What is trauma-informed yoga?

What is trauma-informed yoga?

Trauma-informed yoga makes the yoga practice more accessible and safe for people who have suffered from trauma. A trauma-informed yoga class will be designed to address various needs of trauma survivors, leaving room for people to safely reconnect with their bodies.

There is more and more research emerging on how trauma is stored in the body. Trauma is not only about flashbacks and nightmares that haunt you long after the traumatic events occurred. Trauma doesn’t only replay in your head. Its horror is also stuck in your body.

Untreated past trauma can have a truly damaging impact on your health. According to Harvard Medical School research, the psychological and physical reactions that you still experience (although the traumatic events ended long ago) can make you more prone to various serious medical conditions, like heart attack, stroke, diabetes, obesity, and cancer.

“A rocky childhood. A violent assault. A car accident. If these are in your past, they could be affecting your present health.
These are all examples of traumatic events – which, in psychological terms, are incidents that make you believe you are in danger of being seriously injured or losing your life.” – Andrea Roberts, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

If you have suffered from trauma, your nervous system is completely dysregulated. You live in a constant sense of threat and danger. You can never fully relax no matter what you do. This permanent dysregulation of your nervous system impacts your physical and mental health.

Some of the most common symptoms of complex trauma:

1. Difficulties with self-regulation – You are unable to control your emotions. You often experience emotional storms. Your emotions control you.

2. Hyperarousal – You are never fully relaxed. You are always on full alert. You often feel threatened although there is no real threat anywhere close to you.

3. Somatic symptoms – You might experience a range of symptoms that don’t have any underlying causes. You might regularly experience nausea and dizziness. You might often have headaches and moments of panic. These sensations come and go without any logical or medical explanation.

These are just some of the most common symptoms of trauma, you can read more about them here.

No matter what symptoms you are experiencing, you can spend years and years in talk therapy sessions but if at the same time, you don’t work with your body, nothing will change. It is not enough to talk about what has happened and what symptoms you are experiencing. You also need to address the fear and terror that are stuck in your body. You need to learn how to feel safe in your body again. This is an incredibly important step in trauma recovery, and this is where yoga has proven to be very helpful and effective.
What is trauma-informed yoga?

Trauma-informed yoga is a practice that addresses specific needs and symptoms of trauma survivors.

Jivana Heyman, the founder of Accessible Yoga, says,

“Trauma-informed teaching means we assume that all our students have had some kind of trauma in their lives and that we teach in a way that offers space for healing from trauma, rather than triggering it.”

6 principles of trauma-informed yoga.

Safety – trauma-informed yoga teachers make it their priority to make everyone feel safe in their class, both in a psychological and physical way.

Choice – in every moment of a class, you are encouraged to listen to yourself and your body and do whatever you feel you need. The choice is one of the most important principles of trauma-informed yoga and your teacher will give you a lot of options to experience every yoga shape in a way that will be the most beneficial for you in a given moment.

Trust and transparency – you will know what is happening in a trauma-informed yoga class from beginning to end. For example, if you are invited to experience a certain yoga pose for three breaths, it will be three (not thirty) breaths. Trust and transparency are other crucial elements of the trauma-informed practice that contribute to the participants’ feeling of safety.

Collaboration – the intention of trauma-informed yoga is to design a practice that will meet the participants’ needs as they are on a given day. The teacher will often start the class with a simple check-in to get a deeper understanding of how everyone is feeling on a given day. You are also always to share your feedback at the end of the class.

No hands-on assists – trauma-informed yoga teachers generally stay on their mats during a class. They don’t walk around and assist participants. Touch can be extremely triggering if you have suffered from trauma so to minimise the risk of retraumatising, there is no hands-on assistance, or the teacher will specifically say that on a given day, they might offer some assistance and they will ask if anyone would like such help.

Respect for diversity – Trauma-informed yoga is for everyone, no matter what your culture, fitness level or gender is.

The difference between a standard Western approach to yoga and a trauma-informed approach is that yoga can really be practised by everyone. Yoga is not about difficult poses that give you an opportunity to show off your fitness level on Instagram. Yoga is something much bigger and deeper. Yoga is about unity between your mind, your body, and perhaps even your soul. This union is possible to attain through your breath and through movement. Once you start reconnecting with your body in a conscious and safe way, it will also help you release the terror and fear of your past traumas. Your body will stop being your enemy and it will become your friend again.

You don’t have to be fit to start. You don’t have to read tons of books before your first class. You can start today, just as you are at this very moment.

One of the sentences that my yoga teacher kept repeating during our teacher training was “if you can breathe, you can do yoga.” I think it really captures beautifully that everyone can do yoga anytime and anywhere. And so can you.

If you are interested in learning more or having a chat about how yoga can help you with stress, anxiety, or any other traumatic sensations that might be bothering you, please reach out.

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