Practicing yoga comes with many benefits: flexibility, stress relief, focus, and strength. One of the major benefits, in my opinion, is the release of trauma trapped in the body through trauma focused yoga. There is a growing amount of evidence showing that yoga, modified for a therapeutic practice, is a truly amazing tool for healing and empowering those who have experienced trauma. In a trauma focused yoga practice each individual is given the tools to connect with themselves in an empowering way.
Trauma Sensitive Trauma Centered Yoga (TSTCY) was created by David Emerson in collaboration with trauma expert, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk. Trauma focused yoga practices are solidly based in trauma, attachment theory, neuroscience and yoga.
“It’s a treatment that we’ve built specifically for complex or developmental trauma because there’s a real need for good treatments for this condition that is being treated with other things that weren’t made for it, like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, talk therapy or prolonged exposure that are being superimposed on complex trauma and not working very well.”
According to research, trauma focused yoga can have greater beneficial benefits effects in alleviating traumatic stress symptoms as most medications. In all research groups the stress related symptoms were minimized or alleviated.
“Trauma is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on mind, brain, and body.” – Bessel van der Kolk
“The challenge”, Bessel van der Kolk explains, “ is to learn how to tolerate feelings and sensations by increasing the capacity for interoception or sitting with yourself, noticing what’s going on inside— the basic principle of meditation. They need to learn how to modulate arousal. Trauma-sensitive people have their sense of time thrown off and think something will last forever. Their challenge is to learn how to notice what is happening and how things can and will shift, rather than running away or turning to alcohol or drugs to self-medicate. Yoga helps regulate emotional and physiological states. It allows the body to regain its natural movement and teaches the use of breath for self-regulation. What is beautiful about Yoga is that it teaches us—and this is a critical point for those who feel trapped in their memory sensations—that things come to an end. While doing certain asanas, uncomfortable sensations may be evoked. But, by keeping time as they stay in a posture for a limited amount of time, they get to observe that discomfort can be tolerated until they shift into a different posture. The process of being in a safe space and staying with whatever sensations emerge and seeing how they come to an end is a positive imprinting process. Yoga helps them befriend their bodies that have betrayed them by failing to guarantee safety.
Another important aspect of Yoga is utilizing the breath. It’s very striking that there’s nothing in western culture that teaches us that we can learn to master our own physiology— solutions always come from outside, starting with relationships, and if those fail, alcohol or drugs.
Yoga teaches us that there are things we can do to change our brainstem arousal system, our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and to quiet the brain.”
I will add the final and most important aspect of a trauma yoga practice in my studio: Jesus Christ. I believe a Christ focused trauma yoga practice invites healing. It opens our hearts and minds to the healing presence of the Holy Spirit. My classes can include scripture or prayer, or I often pray for each of my students silently. I invite the Holy Spirit into each class and pray healing over all of my students. Jesus healed me through the use of talk therapy and trauma focused yoga and I believe He can, and will, heal you!!!
In a trauma focused practice I simply lead a class that helps those who have experienced trauma learn how to calm their minds and regain safety in their own bodies. It is a practice unlike other yoga practices in that it allows the body to release emotions stored within our muscles and cells. It gives back a sense of empowerment and choice to those who have had no choice and felt powerless.