trauma sensitive yoga for mental health professionals, services and organizations

Trauma Center Trauma Sensitive Yoga (TCTSY) reduces the symptoms of PTSD. It is also an empirically validated, adjunctive treatment for youth and adults with complex trauma or chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD.

TCTSY was developed at the Trauma Center at Justice Resource Institute in USA, by David Emerson in clinical consultation with Dr. Bessel van der Kolk. It became the first evidence-based yoga program for the treatment of psychological trauma listed by SAMHSA .

Trauma sensitive yoga has foundations in trauma theory, attachment theory, neuroscience and hatha yoga practice. It uses mindful body-based yoga forms and breathing practices.

Read research on trauma sensitive yoga

Trauma sensitive yoga as a complimentary body oriented treatment for complex trauma

The focus of trauma sensitive yoga is empowering trauma survivors to reclaim, or build, a more positive relationship with their body through interoception and choice making. Please read more about the 5 key elements of TCTSY below.

During a yoga class the facilitator and participants practice yoga together. They do not talk about trauma or integrate what might come up for individual participants during the class.

The yoga facilitator is available for questions after the class, and if requested can make referrals or notify an emergency contact.

Participants are encouraged to have a support network in place before starting trauma sensitive yoga classes. Trauma sensitive yoga is therefore a suitable complimentary treatment to psychotherapy and counselling.

TCTSY is also an effective additional treatment to other prominent treatments for trauma like Prolonged Exposure, EMDR, Somatic Experiencing and Sensorimotor Psychotherapy.

 

Interested in trauma sensitive yoga for your clients or organisation?

We can facilitate 6, 8 or 10-week group courses, weekly classes or private sessions at your mental health service or organisation to make trauma sensitive yoga available to trauma survivors you work with.

You are also welcome as mental health professional to refer clients working towards recovery from trauma to the courses we organise regularly in Lismore and Nimbin.

We are looking forward to exploring with you how trauma sensitive yoga can support the people you care for.

The five key elements of TCTSY

1. Invitational language

Every cue in a TCTSY class is preceded by an invitation.

TCTSY uses language that:

  • is simple and concrete
  • refers to the body
  • is repetitive
  • avoids long silences
  • does not subjectively describes an experience (“wow that stretch feels soo good”)
  • avoids the use of yoga terminology (posture, asana, sanskrit names, philosophy)

Why invitation language?

To share the power between the facilitator and the participant(s) in a class or session and build a safe relationship.

To focus on experiencing the body in the present moment in a safe way


 

No intervention that takes power away from the survivor can possibly foster her recovery, no matter how much it appears to be in her best interest

Judith Herman, M.D.


 

2. Choice making

TCTSY always offers choices to invite participants to practice making choices.

The first choice offered is always to do a movement or not. A second choice would be the invitation to do a movement in this way, or that way.   

As a course progresses and making choices becomes less overwhelming, more choices are offered about the pace, the range, etc. 

Why choice making?

To develop agency. Changes in the brain caused by childhood trauma can make it difficult to consider risk and make healthy life decisions. 

To learn to make an embodied choice, instead of intellectual one.


 

I make conscious decisions now about my son, to raise him differently than how i was raised. So i can see that there are choices and options. You can be gentle in the world and yoga helps you see that there are choices

TCTSY student


 

3. Interoception

How we perceive feelings from our bodies (skin, muscles and organs) and decide what to do based on these bodily feelings is called interoception. 

Interoception can get distorted by trauma, leading to people with a lived experience of trauma to possibly:

  • not being able to feel
  • loose the link between a sensation, who is experiencing this sensation and how to respond
  • make a new link between a sensation and action (for example hypervigilance, dissociation)
  • experience confusion over sensations in the body

A distortion in interoception can lead to the inability to feel/perceive ‘me’ in a material form. It might therefore disrupts a sense of self and emotional regulation. There is also a connection between interoception and empathy for self and others. 

TCTSY uses interoceptive language, inviting participants to notice different sensations in their body related to a yoga movement or form. Participants are then invited to use this information to make decisions about the movement or form (how long to hold a form, how deep to go into a form, how fast or slow to make a movement, etc.)

Why interception?

To have a present moment experience

Not thinking about a feeling, not talking about a feeling, but actually feeling.

Empowerment - finding things out from own experience and acting on it

Trusting 'gut feeling’


 

I can express my feelings more because I can recognize them more. I feel them in my body, recognize them, and address them

TCTSY student


 

4. Shared, authentic experience 

TCTSY is often practiced in small groups, but can also be one on one. The facilitator practices with the participants and creates a safe space by:

  • Holding the space
  • Authentic in voice and behavior
  • Staying at one place
  • Being consistent and predictable
  • Wearing simple neutral clothes
  • Not giving special attention or praise to individuals in the group
  • Limiting eye contact or looking around
  • Available for feedback and questions

When practicing TCTSY there is no right or wrong way to practice, nor is there an expected progression in ability to do the yoga forms. Each participant can practice in their own way and still be part of a shared experience in a group. 

Why shared, authentic experience?

To practice attunement.

To build a safe relationship with others while being authentic.

Relationships support the development of agency.

Reconnection with others. 


 

Helplessness and isolation are the core experiences of psychological trauma. Empowerment and reconnection are the core experiences of recovery 

Judith Herman


 

5. Non-coercion

Non-coercion is a key element of TCTSY in the following ways:

  • Offering and earning respect and trust
  • Not touching participants and making adjustments
  • Being aware of language
  • Not trying to make participants have a certain experience (this is relaxing, feels good, will improve)
  • Listening and being open to not knowing
  • Not expecting results
  • Emphasizing that there is no right or wrong way to practice
  • Participants instead of students
  • Facilitator instead of teacher
  • Creating mutual boundaries
  • Awareness of the facilitator of their actions, intentions and expectations to promote safety
  • Acknowledging power dynamics
  • Practicing cultural sensitivity
  • Promoting accessibility

Why non-coercion?

As much as possible trying to avoid triggering and retraumatising.

To balance or shift the power dynamics in favor of the trauma survivor.

Give an experience of a respectful and safe relationship with others.