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A trauma-based approach to yoga makes the practice safer and more accessible, addressing the unique needs of trauma survivors.
Yoga is supposed to heal, but for those who’ve experienced trauma, it has the potential to cause difficulties.
Trauma is widespread and deeply harmful for individuals and communities. In fact, about 61%Trusted Source of adults in the United States have reported at least one adverse childhood experience (ACE), which are potentially traumatic events in childhood associated with a lack of safety.
If you’ve experienced trauma, it can affect every area of your life. By moving toward trauma-informed practices, many people can begin to build a sense of safety and find healing.
Trauma is an emotional or physical response to one or more harmful or life-threatening events or circumstances with lasting adverse effects on your mental and physical well-being, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA).
Trauma doesn’t just affect the mind — it can also be held in the body. This means that mind-body practices like yoga can be challenging, and even harmful, for those who have endured any form of trauma — whether acute or complex.
Trauma-informed yoga (TIY) describes an approach to the practice that addresses the specific needs and symptoms of trauma survivors.
“All yoga teaching needs to be trauma-informed,” says yoga therapist Jivana Heyman.
“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 a space for healing from trauma, rather than triggering it,” he says.
Trauma-informed yoga teachers are trained to be conscious of trauma and understand how trauma intersects with the practice.
This form of yoga may include self-regulation strategies to:
- increase body awareness (interoception) in a safe and controlled way, which can promote feelings of physical, emotional, and psychological safety
- address nervous system dysregulation, dissociation, and feelings of disconnection from the body or surroundings, which are common after experiencing trauma
Many yoga teachers aren’t trained to treat medical or mental health conditions. And many yoga poses can even be triggering for those who’ve endured physical trauma, particularly sexual trauma.
A safe, secure, and predictable environment surrounded by a like-minded community is the foundation for this type of practice.
While many regular yoga classes encourage students to move through emotional discomfort, trauma-informed yoga creates a safe space for people to pay attention to signs of dissociation and distress that may come up, and to stop whenever they need.
Trauma-informed yoga is less about how poses are executed and more about the feeling of embodiment (being within your body) within a pose. Establishing presence and finding a sense of grounding can help you connect to your mind and body in a way that feels secure.
As you are guided through a supportive experience, you may observe sensations and emotions that arise without feeling triggered or overwhelmed.
The intent of any yoga practice is to facilitate the “rest-and-digest” response of the parasympathetic nervous system — which is the opposite state to the “fight, flight, or freeze” response that holds many trauma survivors captive.
However, this can sometimes backfire. For trauma survivors, some mainstream yoga techniques can reactivate the fight-or-flight response, putting the sympathetic nervous system into overdrive.
Examples of when yoga can trigger trauma include:
- holding postures for a prolonged period of time
- physical assists without permission
- certain breathwork (pranayama) practices
- artificially heated environments that exceed the body’s normal temperature
- when a teacher’s language and sequencing is exclusive rather than inclusive
- yoga postures that aggressively open the hips and spine
Against the status quo
Modern yoga in the West has been appropriated, commercialised, and whitewashed, emphasizing able-bodied strength and flexibility and often marketed to thin, affluent, white women. A one-size-fits-all approach to yoga is harmful since it discourages personal agency.
“The challenge for yoga teachers is to reflect on how we can teach safely, with clear instruction, and simultaneously offer students the options they need to make their own choices,” Heyman says. “The hierarchical top-down approach we are usually trained in is insufficient.”
Yoga is an internal endeavor. An advanced practitioner is not someone who performs feats of strength and flexibility. To be advanced is to navigate your inner world and know yourself on a deeper level; to tailor your practice to suit your individual, ever-fluctuating needs.
“Different people have different triggers, but there are some general things we can do to support a slow and safe reconnection with the body,” says Heyman. “For example, we can avoid telling people what their experience should be.”
Trauma-informed yoga teachers provide tools to help you turn your awareness inward in a way that feels safe — whether it’s finding different variations of a pose or skipping the pose entirely.
Trauma-informed teaching begins with an emphasis on personal empowerment, choice, and agency,One of the most important concepts of trauma-informed yoga is that the student has a sense of control over their practice and their body.
Trauma-informed teachers also make space for diverse experiences to promote healing. Inclusive language that prompts choices helps to create a safe and supportive environment. Instructions should be invitations rather than commands.
Trauma-informed teaching also means we have a heightened awareness of our physical presence as a teacher,” says Heyman. “It can mean avoiding touching students, staying on our mat during practice, and giving students a sense that their mat is a safe space that won’t be interfered with.”
Trauma-informed yoga is a grounding practice with less emphasis on the poses themselves. There are not poses that are specifically trauma-informed since it’s more the way they’re taught that’s the key.
Still, some yoga poses and breathing exercises may be more helpful than others.
Conscious breathing is my go-to either lying down or sitting up, depending on the trauma demographic. Our focus has always been synchronizing movement with breath as the priority rather than the full expression of a posture.
Postures considered generally safe may include:
It’s best to approach some postures, such as certain seated postures and backbends, with caution or avoid them entirely.
Those working with survivors of sexual assault should also avoid sexually suggestive postures, like Happy Baby.
What to do when trauma shows up in your body during a yoga class
Dissociation and distress may occur among trauma survivors in a yoga setting. If this happens, a student might respond to cues with the wrong side of their body, or experience rapid or shallow breathing, or general frustration.
Other signs include:
- a flushed face
- excessive perspiration
- uncoordinated movements
If you become triggered during a yoga class, try taking back control by bringing your attention back to your breath, a safe body part, or an object in the room, and moving into a posture that feels safe. You can also exit the room at any time.
Whether you’re a trauma survivor or have a mental health condition, it can help to work with a trauma-informed yoga teacher or therapist who has received specialized training, when possible.
Who is this for?
The second section covers how to teach yin yoga. As a yin yoga instructor, your students will look to you for guidance and will place their trust in your understanding of asanas, sequencing and theming of a class. Your students will also turn to you for your yoga philosophy, your ability to express yourself clearly, and your empathy and observational skills.
- Sequencing & Teaching Yin (students will practice teaching the Yin poses to the group)
- Sequencing Tips
- Sequencing by Peak Pose – Two full length yin yoga classes
- Sequencing for specific target areas – Two full length yin yoga classes
- Sequencing by Theme – Two full length yin yoga classes
- Hatha vs Yin Yoga Names
- Modifying Asanas
- Breathing Techniques
- Teaching Tips
By joining this Online Yin Yoga Teacher Training program, you will receive:
- 18 hours of live & recorded video content
- 100 page printable manual
- 8 yin yoga classes
- Access to Google Classroom to catch up on any missed live sessions at your own pace
- Yoga Alliance approved certificate of completion
- Teacher and community support
* There will also be an opportunity to teach your own Yin Yoga class in our Dundrum, Ireland studio on completion of the course.
When you refine your skills as a teacher and improve the quality of your classes, the more:
- joy and fulfillment you’ll get
- repeat and consistent students you’ll have
- you’ll be able to charge higher prices for a sustainable career
- the impact you’ll have on your students’ health and well-being
- word of mouth (aka the free marketing you’ll get!)
- you’ll grow in elegant confidence as an inspiring teacher and be recognised as a professional making a difference