What is Trauma-Informed Yoga?

What is trauma-informed yoga? What does it have to do with highly sensitive people (HSPs) with anxiety?

When the word trauma comes up, many of us think of horrific experiences like war or domestic violence. We often don’t see ourselves as survivors of trauma. I know that for a long time I didn’t see myself this way. Trauma felt like a word reserved for certain types of events and experiences and I felt I didn’t deserve to include my life experiences in that term.

What if I told you that trauma is “any deeply distressing or disturbing experience that overwhelms our capacity to cope”? Would you think differently?

Trauma can include life experiences like a parent not being emotionally available, loss of a loved one, divorce, a bad accident, long-term illnesses, emotional abuse, living with a loved one with addiction issues, and so forth. It can also include secondary and vicarious trauma, which refer to indirect exposure.

In a trauma-informed yoga training I attendedI learned just how triggering many yoga classes can be. Trauma-informed yoga is an approach that bears in mind that any student coming to a class may have experienced trauma, and some aspects of yoga can be re-traumatizing. This approach offers a framework for creating a safe space in which students can connect with their breath and increase body awareness.

When I began thinking about what makes yoga trauma-informed, I realized the same principles are a good match for sensitive souls with anxiety. I’m not grouping introverts and sensitives with trauma survivors, but the overlap in how we require safe space is noteworthy. And the same fear response is activated when we experience anxiety or trauma gets triggered.

Some of the principles of trauma-informed yoga are:

  • We assume that anyone walking through the door may have experienced trauma.
  • We recognize our students as experts on their bodies and experiences.
  • We aim to create a safe, comfortable space that is empowering for all students.
  • We strive to provide options and modifications for yoga poses.
  • We avoid too much stimulation with music, scents, objects in the room, lights, etc.
  • We acknowledge that some poses and yoga props might make students feel vulnerable.
  • We refrain from rigid statements and cuing.

Does it sound like all yoga classes ought to be taught this way? Yeah…

I actually do teach all my classes this way, as I believe we all benefit from becoming more mindful of one another’s boundaries in a world that often feels stifling and disrespectful.

If you’re a sensitive person with anxiety who is considering trying yoga, or you’ve had a negative experience, I highly suggest looking for teachers trained in trauma-informed yoga. 

Want to read more about how yoga can help heal? Read: “How Yoga Can Help Heal Trauma”

Read more about the specific principles of trauma-informed yoga in my article featured on Introvert, Dear:  “7 Reasons Trauma-Informed Yoga is Perfect for Introverts and HSPs”

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