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Spotlight on Trauma-Sensitive Yoga

September was National Yoga Month! People around the world love yoga for many benefits-- increased flexibility, cardiovascular health, muscle strength and tone, relaxation, and spiritual awareness. Different types of yoga also benefit survivors of trauma and focuses on restoring choice in the body.

Exposure to trauma is widespread in our society. Over half of the general population have reported exposure to a traumatic event, and a significant percentage of trauma survivors develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Being that trauma exposure is so prevalent, treatments and interventions for PTSD is critical. One such treatment proposal is yoga.

Yoga as Treatment for Survivors

We recently sat with Caroline Yates, a therapist with The Blue Bench, to learn more about yoga therapy. According to Yates, trauma splits the mind and the body. Trauma-sensitive yoga is one way to guide the restoration of this split, by creating safety in the body so the survivor can feel reconnected. On a neurobiological level, yoga can aide in increasing heart rate variability. This heart rate variability is a way to measure the body’s reaction to stress- which is associated with autonomic nervous system balance. Autonomic nervous system balance refers to the movement between the sympathetic nervous system (which activates the fight or flight response) and the parasympathetic nervous system (which restores the body to a state of calm). At this biological level, yoga can transform the body’s reaction to trauma. This transformation can become the deepest sense of healing, turning the traumatic event into an act of triumph.

Key Principles in Trauma-Sensitive Yoga:

  • Introspection- This refers to being able to sense the body.
  • Making choices- The act of making choices refers to responding to the body and choosing whether to stay in one form or move to another form.
  • Safe and effective action- This refers to restoring self-efficacy that was stripped away by neurobiological responses during the traumatic event.
  • Present moment- Because trauma takes the individual out of the present moment, trauma sensitive yoga focuses on bringing back the awareness to the present moment.
  • Muscle dynamic and breath- This focuses on bringing back awareness in the body- with an emphasis on body movement and what the breath patterns feel like.
  • Rhythm- Because trauma disrupts the natural biorhythms in the body and in turn causes a disconnect from the self and others, repetitive and rhythmic movements can reconnect our natural biorhythms.

Yoga Group at The Blue Bench

At The Blue Bench, we offer a 10-week closed yoga group for female identified survivors, ages 18 and up. This group focuses on the key principles above. You can learn more about our yoga group and other groups and workshops here.

Recommended Reading Sources

If you’re interested in learning more about trauma-sensitive yoga therapy, check out these books and resources:

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk, MD

The Body Remembers by Babbette Rothschild

Overcoming Trauma through Yoga  by David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper, PhD

Trauma Sensitive Yoga in Therapy by David Emerson 

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