face life and move forward.

There are many studies that recommend trauma sensitive yoga as a compliment to other forms of therapy and medication.

Here are some of the benefits of trauma informed yoga:

  • Improves concentration, focus, attention, and interoceptive awareness.
  • Reduces anxiety, and anger.
  • Reduces the impact of exaggerated stress responses (fight, flight, or freeze)
  • Provides emotional regulation techniques.
  • Assists with relaxation, sleep, and mood.
  • Can help solve trauma-related challenges like handlinging difficult emotions, learning to be with discomfort, confronting negative believes etc, that may emerge during yoga practice.
  • Teaches us skills of to expand our window of tolerance, gain internal resources for non-judgemental awareness
  • Inspires self-compassion and self-love.
  • Understand social justice concepts of empowerment and oppression and how they relate to offering yoga in a trauma-informed manner.
a man meditating in a gray top

6 Trauma-Informed Yoga Poses to Try

Trauma informed yoga often invites participants to use props, variations and modifications in order to allow the body, mind and subtle body to begin to release the effects of the traumatic experience.

These yoga traditions align with the values of helping people find balance and release energetic blockages caused by trauma and other life experiences.

For those experiencing trauma, it is very important to consult with a therapist or trauma informed yoga teacher before practicing these shapes, and always practice self-care first.

1# Balasana (Child’s Pose)

2# Uttana Shishosana (Puppy Pose)

3# Bharadvajasana (Seated Twist)

4# Ardha Kapotasana (Half Pigeon Pose)

5# Viparita Karani (Legs Up The Wall)

6# Constructive Rest Pose

Here is a class with some of these postures, for you to try:

Other than yoga poses, trauma-sensitive practices often incorporate other elements considered fundamental to the 8-limb path of yoga.

Pranayama, also known as breathing techniques, and a wide variety of meditation styles can be very supportive for those with PTSD and other post-traumatic symptoms.

Conclusion

Trauma Informed Yoga is not a style of yoga but a way in which yoga studios, teachers, and a certain sector of the yoga industry is beginning to shift towards.

Trauma sensitive yoga offerings keep into account the knowledge that the majority of us have suffered or are currently undergoing trauma, and invites us to dive into the practices of yoga in a more accessible way that provides space to release stress, and anxiety, and invite the nervous system to begin to regulate.

Together with therapy and other treatments, trauma informed yoga provides many practitioners with tools and techniques to support themselves and often find a path to healing their trauma.

From restorative and yin practices to breathing techniques, trauma-informed yoga can be made accessible to many people.

To learn more about ways to support those who have experienced trauma, how it affects the nervous system, and how to find a path toward healing, explore this article on Somatic Yoga.

Photo of author
Laia Bové (she/her) is an Afro-Catalan yoga and meditation teacher and freelance writer currently living in Tampa Bay, United States. She is a former professional figure skater and has been teaching movement, yoga and meditation for over 11 years. Laia is E-RYT 500 & YACEP registered with the Yoga Alliance and currently offers group classes, private sessions both in person and virtually and she also leads workshops, retreats, and teacher trainings with a strong focus on accessibility and inclusivity. Laia teaches yoga with the intent to create a space for people of all backgrounds, abilities, shapes, and identities where they can feel empowered and learn tools that will support them in their lives.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.