Updated: May 15
"Neuroscience research shows that the only way we can change the way we feel is by becoming aware of our inner experience and learning to befriend what is going inside ourselves." - Bessel A. Van Der Kolk, psychiatrist and author.
As an EMDRIA Certified Therapist and a Registered Yoga Teacher I see the many benefits of a consistent, compassionate yoga practice. Trauma Informed Yoga can be a wonderful component of trauma recovery in addition to the work you with an trained trauma professional.
If you are considering yoga as one of your trauma recovery tools, there are some things to consider in your search for the right type of support.
When we experience trauma (which is when our nervous system is overwhelmed), we experience a is disconnection in the body and mind. As the nervous system engages it's defense strategy for survival, the integration and we lack of the ability of a felt sense of inhabiting our body. Trauma lives in the time distortions - present time and trauma time. Trauma is not about an event, it is about our experience of the event. It is highly unique to each individual. Trauma occurs when something happens and is more than our nervous system can metabolize at the time. Our body is incredibly wise and we have natural healing mechanisms that resolves many trauma exposures. However, when our nervous system and those mechanisms are overwhelmed beyond their processing capacity, unresolved trauma fragments occur. We then begin to carry unresolved trauma in the nervous system, either stuck on in hypervigilance or off in disconnection. Subsequently, the unresolved fragments continually disrupt our felt sense of safety, connection and choice in the present moment of day to day life.
And as these unresolved traumas persist, we become less present, less joyful, and remain dis-embodied.
What is Yoga?
Yoga, which means 'union' or to yoke, and it is the practice of relationship. It is a mental, physical and spiritual practice. It informs what we receive and what to let go. It is the practice of being present within the expansion and contraction of life.
There are many different lineages and styles of yoga. Yoga is an eight-fold path that has moral and ethical foundations, incorporates methods of meditation, and has practice of asana, or movement. Most people are aware of yoga through local or online studios which typically offer types of asana (movement practices). During these classes there is an emphasis in the coordination of breath and movement along with some of the underlying philosophies.
Most yoga classes in yoga studios are not TI Yoga and it is important to educate yourself on available options for TI Yoga practice. Yoga studios offer the many benefits of a yoga practice, cultivating movement, restoration, and/or fascial release. But most yoga instructors are not TI trained and can unknowingly trigger trauma.
What is Trauma-Informed (TI) Yoga?
Neuroscience has affirmed the many benefits of yoga and there are even evidence-based yoga treatments thanks to the work of Dr. Bessel van der Kolk. Trauma Center Trauma Sensitive Yoga (TCTSY) is currently the only evidence based trauma yoga treatment recognized. There are however many other TI yoga approaches that offer many of the benefits of working specifically with trauma in a yoga environment.
Trauma-Informed (TI) Yoga, invites choice, connection and context. These are the 3 principles of creating nervous system safety. This provides a way of restoring the relationship of the body and mind. In TI Yoga, there is emphasis on being curious in the awareness of the sensations of our body in the present moment with invitational language. These are tools for engaging our natural healing mechanisms. As we invite more intuitive movements, honoring the body's signals of "yes", "no" and "maybe," the TI yoga practice is offering union of the present moment and choice which is the opposing force of trauma and powerlessness. In other words, consciousness (which is called parusha) is reunited with the body safely moving in present time and space. And this is embodiment.
Ideas/Resources for TI Yoga
Search for a TCTSY Facilitator: https://www.traumasensitiveyoga.com/facilitators
Research local resources for Trauma-Informed Yoga specifically
Ask your local studio if they hold any trauma-informed classes or have private sessions/instructors that certified/trained specifically in trauma recovery
Work with your mental health therapist and identify resources together, and or ways of working with yoga that can be more trauma-informed for you
Some tips about general yoga classes/studios
If you are thinking of joining a studio non-TI Yoga class some things that may
Talking with the instructor prior or making a call ahead to the studio;
Asking for an orientation of the studio and the class;
Identifying the exits to invoke a sense of choice in case you have a need to step out;
To give yourself permission to be kind, curious and compassionate in your practice as you are able.
It is also important to discuss with the instructor whether you are comfortable or not comfortable with any hands-on adjustments. Many studios now use "consent cards" to help indicate this with a card above your mat. It is absolutely your right to determine who has permission to touch and adjust your body, shape/posture and for you to feel empowered in your yoga experience.
TI Yoga can be such a wonderful tool and healing practice. My hope is this article provides some basic resources and information in the role of TI yoga and empowers your healing and recovery.
As an EMDRIA Approved Consultant and Registered Yoga Teacher I offer yoga, embodiment and somatic regulation specialized consultation. I also provide educational and psychoeducational consultations, workshops and specialized yoga and embodiment classes.
Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only. It is not offered as therapy, nor a replacement for therapy. It is not representative of mental health, medical, legal and/or financial advice.