Trauma Sensitive Yoga

According to neuroscience and yoga our sense of ourselves is anchored in our connection with our bodies. We don't truly know ourselves unless we can feel and interpret our physical sensations in order to act and navigate safely through life. If we are not aware or misinterpet what our body needs we can't take care of it. This is why cultivating sensory awareness is a critical aspect of trauma recovery.

In yoga we focus our attention on the breath and our sensations moment to moment. We begin to notice the connection between our emotions and our body. Perhaps how anxiety about doing a posture can throw us off balance. We can begin to experiment with the way we feel. Will taking a deep breath relieve tension in our shoulder or a movement bring balance, or a deeper out breath calmness. Noticing what we feel fosters emotional regulation. Once we start approaching our body with curiosity rather than fear everything shifts.

Body awareness also changes our sense of time. Trauma keeps us stuck in a helpless state of horror. In yoga we learn that sensations rise to a peak and fall, postures have a beginning, a middle and an end. Postures can help us to observe and tolerate physical sensations and to use this tolerance to disconnect current physical feelings from the emotional reactions to past events.

Hence the goals of Trauma Sensitive Yoga are to:

- Have and notice the body
- Befriend the body
- Be able to self regulate through the body vs despite the body

A Trauma Sensitive Yoga class begins with a safe environment using invitational language and a focus on the body. There are no physical adjustments and the teacher is committed to fostering personal exploration and experience within each practice. Students have choice as to what and how they practice unless safety is compromised.

Six key themes in a trauma sensitive yoga class that support trauma recovery are:

- A present moment experience
- Practicing making choices
- Taking effective action
- Spatial orientation
- Sensing dynamics
- Muscles engaging and releasing
- Creating rhythms- moving together

What students are saying about Trauma Sensitive Yoga classes at Yoga in Life:

"Regular practice has helped me gain a deeper body awareness which assists with healthy sleep patterns and to regulate my diet. I am better able to observe my emotions in an accepting way without judgement or reacting. I have become more aware of anxiety triggers and as a result the severity of anxiety and hyper-vigilance has lessened. Yoga is a safe space where I can be present with myself in an act of self care that helps me cope with external stresses."

"I am grateful that yoga has helped me get more embodied so I feel connected and in my body. It has helped me find my inner rest and to 'be'. Thank you Sarita for how beautiful you instruct us and your gentle, supportive, caring nature."

"I feel more grounded and connected to my physical body. I am finding that positive relationships are developing all around me and my anxiety around meeting new people is decreasing. I still get triggered but am much more aware of what I can do for myself when this happens. I am practising self care."

"This beautiful class with Sarita, Trauma Sensitive Yoga came to me with the most perfect timing. I was in need of reconnecting with my body, not just from recent trauma but from a lifetime of continuously disconnecting from my body as a coping mechanism. It was a relatively quick process for me, through the yoga, of coming to the simple realisation that I am safe in my loving and trustworthy body. Sarita has a beautiful gift combined with professional experience of being able to read how people are feeling in their bodies, and with this gently guiding us through movement to feel that connection with our bodies that was once there, but became lost. I think it is the first time in my life I have truly said and meant, I love my body, I am safe."

"Practical yoga movement and awareness help emotion move through my body. This is something I can do on my own or with others. I have better awareness of emotion arising and where it is connected to certain parts of my body. I now have the ability to recognise and accept emotion in the moment and keep moving."

"The class has taught me to have more downtime and meditation. I am actually listening to my body instead of pushing through pain and instruction to complete postures. The regular check ins have given me the ability to speak about the feeling/emotions. I notice more of what is happening in my body."

"I have learnt how to be comfortable and relaxed-to notice when tense."

"Active breathing seems to work instantly. I do a couple of minutes of active breathing and some moves learnt at the sessions to relax and think more clearly when I feel tense and anxious. I've also noticed that I sleep much better and more deeply. I wake up a lot more refreshed and rejuvenated after sleep. I notice how my body reacts to stress and anxiety more after the the course and can remedy that more effectively since I am aware of those sensations."

"Now I can say no."

"I notice more when I start to feel stress and panic and how this affects my body. I'm trying to listen to the needs of my body."

"I'm letting myself make choices."

"I can keep in check with myself."

"Your calm nature is so relaxing. I enjoy the peacefulness."

"I liked how the intensity of yoga poses increased as the weeks went on. I saw more connection between mindfulness, meditation, breathing and yoga after the course."

"Most of all, I have a higher sense of mind-body connection and have become more accepting and understanding of how my body reacts to emotional changes and states. I feel less punitive of the imperfections of my body but more accepting and focused on cherishing and nurturing its role in letting me achieve things in life."

"Works well in conjunction with DBT."

Helpful links

Trauma Sensitive Yoga Australia:

Compassionate Presence:
Teaching Trauma Sensitive Yoga- Linda Karl:

"Clinical Implications of Neuroscience Research in PTSD"

"Healing Life's Traumas"

"The Body Keeps the Score: Memory and the Emerging Psychobiology of Post Traumatic Stress"

"Trauma-Sensitive Yoga: Principles, Practice, and Research"b

Annabel McLisky presentation to The Australian Psychological Society- Yoga and Psychology Interest Group 2012:

Yoga as an Adjunctive Treatment for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Trial

Heroes of Peace film: