What is Trauma Informed Yoga?
Trauma informed yoga recognises the dynamics of trauma and seeks to pre-empt what might be challenging for people attending classes.
Why do we need Trauma Informed Yoga?
Peter Levine, who is an industry leader in the trauma field, writes in the Forward of Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga, “the common denominator of all traumas is an alienation and disconnection from the body, and a reduced capacity to be present in the here and now”.
It is no surprise then that many people who have survived trauma find yoga classes overwhelming. Some classes may house many people in a closed small space, invite silence, stillness, deep breathing and moving the body into a series of sometimes challenging and physically exposing postures. All of which can be very triggering of people’s past experiences, and leave them in a state of heightened stress, once again, feeling like their body is their enemy.
How is it practiced?
Trauma informed yoga recognises the dynamics of trauma and seeks to pre-empt what might be challenging for people attending classes. It can offer a space that is safe, where the individual is in control of what they do, where no physical contact takes place.
All of what is on offer in class is an “invite”. People can choose what they take part in and will be offered alternatives and encouragement to choose what feels right in their body at that time. In my classes there are no levels of achievement or taking it to “the edge”. It is gentle and slow exploration of what and where you can take your body and breath to. It is about what feels comfortable and good for you in this moment.
People who have experienced trauma can sometimes avoid feeling into their bodies and lose that connection with their physical self. This connection and perception of sensations within our bodies is called interoception. Trauma sensitive yoga can be a slow and safe way to help people cultivate a greater sense of interoception, which we all need to live in harmony with our bodies.
Trauma informed yoga is all about choice, control and empowerment. It is about being in the class together, exploring themes, rather than being instructed. Some people find postures such as “happy baby” for example too vulnerable a position. Being mindful about what postures might mean to people is all part of being trauma informed.
Language is also really important here too. In both Breath-Body-Mind classes and the Trauma Informed Yoga sessions we avoid the use of the word hips, thighs, bottom, or any word or phrase than can have sexual connotations for people. Upper legs and lower legs are used as alternatives for instance.
Learning to inhabit our bodies and provide self care is the cornerstone of yoga and has proved to be a very effective tool in trauma recovery.
Research in this area continues and David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper are well regarded in this field, alongside Peter Levine and Bessel A. van der Kolk. If you are interested in further reading or listening on this subject, I have added some helpful references below.
Trauma informed yoga classes have the potential to support people to have a safe space where they can have control over their body and start to reclaim what may have felt lost over time. I know that for me, and for friends and family who have also been on this journey, yoga was, and is a crucial part of feeling “whole”. I found myself far more self aware than before I started practicing.
In my Monday lunchtime classes I aim to put these principles into practice. For this reason, only run small and friendly groups where building a relationship is a core part of the experience.
Find out more about Trauma Informed Yoga
Some interesting books and podcasts you might want to explore on this subject: