Trauma is defined as a deeply distressing experience that overwhelms the ability to cope, and it can have lasting impacts on mental, emotional, and physical well-being.
As an approach to healing, yoga for trauma offers a path to restore balance and cultivate resilience.
In this article, we’ll explore what trauma is, how yoga can aid in healing, and provide a guide to the best yoga practices for those wanting to work with and through their trauma utilizing yoga as a tool for support.
- Understanding Trauma
- Trauma and polyvagal theory basics
- Yoga’s Healing Potential for Trauma
- Best Yoga for Trauma poses
- Best Pranayama for Trauma
- Best meditations for trauma
Read on to learn more.
Before we dive deeper into how to apply yoga for trauma release into your life, it is important to understand the basics of trauma.
Trauma, in psychological terms, refers to the emotional and psychological response to distressing events that overwhelm an individual’s ability to cope.
These events can range from physical accidents and natural disasters to emotional and psychological experiences such as abuse, loss, or violence.
Trauma can have a profound impact on a person’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being, often leading to symptoms like anxiety, depression, hypervigilance, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts.
It’s crucial to recognize that trauma affects individuals differently, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to healing.However, yoga for trauma has emerged as a promising complementary technique for addressing trauma and its effects.
Trauma and polyvagal theory basics
Trauma, stemming from distressing experiences that overwhelm an individual’s coping mechanisms, can profoundly impact mental, emotional, and physical well-being.
The Polyvagal Theory, developed by Dr. Stephen Porges, sheds light on the body’s autonomic nervous system responses during traumatic events.
The theory proposes a three-tiered model of the autonomic nervous system:
- the ventral vagal complex (linked to social engagement and safety)
- the sympathetic nervous system (associated with the fight-flight response)
- the dorsal vagal complex (connected to immobilization and shutdown).
Understanding these responses is crucial when incorporating yoga into trauma healing.
Incorporating the Polyvagal Theory into yoga for trauma acknowledges the intricate mind-body connection, offering survivors a holistic approach to healing.
By fostering a sense of safety, connection, and self-awareness, yoga for trauma can empower those on their journey toward recovery.
Yoga’s Healing Potential for Trauma
By engaging in yoga for trauma practices as a supplement to other treatments, you can cultivate a sense of self-awareness, grounding, and relaxation, which are essential for managing trauma responses.
Yoga’s emphasis on mind-body connection aligns with trauma recovery, as it encourages individuals to reconnect with their bodies safely and mindfully.
Yoga for trauma release is designed to help you regain a sense of control of the body and alleviate feelings of dissociation that often accompany traumatic experiences.
The techniques employed in yoga for trauma can regulate the autonomic nervous system, reducing the heightened stress response commonly seen in trauma survivors.
Healing trauma is a non-linear and gradual process, and yoga practices can be a valuable tool on the journey to recovery.
Best Yoga for Trauma poses
Trauma often gets stuck in the body, hence the importance of creating movement.
It’s recommended to work with experienced yoga teachers who are trained in trauma-sensitive practices so that they can create a safe and supportive environment to explore yoga for trauma at your own pace, respecting any boundaries and activations (triggers).
Here are some yoga for trauma asanas to try:
1# Child’s Pose (Balasana)
This is a resting pose that encourages grounding and a sense of safety, allowing you to connect with your breath and release tension stored in the hips and back.
2# Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)
Cobra is a heart-opening posture that stretches the front of the body, encouraging you to open your heart and release emotional tension stored in the chest and shoulders.
3# Cat-Cow Pose (Marjaryasana-Bitilasana)
This yoga for trauma pose is a spinal movement that encourages fluidity in the spine and releases tension in the back, helping you reconnect with your body in a safe and accessible manner.
4# Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhasana)
Bridge pose opens the chest, counteracting the protective hunch often seen in those with trauma responses. It promotes a light heart opening and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system.
5# Pigeon Pose (Ardha Kapotasana)
Pigeon Pose targets the hips, where emotional tension often accumulates.
As a yoga for trauma pose, it provides a stretch that releases stored emotions and promotes a sense of letting go.
6# Reclining bound angle Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)
This restorative pose gently opens the hips and chest, facilitating a release of physical and emotional tension and encouraging a relaxation response and a feeling of inner ease.
7# Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)
This is a restorative yoga for trauma inversion that soothes the nervous system, reducing stress and anxiety by promoting relaxation and improving blood circulation.
8# Corpse Pose (Savasana)
Savasana enables deep rest and integration, providing a space for trauma survivors to process and release emotions that may arise during practice.
Over time, consistent practice can contribute to improved emotional regulation, reduced anxiety, enhanced self-esteem, and an overall better quality of life.
Best Pranayama for Trauma
Pranayama is another layer of yoga for trauma, and it is the practice of controlled breathing.
It offers a powerful tool for regulating the nervous system and aiding in trauma healing.
The breath serves as a bridge between the mind and body, allowing us to influence our physiological responses and promote a sense of balance and calm.
Here are some of the best pranayama exercises for supporting trauma healing:
1# Diaphragmatic Breathing (Deep Belly Breathing)
This foundational technique involves breathing deeply into the belly, engaging the diaphragm.
It activates the parasympathetic nervous system, activating the relaxation response.
2# Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing)
This pranayama invites you to try alternating breath between the nostrils.
It balances the nadis, and the left and right hemispheres of the brain, promoting mental clarity and reducing anxiety.
Nadi Shodhana calms the nervous system and aids in emotional regulation.
3# Ujjayi Breathing (Ocean Breath)
Ujjayi involves constricting the throat slightly while breathing, creating a soft, ocean-like sound.
This technique helps slow down the breath and encourages relaxation.
It’s particularly beneficial for grounding and centering, providing a sense of stability.
4# Bhramari (Bee Breath)
The Bee breath stimulates the vagus nerve, which plays a key role in regulating the nervous system.
Bhramari calms the mind, reduces stress, and encourages a sense of inner tranquility.
5# Sama Vritti (Box Breathing)
This technique promotes balance and steadiness, helping you find emotional equilibrium.
It supports the body’s natural rhythms, fostering safety and control.
Try it here:
When incorporating pranayama into trauma healing, it’s important to emphasize choice and comfort.
Trauma survivors should feel empowered to choose the techniques that resonate with them and to approach the practices at their own pace.
These pranayama exercises provide you with tools to explore and try, combining them with other treatments and support.
Best meditations for trauma
Meditation offers profound benefits for trauma healing by inviting self-awareness, emotional regulation, and a sense of inner calm.
Here are three highly effective meditation practices for trauma:
This practice involves non-judgmentally observing thoughts, sensations, and emotions as they arise in the present moment.
Mindfulness cultivates self-awareness and helps you gently acknowledge your feelings without becoming overwhelmed.
It encourages the development of a compassionate relationship with oneself and provides tools for managing activations.
Loving-Kindness Meditation (Metta)
Metta meditation focuses on generating feelings of love, compassion, and goodwill towards oneself and others.
Those with trauma often struggle with self-acceptance and trust, and the Metta practice nurtures a positive self-image and offers a pathway to healing interpersonal wounds, enhancing feelings of safety and connection.
This technique involves systematically directing attention to different parts of the body, and noticing physical sensations without judgment.
This style of meditation helps reconnect with your body after trauma and alleviates dissociation, promotes relaxation, and fosters a sense of embodiment.
These meditation practices share a common thread of cultivating presence, self-compassion, and emotional regulation.
By incorporating these techniques into a trauma-sensitive yoga and meditation practice, people can create a space for healing, empowerment, and gradual reconnection with their inner selves.
Incorporating yoga for trauma into your healing is a journey of self-discovery, resilience, and empowerment, and it can be a great complement to other therapies for trauma.
By embracing mindful movement, controlled breathing, and meditation, trauma survivors can gradually restore a sense of safety, connection, and well-being.
Healing is a unique process, and yoga serves as a compassionate companion on this path.
With each pose, each breath, and each moment of self-care, you are laying the foundation for having more skills for self-regulation when you need them.
If you have found this helpful for your own journey and would like to learn more about trauma-informed yoga and its practices, read this next.