New Directions: Trauma-informed Yoga

‘You know that you should not feel this way, but your body keeps getting hijacked into feeling intolerable sensations and emotions.’ ~ David Emerson

Background

Trauma-informed Yoga, also sometimes referred to as Trauma-sensitive Yoga, is the practice of yoga for individuals affected by psychological trauma. The goal is to help trauma survivors to develop a greater sense of mind-body connection and ownership of one’s own body. This is ultimately intended to ease and treat the psychological and physiological distress of trauma and thus improve overall mental health and psychological wellbeing. Its emphasis is especially on embodiment and so there are various other dimensions of the emerging field of Trauma Studies that continually inform yoga interventions and practices.

Key Features

With its roots in Yoga Therapy and modern yogic practices, Trauma-informed Yoga, or Trauma-sensitive Yoga works differently with breath work and body work in a yoga session or programme.

 

Five Key Features Trauma-sensitive Yoga Modern Postural Yoga
The Environment The space is welcoming, safe and comfortable for vulnerable students. Any space is suitable.
The Physical Postures Internal sensations important, for feelings of safety, self-acceptance. Achieve particular postures.
Hands-on Adjustments Allow space and avoid giving hands-on adjustments. Polite hands-on adjustments are acceptable.
The Teacher’s Approach It is gentle; the students maintain control; the instructions given are non-directive and sensitive. It is varied and does not have to be gentle; the instructions given are often directive.

 

Trauma-informed Yoga, or Trauma-sensitive Yoga is increasingly being drawn upon as a teaching tool and studied clinically to treat Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for veterans, survivors of sexual and physical abuse, victims of intimate partner violence, refugees and those who suffer from addictive disorders. Ensuring a sense of safety in the students and all that comes with that is the vast majority of the teacher’s work.

Resources

The following is a list of resources on Trauma-informed Yoga for teachers and interested practitioners.

Online Articles

Understanding Trauma Informed Yoga
By Melissa Noel Renzi

Trauma and Social Justice: Why We Can’t Talk About One Without Including the Other
By Hala Khouri at Off the Mat, into the World

Trauma Training Should Be Mandatory for Yoga Teachers
By Margaret A. Howard at Huffington Post

What is Trauma-informed Yoga? 
By Omega Institute for Holistic Studies

Short Online Paid Courses 

Healing Trauma Through Yoga: A 4.5-hour eCourse
By David Emerson at Trauma Center: Trauma-sensitive Yoga (TCTSY)

Transformation Through Post-Traumatic Growth
By Molly Birkman at Yoga International

Yoga, Meditation and Trauma
By Sat Bir Singh Khalsa at Yoga International

Yoga for Self-regulation and Trauma
By Hala Khouri at Off The Mat, into The World

Yoga for Trauma
By Kyra Haglund at Yoga Anytime

Educational Organisations, Accredited Training Centres and Associations

Collective Resilience Yoga
Exhale to Inhale
Firefly Yoga International
Trauma Center: Trauma-sensitive Yoga (TCTSY)
Trauma Sensitive Yoga
Yoga to Transform Trauma

Recommended General Read Literature 

Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga
By David Emerson & Elizabeth Hopper, PhD

Teaching Trauma Sensitive Yoga: A Practical Guide
By Brendon Abram

Trauma-sensitive Guide
By Gillian Mason, PhD & Alexander Wood, PhD

Trauma-sensitive Yoga Therapy: Bringing the Body into Treatment
By David Emerson

Yoga for Trauma Recovery: Theory, Philosophy, and Practice
By Lisa Danylchuk

Yoga Therapy for Fear: Treating Anxiety, Depression and Rage with the Vagus Nerve and Other Techniques
By Beth Spindler

Recommended Academic Literature  

Caplan, M., Portillo, A., and Seely, L. (2013). Yoga Psychotherapy: The integration of western psychological theory and ancient yogic wisdom. The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 45. pp. 139-158.

Christopher, M. (2004). A broader view of trauma: A biopsychosocial-evolutionary view of the role of the traumatic stress response in the emergence of pathology and/or growth. Clinical Psychology Review, 24(1). pp. 75–98.

Emerson, D., Sharma, R., Chaudhry, S., and Turner, J. (2009). Trauma-sensitive yoga: principles, practice, and research. International Journal of Yoga Therapy. 19. pp. 123–128.

Follette, V., Palm, K. M., and Pearson, A. N. (2006). Mindfulness and trauma: implications for treatment. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 24 (1). pp. 45–61.

Macy, R. J., Jones, E., Graham, L. M., and Roach, L. (2018). Yoga for trauma and related mental health problems: a meta-review with clinical and service recommendations. Trauma, Violence, and Abuse, 18. pp. 35–57.

Nolan, C. R. (2016). Bending without breaking: a narrative review of trauma-sensitive yoga for women with PTSD. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 24. pp. 32–40.

Nguyen-Feng, V. N., Morrissette, J., Lewis-Dmello, A., Michel, H., Anders, D., Wagner, C., and Clark, C. J. (2018). Trauma-sensitive yoga as an adjunctive mental health treatment for survivors of intimate partner violence: a qualitative examination. Spirituality in Clinical Practice. pp. 1–17.

Nguyen-Feng, Viann N., Clark, Cari J., and Butler, Mary E. (2019). Yoga as an intervention for psychological symptoms following trauma: A systematic review and quantitative synthesis. Psychological Services. American Psychological Association (APA), 16 (3). pp. 513–523.

Price, M., Spinazzola, J., Musicaro, R., Turner, J., Suvak, M., Emerson, D., and van der Kolk, B. (2017). Effectiveness of an extended yoga treatment for women with chronic posttraumatic stress disorder. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 23. pp. 300–309.

Ross, A., Friedmann, E., Bevans, M., and Thomas, S. (2013). National survey of yoga practitioners: Mental and physical health benefits. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 21(4). pp. 313–323.

Spinazzola, J., Rhodes, A. M., Emerson, D., Earle, E., and Monroe, K. (2011). Application of yoga in residential treatment of traumatized youth. Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, 17. pp. 431–444.

Tzu, G., and Bannerman, B. (2017). Transforming trauma into healing and being: a non-dual therapy approach. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 15. pp. 63–79.

van der Kolk, B. A., Stone, L.,West, J., Rhodes, A., Emerson, D., Suvak, M., and Spinazzola, J. (2014). Yoga as an adjunctive treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 75.pp. 1–7.

West, J., Liang, B., and Spinazzola, J. (2017). Trauma sensitive yoga as a complementary treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder: a qualitative descriptive analysis. International Journal of Stress Management, 24(2). pp. 173–195.

Other Trauma Related Recommended Literature

Eight Keys to Safe Trauma Recovery: Take-charge Strategies to Empower Your Healing
By Babette Rothschild

In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness 
By Peter A. Levin, PhD

The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma
By Bessel van der Kolk, PhD

Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma – The Innate Capacity to Transform Overwhelming Experiences
By Peter Levine, PhD

When the Body Says No: The Hidden Cost of Stress
By Gabor Mate, PhD

Academic Peer-reviewed Journals 

Journal of Literature and Trauma Studies (JLTS)
Journal of Psychological Trauma
Journal of Trauma Practice
Journal of Traumatic Stress
Stress, Trauma and Crisis: An International Journal