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Trauma-Informed Yoga and Why It Helps Healing

The repercussions of trauma radiate through your entire self—emotionally, mentally, physically, and even spiritually. But with time and dedicated focus, it’s possible to heal and experience a rich, full life. Various modalities can help you accomplish this, one of which is trauma-informed yoga, which helps create a positive path to wellness. 

Using Yoga to Access Healing

There are many facets of yoga, especially as practiced in the West. But one particular yogic guru viewed it through the lens of healing. B.K.S. Iyengar, who passed away in 2014 at age 95, first learned yoga as a child as a means to recover from multiple ailments and credited the practice for saving his life. Through his teachings, he communicated that the balanced power of deliberate postures led by focused breathwork was accessible to anyone, regardless of age, mental challenges, or physical challenges. 

Yoga therapy, according to the International Association of Yoga Therapists, “is the professional application of the principles and practices of yoga to promote health and well-being within a therapeutic relationship that includes personalized assessment, goal setting, lifestyle management, and yoga practices for individuals or small groups.” Yoga therapists work with people suffering with mental and emotional issues as well as physical illness. 

Trauma-informed yoga, also referred to as trauma-sensitive yoga, also addresses the whole person. People suffering from different types of trauma—such as adverse childhood experiences, PTSD, generational trauma, and others—often have difficulty processing physical and sensory experiences. Through the guidance of highly-trained instructors, individuals learn to:

  • Release discomfort, tension, and other unresolved traumatic energy
  • Decrease the intensity of the sympathetic nervous system’s “fight, flight, or freeze” response.
  • Incorporate breath awareness and skills.
  • Restore blocked mind-body connections.
  • Focus more on the present, instead of dredging up the past or worrying about the future. 

Jenn Turner is a mental health counselor, co-founder of the Center for Trauma and Embodiment, and author of the book Embodied Healing. She says a trauma-sensitive yoga practice allows survivors to be “the author of their own healing.”

What to Look For in a Trauma-Informed Yoga Instructor

Teachers go through different levels of training to become certified or registered. However, there are special designations to confirm for trauma-sensitive yoga instruction in addition to the minimum 200-hour (or 200 RYT) teaching requirement: 

  • Trauma Center Trauma-Sensitive Yoga facilitator (TCTSY-F)
  • Trauma-Informed Yoga Teacher training certification (TIYTT)
  • Trauma-Sensitive Restorative Yoga training certification (TSRYTT)

A yoga therapist with trauma-sensitive certification is a good choice, too. 

Find instructors near you by visiting these sites: 

What to Expect in a Trauma-Informed Yoga Class

Yoga classes vary considerably based on the instructor, yoga style or discipline, atmosphere, and other factors. But in a trauma-sensitive yoga class, the intention is to not only anticipate that every attendee has experienced some form of trauma, but also to eliminate some of the more “fluffy” or distracting elements so individuals have more personal agency over their practice and know what to expect each session. 

For example, in most cases, trauma-informed yoga classes:

  • Rarely feature music or other sounds, and instructors speak in calm tones.
  • Refrain from using candles, incense, or essential oils.
  • Feature soft, focused lighting.
  • Keep poses simple and accessible, and have options for more self-paced practice.
  • Allow students to position themselves anywhere or any way they feel comfortable.
  • Usually position the instructor at the front of the room so practitioners have a sense of safety.
  • Refrain from hands-on adjustments or assists unless for a specific reason and requested by a practitioner.
  • Provide guidance to incorporate the five senses into moments of unease to help stay present—often referred to as interoception.
  • Rarely have any group discussion or processing of trauma. 

Some yoga classes feature Sanskrit phrases and deeper yogic philosophy. There are two distinct schools of thought about these directives in trauma-sensitive classes: 

  • It’s best not to delve into these areas so practitioners can focus more on sensations and present-moment awareness.
  • To honor the Eastern origins of yoga and individuals with South Asian heritage, it’s better to teach these principles along with the other factors. 

If one aspect matters more to you, look for a class that supports your beliefs.

The Whole-Person Care Philosophy at Fair Oaks

Just as you’re not defined by addiction, you’re also not labeled by trauma. The philosophy of Fair Oaks Recovery Center in Sacramento is to provide you with wellness tools, such as yoga, that help you discover your full potential in health and in life. This isn’t to “fix” what’s “broken” but to move through and beyond elements that no longer serve you. Ask a member of our admissions team how this approach can benefit you.