Trauma informed yoga is an evidenced modality of using yoga practices such as movement, breathing, and meditation to support mental health and trauma recovery. The quickest way to categorize trauma practices is to break it group them into 2 groups: Trauma Aware and Trauma Informed
Being trauma aware means the yoga teacher has some awareness of the prevalence of trauma and how their classes and sessions will have students present who have experienced trauma and understands how that may impact a student’s experience in the class.
Trauma informed adds on to this awareness and includes knowledge of the nervous system, and incorporates the practice of choice.
By taking trauma awareness and applying it to the session a teacher has created a space that can be empowering to a person to make choices and attune to their own needs which can grant them agency. Something that many survivors have not experienced.
There are many benefits to adding a trauma informed yoga practice to your recovery work here are a few of them.
Care and intention are placed on creating a safe space for trauma survivors to connect with the bodies through the environment, lack of hands on assist, invitational language, and awareness of teaching shapes that are less vulnerable ie happy baby and utilizing a different shape such as frog to achieve a similar shape with the body in a more protective shape
Vagal tone is a measure of cardiovascular function that is an indicator of how quickly your nervous system can return to a sense of calm following an activation of the sympathetic nervous system (stress response). Individuals with a lower vagal tone will have a more difficult time with emotional regulation and returning to calm quickly. Yoga helps to regulate the parasympathetic nervous system and activate the rest response and can help increase a person’s vagal tone helping to increase ability to emotionally regulate and to help a person resource a sense of safety.
Self Compassion is a construct of 3 different components: Self Kindness, Common Humanity, and Mindfulness. Yoga practices include a practice of mindfulness and present moment awareness which diffuses over identification which means to reduce ruminating on your failures, limitations, and imperfections, increasing the risk of exaggerating the importance of your failures. A part of a mindfulness practice is a non judgmental approach and to explore shapes, sensations, and experience with curiosity which is an absence of critique and failure and encourages a lens of kindness. Philosophy of yoga includes an aspect of interconnectedness which moves us away from isolation and that our experiences of suffering are all our our; this cultivates a sense of common humanity
Through movement, breathing, and mindfulness practices encouraging presence and interoceptive awareness and being able to practice building tools of regulation while also being uncomfortable perhaps in the physical practice but also in the emotional/mental practice.
Example: being still can be activating for the nervous system and uncomfortable especially in someone who has experienced a trauma. If a practice of stillness such as sitting or laying down is a part of the yoga practice and you stay present with that uncomfortability utilizing tools such as grounding and breathing to stay present and regulated you begin to increase your window of tolerance.
By building your window tolerance, emotional regulation tools, and increasing vagal tone a yoga practice works on the regulation of your parasympathetic nervous system.
Using invitation language, variations, and not using directive or perspective language allows for the client to make a choice about their movement and gives different variations of the shape and to explore what their sensations are while encouraging them to be present in their body with the use of embodied language of your hands and your legs vs the legs the hands.
Example: When a class is directive in nature example : In forward fold place hands on the ground and lift hips lengthening the legs you will feel a deep stretch and move side to side to feel
maybe you move into a folded shape and your hands might come your knees, blocks, or the ground and you may want to exhale and you might feel a difference in sensation in your back body and allow your body to sway side to side or perhaps you would like to stay still.
Breathwork and physical practice of yoga teaches emotional regulation tools and grounding techniques which can be used to resource safety and regulate.
The facilitator is a guide providing examples and options for the client and utilizes empowering language and energy for the client to experience the practice for themselves and to give themselves permission to stop a practice or do something different if that is what they would like to do. Trauma can impact a person’s agency and self determination.