What is Trauma-informed Yoga?

You may have heard the term “trauma-informed yoga” used to describe a specific yoga practice or offering. While awareness of the importance of trauma-informed practices continues to grow, there remains a lot of confusion as to precisely what this term means. Many in the yoga community lack understanding of what trauma-informed yoga is. Further, yoga itself has the potential to traumatize and retraumatize. Because of this, education around trauma-informed practice becomes fundamental.

At the most basic level, trauma-informed yoga specifically and intentionally takes the impact of trauma into account.

Yoga that is trauma-informed forefronts the needs of participants, creating an environment that is as safe as possible. Trauma-informed yoga offers yoga practice in a way that is repetitive, consistent and predictable, while offering instruction in an invitational and nondirective manner.

The primary focus is not on the physicality and exactness of bodily movement but instead on the internal experience of the student. Trauma-informed yoga takes into account the most vulnerable person in every setting. It builds on the great strengths that survivors bring to practice. Trauma-informed yoga is an empowering practice; it encourages the practitioner to become stronger and more confident by taking control of their own practice. Trauma-informed yoga also recognizes that trauma is both individual and collective, and that trauma carries impacts both in the present moment and across histories and generations.

By understanding how trauma can impact the mind and body — and especially how it dysregulates the whole person — coupled with recognition of the barriers trauma often creates for survivors trying to access yoga, trauma-informed yoga allows teachers to respond to each student (and each class moment) in ways that create practices and spaces that see each participant as whole while accounting for each participant’s needs for empowered choice, safety, and dynamic predictability.” – Rousseau, Lilly, and Harris, 2018

A trauma-informed approach is multifaceted and can include the following characteristics:

  • Consistent
  • Predictable
  • Invitational
  • Non-directive
  • Orienting
  • Offers containment
  • Provides structure
  • Strengths-based
  • Co-creative

The intention of trauma-informed yoga is not to treat symptoms or issues related to trauma.  The purpose instead is to provide support services in a way that is accessible and appropriate to those who may have experienced trauma. Trauma-informed yoga works to engage both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system as participants gain (or re-gain) their ability to notice their bodily sensations, emotional states and increasingly tolerate the totality of their present moment experience. By using the physical body, trauma-informed yoga can offer the opportunity to monitor and tolerate discomfort inherent in the bodies of survivors of trauma.

Trauma-informed practice also does not dictate a certain type or style of yoga, but works with the needs of the student in the moment. Some students may need a physically challenging class while others a class that is more restful and restorative. One student’s needs may also differ from one day to the next, or even from moment to moment. A trauma-informed approach to yoga takes into consideration far more than session content; it includes consideration of physical space, staffing, environment and accessibility.

Most importantly, trauma-informed yoga recognizes the many strengths and skills that survivors possess. Trauma-informed practices support survivors in their resilience and recognizes that it is the survivor themselves that best knows their needs in any given moment or situation.

You can read more about trauma-responsive and universally inclusive practices here.

You can also learn more in our upcoming book Yoga and Resilience: Empowering Practices for Survivors of Sexual Trauma – due out this spring. For more on trauma-informed and universally inclusive yoga, follow @universallyinclusiveyoga on Instagram.