Trauma Informed Yoga
Trauma informed yoga (TIY) is a style of yoga that aims to help those affected by psychological trauma. Many aspects of TIY have been adapted to help trauma sufferers.
The main goals of TIY are different to those of other styles and there is an understanding that many of the poses that are incorporated in normal yoga styles and not suitable for people who have suffered trauma.
What is trauma?
Trauma is an event or experience that causes psychological distress. People often associate trauma with events such as natural disasters, conflict, violence and abuse. However, it can also be caused by less obvious things such as growing up in a dysfunctional family or witnessing trauma in others.
Sometimes trauma can cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a mental health condition that can develop after a person experiences or witnesses a traumatic event.
People with PTSD may experience:
- Intrusive thoughts about the event
- Detachment from friends and family
- Have difficulty sleeping
- Feel irritable or easily angered
- Startle easily
- High levels of anxiety
- Substance abuse
- Difficulty in coping with day-to-day life
- Feelings of isolation
Not everyone who suffers trauma responds to traditional talking therapies, this is where Trauma informed yoga can be truly beneficial in the treatment process.
Whether or not someone develops PTSD, trauma can cause problems. They may experience anxiety or depression, have a tendency to isolate, have problems with commitment or develop addiction problems.
The types of trauma that trauma informed yoga may assist with include:
- Acute Trauma comes from a single traumatic experience, like natural disaster, accident or sexual assault
- Chronic Trauma can occur when someone experiences multiple, long-term or prolonged trauma. Examples of this kind of trauma include domestic violence, bullying, sexual abuse, chronic illness or addiction.
- Complex Trauma happens due to multiple traumatic experiences. Examples of situations that may induce complex trauma include childhood abuse, civil unrest and domestic violence.
How can trauma informed yoga help with trauma?
Trauma informed yoga is based on Hatha yoga. While some yoga classes are all about acrobatics and achieving a challenging peak pose, the goal of trauma informed yoga is to provide people who have experienced trauma with a space to focus on their body. This fosters a sense of trust and strengthens the connection between the mind and body.
Trauma informed yoga classes do not have music or other distractions. There are no hands on adjustments. The teacher uses invitational rather than directive language. Safety, stability and predictability are all hallmarks of TIY classes.
How can Trauma Informed Yoga help with addiction recovery?
Addiction is often a response to trauma. It can be used as a way of numbing the pain or as a coping mechanism. TIY can help by providing a safe and supportive space to explore emotions and begin the process of healing. The focus on breath work and mindfulness can also be helpful in managing cravings and triggers.
What are some easy poses to try for TIY?
There are many different poses that can be beneficial for trauma sufferers.
Some of the easiest trauma informed yoga poses to try include:
- Child’s pose: This is a restful pose that can help to calm the nervous system. It can be helpful in relieving stress and anxiety.
- Cat-cow pose: This is a simple spine warming sequence that can help to increase mobility and flexibility. It can also be helpful in relieving tension headaches.
- Warrior II pose: This is a strength building pose that can help to boost confidence and self-esteem. It can also be helpful in managing anger and frustration.
How does Trauma Informed Yoga work?
TIY uses a combination of breath work, mindfulness and gentle movements to help the body and mind to heal. The focus on the breath can help to regulate the nervous system and the gentle movements can help to release tension from the body. The mindfulness component can guide individuals to become more aware of their thoughts and emotions, which can be helpful in managing trauma symptoms.
How trauma informed yoga can help in addiction recovery
People who are in addiction recovery have usually experienced some form of trauma. Many have gone through serious trauma, often many times.
Trauma can be one of the driving forces of addiction. The imprint that trauma leaves on a persons body and mind may cause them enough pain that they want to block it out with substances or process addictions.
While you may find that talk therapy can successfully address your trauma, some people are unable to verbalize their trauma. Often, people who have experienced trauma may simply feel that something is “off”, but cannot connect this feeling with an event that has happened.
The benefits of Trauma Informed Yoga
Trauma Informed Yoga can help where talking therapy may be unable to help. Some of the reasons why it can help are listed below.
Trauma Informed Yoga comes with a range of benefits that include:
- Calms the nervous system - The nervous system has two settings - sympathetic, or “flight or fight” and parasympathetic, or “rest and digest”. People who have experienced serious trauma are often stuck in the sympathetic “flight or fight” mode. This means that they feel stressed much of the time, and it is difficult for them to unwind. Trauma informed yoga is particularly beneficial to cool the nervous system of people who have experienced trauma.
- Improves mind-body connection - People who have experienced trauma often do not feel safe in their own bodies. This means that they sometimes disassociate, particularly when they are in stressful situations.
- Trauma informed yoga restores the mind-body connection - helping trauma survivors to enjoy being in their body more, while reducing disassociation.
- Improves remaining in the present - Trauma survivors may have a tendency to replay past traumas on loop, or worry about the future. Trauma informed yoga helps to break this cycle by encouraging participants to focus on their bodies and their breath.
- Helps students learn their limits - TIY helps students to identify and stay in their “window of tolerance”. This is the sweet-spot, where they are not over-activated (which can result in flashbacks or panic) and not under-activated (which leads to less awareness).
Why is it important to find a qualified practitioner?
TIY is a sensitive and specialized area of yoga. It is important to find a qualified practitioner who has experience working with people who have trauma. They will be able to adapt the practice to meet your needs and help you to feel safe and comfortable.
Someone who is not properly trained may not be able to support you in the right way, and may inadvertently worsen your trauma. Typically, teachers who want to teach trauma informed yoga will have already gone through yoga teacher training, and they will then do another course that specialises in trauma and yoga.
Bare in mind that the majority of teachers are not trained in dealing with trauma. Some yoga poses can be triggering if you have endured physical trauma, particularly sexual trauma.
If you would like to go to a Trauma informed Yoga class but are unsure of whether it may be right for you, try speaking with the teacher beforehand.
Questions you can ask a trauma informed yoga teacher might include:
- How long have you been teaching Trauma Informed Yoga?
- What qualifications do you have?
- How is the class you teach different to normal yoga?
Why is it not always appropriate for people with trauma to practice traditional yoga?
One of the intents of yoga is to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as “rest and digest”. This is the opposite of the sympathetic nervous system, or “fight, flight or freeze”, which is the response that many people with trauma find themselves stuck in.
While yoga can sometimes prove beneficial for people with trauma, some yoga practices can cause undesired effects. Rather than cooling down the nervous system, some yoga techniques can overstimulate it, meaning that sympathetic nervous system effectively goes into overdrive.
Here are a few ways that traditional yoga styles may not be suitable for people with trauma:
- Teacher giving assists without permission from students
- Certain types of breathwork
- Yoga poses that forcefully open the hips
- Heated environments such as those found in bikram yoga
- Holding postures for a long time
Other ways of treating trauma
While yoga can be beneficial to treat trauma, it is not the only way. Here are a few methods you can try if you have experienced trauma.
Other recognised methods of treating trauma include:
- Psychotherapy - There are several different types of psychotherapy. However, some research suggests that certain types of therapy may be especially helpful for people who have experienced trauma.
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) - Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE) - This type of therapy involves gradually facing and dealing with the memories and situations that are causing distress. This can help people to eventually work through their trauma and start to feel better.
- Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) - CPT helps people to understand and process their thoughts and feelings about the traumatic event. This can be helpful in reducing symptoms of PTSD and helping people to move on from the trauma.
- TRE (Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises) - TRE was developed by Dr David Berceli, who theorised that we have an in-built shaking mechanism for releasing stress and trauma in the body. TRE is a system of seven different exercises designed to reactivate this natural shaking mechanism.
- EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) - EMDR is a type of therapy that can help people heal from trauma. It guides people to process and make sense of their memories, so that they are no longer as distressing. EMDR therapy is effective in treating conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression.
- Sound healing - Sound healing is a healing modality that uses instruments and the voice to create sounds which affect the brainwaves in our brains. This brainwave change relaxes our minds, and can promote deep healing from trauma.
Trauma Informed Yoga can help heal your trauma
Trauma informed yoga is a powerful way that trauma survivors can heal from their trauma in a safe environment.
There are a number of other healing modalities that you can use instead of or alongside trauma informed yoga, if you wish. Try different modalities and make sure that whoever you do your trauma work has done the correct training.
You can connect with like minded others within our Community platform. Here, you can create your own community of support and attend meetings and groups as you wish, for free.
- Trauma-Informed Yoga: A Guide: https://psychcentral.com/health/what-is-trauma-informed-yoga
- The body keeps the score: memory and the evolving psychobiology of post traumatic stress: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9384857/
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) https://www.healthysuffolk.org.uk/uploads/PTSD.pdf