A woman in the front of the image practices a yoga position during a trauma-informed yoga class while people around her practice yoga.

Trauma-Informed Yoga Can Help You Heal From Trauma

March 18, 2024

5 min.

Trauma-informed yoga explores movement and mindfulness while honoring the individual needs of trauma survivors.

By: Charlie Health Editorial Team

Clinically Reviewed By: Dr. Don Gasparini

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Table of Contents

Traditional yoga has many benefits—stress reduction and mental clarity, to name a couple—but there’s a specific kind of yoga that can support the needs of survivors. This practice, known as trauma-informed yoga, focuses on creating a supportive environment tailored to the needs of survivors and helps people explore movement, mindfulness, and self-expression. 

Trauma-informed yoga accounts for trauma’s impact by emphasizing safety, choice, and mindfulness practices to promote self-awareness and resilience. It strives to accommodate diverse experiences and promote healing for all participants by minimizing triggers and fostering inclusivity in a safe and empowering space. 

Below, we explore what trauma-informed yoga is, how it differs from traditional yoga, and how it can promote healing.

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What is trauma-informed yoga?

Unlike traditional yoga classes, which may follow a one-size-fits-all approach, trauma-informed yoga is tailored to the unique needs and experiences of trauma survivors, prioritizing choice and inclusivity. It emphasizes creating a safe and supportive environment for individuals who have experienced a range of trauma—including complex trauma, psychological trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or other forms of traumatic stress. 

Central to trauma-informed yoga is the recognition that trauma can manifest in the body, leading to challenges such as hypervigilance, dissociation, and heightened stress responses. Trauma-informed yoga recognizes the profound effects that trauma can have on both the mind and body, and it seeks to include principles of trauma sensitivity, mindfulness, and empowerment into the practice of yoga.

How is trauma-informed yoga different from traditional yoga?

While trauma-informed yoga and traditional yoga share common elements such as movement, breathwork, and mindfulness, trauma-informed yoga specifically tailors its approach to support individuals who have experienced trauma, with a focus on safety, choice, empowerment, and sensitivity to their unique needs and experiences. Below, we delve into their differences.

Trauma-informed yoga

Traditional yoga

    • Creates a safe and supportive space for participants

    • Prioritizes giving participants agency and choice in their practice

    • Mindful of potential triggers

  • Typically follows a more structured approach
  • Encouraging of mindfulness, but not for its therapeutic benefits
  • May not focus on potential triggers

Focus on safety and sensitivity

Trauma-informed yoga strongly emphasizes creating a safe and supportive environment for participants. This involves understanding the potential impact of trauma on individuals’ experiences and adapting the yoga practice accordingly. Traditional yoga may not always prioritize this level of awareness or sensitivity to trauma-related issues.

Choice and empowerment

Trauma-informed yoga emphasizes giving participants a sense of agency and choice in their practice. This means offering options for poses, movements, and modifications, as well as encouraging individuals to listen to their bodies and make decisions based on their own needs and boundaries. In contrast, regular yoga practice may follow a more prescriptive approach with less flexibility for individual preferences and abilities.

Mindfulness and self-regulation

Trauma-informed yoga often incorporates mindfulness practices to help participants develop greater self-awareness, self-regulation, and resilience. Trauma-informed yoga aims to regulate the nervous system by incorporating mindfulness practices to promote relaxation. These practices can support a trauma survivor in connecting with their present experience, managing difficult emotions, and building coping skills. While mindfulness may also be a component of traditional yoga, trauma-sensitive yoga places particular emphasis on its therapeutic benefits for trauma survivors.

Sensitivity to triggers

Trauma-informed yoga is mindful of potential triggers that could retraumatize a survivor of trauma and takes steps to minimize their impact. This may involve a yoga therapist avoiding certain language, cues, or physical adjustments that could be triggering and providing opportunities for participants to opt out of activities or take breaks as needed. In contrast, a yoga instructor may not always address or be aware of these potential triggers during traditional yoga classes.

Adaptability and inclusivity

Trauma-informed yoga seeks to be inclusive and adaptable to participants’ diverse needs and experiences. This means that your yoga teacher will recognize that individuals may have varying levels of comfort, mobility, and ability to engage in the practice and make adjustments accordingly. Traditional yoga classes may not always prioritize this level of inclusivity or adaptability.

How can yoga help heal trauma?

Trauma can often lead to disconnection from the body and physical sensations. Trauma-sensitive yoga encourages people to cultivate greater body awareness and acceptance, allowing them to reconnect with sensations of safety, strength, and resilience in their bodies. This process can support the healing of trauma-related symptoms and promote a sense of wholeness and integration.

Yoga has also been shown to reduce stress levels by activating the body’s relaxation response through practices such as deep breathing, gentle movement, and meditation. By reducing physiological arousal and calming the nervous system, yoga can help individuals manage symptoms of anxiety, hypervigilance, and hyperarousal commonly associated with trauma.

Lastly, being a yoga student in a supportive and inclusive community can give people a sense of belonging and connection. Sharing the practice with others who may have similar experiences can reduce feelings of isolation and stigma, fostering a supportive environment for healing and growth.

What to do when trauma shows up in your body during a yoga class

When trauma shows up in your body during a yoga class, it’s important to prioritize your safety, comfort, and well-being. Here are some steps you can take:

Pause and breathe

If you notice sensations or emotions arising in your body that feel overwhelming or distressing, pause your practice and take several slow, deep breaths. Breathing deeply can help activate the body’s relaxation response and create a sense of grounding.

Check-in with yourself

Take a moment to check in with yourself and acknowledge what you’re experiencing without judgment. Notice any physical sensations, emotions, or thoughts that arise, and allow yourself to be present with whatever is happening in your body.

Modify your practice

If certain poses or movements are triggering or arise a physical sensation, modify your practice to better suit your needs. You can choose to opt out of specific poses, take a child’s pose, or simply take a break and focus on gentle movements and breathwork.

A woman sits on a yoga mat with legs crossed and arms in front of her practicing trauma-informed yoga.

Practice self-compassion

Be gentle and compassionate with yourself as you navigate your experience. Trauma can be challenging to work with in yoga therapy, and it’s important to honor your own pace and boundaries. Remember that taking care of yourself and prioritizing your well-being is okay.

Seek support

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or distressed, it’s important to seek support from a trusted friend, therapist, or yoga teacher. You can reach out to someone for assistance or simply ask for a moment of support or guidance.

Yoga and mindfulness at Charlie Health

If you or a loved one are struggling with your mental health, Charlie Health is here to help. Charlie Health offers a virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) that provides more than once-weekly mental health treatment for young people dealing with complex mental health conditions. Our expert clinicians incorporate evidence-based therapies into individual counseling, family therapy, and group sessions. With treatment, managing your mental health is possible. Fill out the form below or give us a call to start healing today. 

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