We all know that yoga has many incredible benefits, from aiding physical ailments to reducing stress and eliminating insomnia. But did you know that yoga also has the power to assist trauma recovery? What is trauma sensitive yoga, you ask?! Keep reading to discover how yoga can help trauma survivors and what a trauma-informed yoga class looks like.
Whether you’re seeking a holistic healing method or are a yoga teacher looking to teach trauma-informed yoga, this trauma-informed yoga guide will reveal what you have been wanting to know about the relationship between yoga and trauma healing.
But what exactly is trauma-informed yoga, and how does it differ from regular yoga classes?
Let’s dive in.
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Benefits of yoga for trauma
Various research studies have found that yoga (taught from a trauma-informed approach) can be an effective tool for those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Yoga for trauma benefits
- Improves somatic regulation
- Increases body awareness
- Regulates emotions
- Calms the nervous system (help students get out of the fight or flight response)
- Helps students focus more on the present moment than the past
- Improves the students' relationship with their bodies and themselves.
Trauma-sensitive yoga focuses more on increasing body awareness than on how the pose looks, as many people experience dissociation from their bodies after a traumatic experience.
Yoga is a body-based therapeutic treatment method for trauma, which works similarly to Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
Yoga doesn't just help to remedy recent trauma either. Yoga can also help you release childhood trauma and the built-up emotions and stress that stem from that. As yoga focuses on personal growth and embodiment, research has found that yoga can be more effective for healing from chronic childhood abuse than traditional trauma treatments.
Another key benefit of trauma-specific yoga classes is the safe space and support network it creates. Being around others who have experienced similar things can feel comforting and serve as a less overwhelming alternative to group therapy.
Trauma-sensitive yoga poses
So what kind of yoga is good for trauma? Restorative yoga, mindfulness meditation, and yoga Nidra and various other styles have been shown to help with healing trauma.
Teaching more dynamic yoga styles in a trauma-sensitive way is also possible. For example, there was a clinical trial on veterans suffering PTSD from 9/11 conflicts who participated in 60-minute weekly sessions of trauma-sensitive vinyasa-style yoga for 6 weeks.
The results found the participants experienced a significant decrease in PTSD symptoms like insomnia, depression, and anxiety.
Here are 9 common yoga poses found in trauma-informed yoga classes
1. Mountain pose
2. Warrior poses
3. Tree pose
4. Eagle pose
5. Chair pose
6. Bound angle pose
7. Seated spinal twist
8. Fire log pose
9. Reclined twist
However, while these poses are suitable for trauma-informed yoga teaching, the physical postures are just one consideration of a trauma-informed yoga class. It is also essential to use inclusive language and create a calming, non-triggering external environment to help your yogis feel safe and at ease.
Trauma-sensitive yoga sequence
Here is an example of a short 7 pose trauma-informed restorative yoga sequence:
1. Constructive rest
Start in a reclined position with your knees bent and the soles of your feet on the floor. Hands can be by the side, or place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest as you take a few minutes to connect to your breath.
2. Supported banana pose
Shift onto one side, placing the short edge of a bolster under your rib cage. Extend your arms overhead and stretch your legs away from you. Stay for one to 3 minutes, then practice on the other side.
3. Sphinx pose
Roll onto your belly and come up onto your forearms with your palms flat on the mat. Lift the chest and draw your shoulders back and down as you hold this position for one minute.
4. Cat/cow pose
Press up onto all fours with your wrists directly under your shoulders and knees under your hips. As you inhale, arch the spine and open the chest, looking forward. As you exhale, round your spine, bringing your chin to your heart center. Repeat these two movements 5 to 10 times.
5. Bound angle pose
In a seated position, bring the soles of the feet together, letting the knees drop out to the side. Then, walk your hands forward as you fold over your feet.
6. Bolster twists
Line your right thigh up against the bottom of a bolster (so that you're facing the side of the mat). Twist through your spine to face towards the bolster, then fold your torso over it, relaxing your head and arms. Stay here for 2 to 5 minutes, then repeat on the other side.
7. Supported savasana
Lay on your back with a bolster under your knees. Soften your gaze and muscles as you focus on your breathing.
4 poses to avoid working with trauma sensitive clients
Although a trauma-sensitive approach can be applied to different yoga styles, some poses can be potential triggers for trauma sufferers and, thus, should be avoided. Including but not limited to:
- Happy baby
- Child's pose
For example, Happy Baby and Knees-To-Chest are two poses that can trigger traumatic memories of sexual assault.
Child's Pose and Savasana are two other highly vulnerable poses, as the students cannot see what is happening around them. Child's pose, in particular, should be avoided as this is a position that practitioners may have taken as children to shield themself from abuse; thus, it can trigger trauma.
Savasana can be taught in trauma-informed yoga but should be modified. For example, yoga teachers will give the option to keep the eyes open and will use more mindful, suggestive cues than demanding ones, such as “soften your gaze” instead of “close your eyes.”
Poses aside, another thing that is typically omitted in trauma-informed yoga is hands-on adjustments. Or if the yoga therapist does offer physical assists, they will ask for permission every time and provide a private and non-verbal way to opt out, like by placing a card or chip at the top of the mat.
Trauma-informed yoga certification
You can find Yoga Alliance trauma-informed 20 to 50 hours continuing education courses and 200-hour yoga teacher training that teach from a specific trauma-sensitive perspective.
With a trauma-informed yoga certification, you can teach yoga programs directly to trauma survivors and people with post-traumatic stress disorder. However, Trauma-informed courses are not just for yoga teachers who want to focus on this niche.
A trauma-informed yoga teacher training syllabus typically includes:
- How trauma can affect the nervous system, mind, muscles, and organs
- How to cultivate a sense of presence in the body and breath
- Neurophysiological research and physiology on trauma, such as heart rate variability
- The ethics of teaching trauma-informed practice
- How to build safe and trusted relationships with your students
- Tips for adapting yoga classes for trauma survivors and poses to avoid or modify
Trauma-informed yoga classes are facilitated by a trauma-informed teacher who has undergone specific training to learn how to adapt regular yoga to trauma sufferers. They are mindful of what can be triggering to people who have endured trauma and adjust the practice accordingly.
As an instructor teaching the general population, you'll gain many eye-opening insights from a trauma-informed YTT. You'll also come away with plenty of ideas to introduce in all your classes to make them more mindful and inclusive.
The World Mental Health Survey found that approximately 70% of the population (across 24 countries) has experienced trauma in their lives. So if you're a yoga teacher, this means that there is a good chance over half of your students have experienced a traumatic event!
Therefore, wherever you teach in the world, learning how to teach yoga with a trauma-informed approach is a good idea.
Takeaway on what is trauma sensitive yoga
So what is trauma sensitive yoga? Well, thanks to the calming sensation it has on the mind and nervous system, trauma-informed yoga can aid in the healing of various types of traumatic events, from childhood abuse to military sexual trauma.
Still, it's important to remember that yoga is an adjunctive treatment, even when taught with a trauma-sensitive approach. So it should be combined with medical treatment, not instead of.
FAQ about trauma sensitive yoga
What is the purpose of trauma-sensitive yoga?
Trauma-sensitive yoga helps people learn to regulate their physical responses and calm their minds to achieve an overall state of calm and safety.
How is trauma-sensitive yoga different?
Trauma sensitive yoga creates a safe space for people to recognize physical and emotional discomfort during their yoga practice and stop when those feelings arise. While many regular yoga classes encourage students to move through emotional discomfort.
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