Trauma Sensitive Yoga (TSY) can help you by:
  • Safely beginning to connect your body and mind
  • Experiencing being present
  • Practising making choices
  • Experiencing taking effective action
Benefits include:
  • Reduced symptoms of anxiety and stress
  • Reduced symptoms of depression and PTSD
  • Improved emotional regulation
  • Heightened sense of body awareness
  • Improved vitality

The Power of Trauma Sensitive Yoga

Increasingly, trauma therapists are turning to yoga for its indisputable and remarkable effects on people struggling with the effects of trauma.

There is a growing solid body of evidence that modified yoga; taught by specially trained individuals in a therapeutic context, is an amazing tool for healing and empowering people who have experienced trauma.

The objective of Trauma Sensitive Yoga is not to dredge up emotions or memories. Instead it helps clients have a heightened sense of body awareness, embodiment, choice and empowerment.

These simple outcomes have a profound effect on trauma survivors. They are proving more potent than other previously used modalities for trauma.

The term trauma sensitive yoga was first coined by David Emerson, the founder and director of yoga services at the Trauma Centre at the Justice Resource Institute in the US.

David Emerson created Trauma Sensitive Trauma Centred Yoga (TSTCY) in collaboration with trauma expert, Dr Bessel van der Kolk. The programs are solidly based in trauma, attachment theory, neuroscience, and yoga.

You may be thinking, but isn’t all yoga suited to helping with the release of trauma? Turns out it’s not.

Trauma is complex and too often in trying to heal it we, unfortunately, do the exact opposite and can end up re-traumatising or causing further shut down. There is a fine line to tread in treating this well.

Trauma Sensitive Yoga brings back a sense of empowerment and choice for people who may have felt choiceless and powerless.

So what exactly is a trauma sensitive yoga class?

A setting that is clear, light, simple, spacious, free of any props or objects that may cause distress, or hyperarousal. These may be religious objects, candles, straps, incense and the like.

A trauma sensitive yoga class is invitational, the teacher doesn’t issue orders.

There is a sense of equality and a feeling that everyone is in this together. Often practised in a circle, the language is simple, inviting and gentle.

There are no physical assists, and in each position, you are given a choice as to certain alterations you can make, if you so choose.

The relationship between yoga teacher and the student is key to the success of trauma sensitive yoga. It’s really about having a collaborative relationship between teacher and student. Sharing power while building a relationship that comes from doing the same thing together.

All these aspects work together to create a potent setting for healing and studies of people who have a high degree of trauma and attended trauma yoga classes, show extremely positive outcomes.

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The Science Behind Trauma Yoga

According to research, yoga has greater beneficial effects in alleviating traumatic stress symptoms as the best possible medications.

One study with a group of women who had suffered domestic violence, and were exposed to a 12-week trauma sensitive yoga course of one class a week. They showed a reduction in severity of PTSD symptoms and frequency of dissociative symptoms, and gains in vitality and body attunement.

In other research conducted at the Trauma Centre, patients who had been in therapy for over ten years and were placed on a trauma sensitive yoga program had a significant decrease in symptoms of PTSD.

Of particular interest is the work around interoception – our capacity to sense our body experience, as a visceral, sentient and felt experience.

When you experience trauma, you cut off from these feelings. Very often this can result in self-harm or self-medication. Victims of trauma try to work out their relationship with their body, which they’ve lost direct sensory access to due to underactive interoceptive areas of the brain.

Studies using brain scans on clients undergoing a 20-week trauma yoga course, discovered the interoceptive regions in the brain became more active.

“Trauma researchers and neuroscientists have demonstrated that many areas of the brain are affected by trauma and are underactive in those who are traumatised.”

Trauma Sensitive Yoga

“No intervention that takes power away from the survivor can possibly foster recovery, no matter how much it appears to be in their immediate best interest”. Judith Herman

Credits and Links for further reading

There are some fantastic practitioners and resources for Trauma Sensitive Yoga around the world. I have been lucky enough to work alongside a special few of them!

I trained in Boston and qualified in Trauma Centre Trauma Sensitive Yoga. The TCTSY website is here.

It contains a wealth of great information, reading and further links.

Their mission statement reads: Trauma Center Trauma-Sensitive Yoga (TCTSY) is an empirically validated, adjunctive clinical treatment for complex trauma or chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD.

Developed at the Trauma Center in Brookline, Massachusetts, TCTSY has foundations in Trauma Theory, Attachment Theory, and Neuroscience as well as deep roots in Yoga.

I am associated with TCTSY Australia. Their site provides more great reading, and links to practitioners nationally.

You can see me on their site here, and their reading resources are well-researched, current and extensive.

A lot of the text on this page is taken from an excellent article by Azriel ReShel in June 2017, posted here.

My thanks to Azriel and all those sources listed here. I chose to reproduce sections because their words form concise and informative outlines. These are hopefully beneficial to your understanding of the benefits TSY could bring you.

How Trauma Traps Survivors in the Past, The Neuroscience of Trauma

One of the traps of trauma is its effect on our sense of time. It has us constantly reliving a past experience as if it were in the present.

Treating trauma with traditional trauma therapy doesn’t always help a patient heal PTSD. The reason is that the story about their past trauma isn’t always the source of pain.

The present symptoms cause distress. Learning to change how our being manages these symptoms can finally bring relief.

Listen as Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, one of the world’s leading experts, shares ways that we can help patients escape the trap of trauma.

Read a description of trauma-sensitive yoga..

Here ..as an adjunct treatment for trauma and PTSD as used at the Trauma Center of Brookline, Massachusetts. Described by the authors of Overcoming Trauma through Yoga.

..Trauma Center Trauma Sensitive Yoga (TCTSY) aims to support emotion regulation, stabilization, and skill building for adults with chronic, treatment-resistant posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD); complex PTSD; dissociative disorders; and other related emotional and behavioral problems. Read more..

New Ways Of Treating Trauma: Try Some Yoga

This is a fantastic and easy-to-read interview with one of the leaders in the field of TSY. You can also listen to the mp3 of the interview here.

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk is a psychiatrist. He has been treating people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other types of trauma for more than 40 years. He founded the Trauma Center in Brookline, Mass., and is author of the new book “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

“Yoga was more effective than any medication… medication can be quite nice to sort of dampen some of the symptoms. But in the end, people need to own their bodies, they need to own their physical experiences. And, in order to overcome your trauma, it needs to be safe to go inside and to experience yourself.” Bessel van der Kolk

Read more at wbur.org here.