A gentle movement practice, trauma-sensitive yoga emphasizes a sense of somatic safety and a capacity for self-care. At its core is the idea of “reclaiming the body”: strengthening the capacity to tolerate physical sensation, to feel and respond to the body’s cues – a capacity that exposure to trauma frequently delays or derails.
A trauma sensitive yoga class is taught differently than the yoga class with which you may be familiar. Trauma sensitive teachers do no physical adjustments and typically stay in one area during the class. Teachers are mindful of the types of props used, and of the potential for feelings of vulnerability and triggering (an unwelcomed remembering of the trauma) in certain postures. Perhaps above all else, the teacher continually offers their students choices. In doing so, these specialized classes give survivors of trauma a place to practice making empowered choices, to experience self-care and to acknowledge their body.
Research into trauma-sensitive yoga is in the early stages, but preliminary studies show great benefits. A randomized control study conducted by the Trauma Center at the Restorative Justice Institute studied participants who met the criteria of a clinical diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: they were unresponsive to treatment, had spent more than 3 years in therapy, and had experienced the index trauma at least 12 years prior to entering the study. When compared with a control group, participants in the yoga class series showed a clinically significant reduction in PTSD. Additionally, participants reported experiencing:
- self-love and appreciation
- pride and accomplishment
- peace with their daily experience
- sense of calm and presence
"Yoga is not about talking about your trauma. It's about you and your relationship to your body," Bessel van der Kolk, "Healing Life's Traumas"