Trauma Informed Yoga

“A traumatic event changes those who suffer it, and all change involves loss….survivors have much in common with the bereaved. He must mourn for something he has lost of himself. ‘I am not the same person I was: I will never be the same again.’ The questions, however, is whether in the end the survivor will be less of a person than before, a more disturbed person, or whether he can become more of a person, the disaster becoming a focus for growth.”

Caroline Garland, Understanding Trauma: A Psychoanalytical Approach

Trauma is an event that overwhelms a person physically or emotionally. Examples include: war/conflict, physical or sexual abuse, car crashes, accidents, life-threatening illness, major injury, or sudden and unexpected loss. Experiencing a traumatic event does not necessarily mean that a person becomes traumatized. Some people, however, have a difficult time bringing their body and mind back into balance after trauma. When this happens, it is because the traumatic event remains unresolved and stuck in the body and mind, causing physical, psychological, and emotional struggle.

Trauma impacts both the mind and the body. Unresolved trauma keeps people trapped in the past, affecting their ability to accurately assess reality - what is happening in the present - as they can feel they are reliving past events. If someone is unable to bring body and mind back in to balance after a traumatic event, they may find that their actions are increasingly driven by impulse instead of by reason. They may feel unsafe, even when there is no danger present. This feeling of danger may make the person feel as though they want to escape their body so that they no longer have to feel pain and other difficult emotions. Or, the person may feel safe even if there is danger present because they find it difficult to accurately assess the danger.

Trauma-informed yoga supports us by providing a safe space in which to make choices for ourselves and about our own bodies. This freedom to make our own choices – for example, making decisions based on what we feel in our own bodies about how deep we want to take a pose or whether or not we want to modify a pose to match our energy levels – can help to release trauma from our bodies and find a better connection with the present reality. Through yoga, we connect to our breathe and learn to understand where we are in space and time in a way that allows us to find a sense of safety in our physical body.

As we develop a regular practice, we may find it easier to maintain a sense of balance, well-being, and mental and physical health. This balance may make it easier to discover a safe and compassionate place in our bodies and in our breath that allow us to stay present to reality and to our environment. Eventually, we may learn to better trust ourselves and our instincts, making it a bit easier to be kinder and gentler with ourselves and with others.