Trauma Informed Supportive Yoga Therapy Interventions

February 7, 2023

As described by David Emerson and Elisabeth Hopper in their book “Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga” Human beings are tender creatures - we are born with our hearts open. Sometimes our open hearts encounter experiences that shatter us. Sometimes we encounter experiences that so violate our sense of safety, order, predictability and rights, that we feel utterly overwhelmed, unable to integrate and simply unable to go on as before. We have come to call these shattering experiences trauma and none of us are immune to them. 

In trauma, the body’s alarm systems turn on and then never quite turn off. Always intensely on guard, never relaxed and at ease. Always watching and waiting for threats or opportunities. The body can feel like an uncomfortable place and we may even view it as unsafe, unknown, unpredictable, unreliable and even the enemy. When the body is viewed in this way, to cope we numb out, switch off or become distant. If the body has become a place of pain and suffering then punishing it can also become the new norm. 

Our resident Yoga therapist, Cath Watsham explains that with supportive yoga interventions, comes the opportunity to help individuals have a different relationship with their body, one that is gentler and more forgiving. Gentle mindful movement taught in a trauma informed way can help develop interoception, sensing internal signals of our body with a feeling of safety and stability, creating a new sense of “centre”.

When a safe and supportive environment is provided, the development of mindfulness skills, (present moment focus) may be possible, to bring a sense of calm, and perhaps the possibility of distance from uncomfortable, intrusive thoughts. A number of options will always be available to individuals, encouraging and enabling choices to be made in relation to their body - in a kind, gentle, caring way e.g. small or large movements, speed, fast or slow, stop when ready, to make choices to suit experience. Practices are chosen and taught in such a way as to encourage a feeling of safety, tolerance of sensations and control e.g. movement coordinated with breath, and countdown.

The use of language is carefully considered, with the aim of empowering individuals to be in charge of their own experience e.g. notice, investigate, explore; what does it feel like? There may also be the opportunity to explore other yoga tools like relaxation and meditation, depending on circumstances to encourage a feeling of groundedness. Exploring the experience of “letting go” and relaxing, exerting the power of “will” to release tightness in the body and letting go of tension may be incredibly useful and helpful for some.

*There are as many healing journies as there are people healing. Yoga is just one modality of many which may be helpful in trauma recovery and maintaining well-being.

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