Trauma-informed yoga is a popular tool for treating trauma in both traditional clinical settings and with holistic wellness providers. This is partly because of the recent emphasis researchers are putting on trauma and adverse childhood experiences. Science has proven that trauma interrupts the normal development and maturation of human emotion and intellect. The solution is integrative strategies that help to create congruency between the unconscious and conscious mind. Trauma-informed yoga helps practitioners to connect the midbrain to the frontal lobe which creates new neurological pathways that support executive functioning, critical thinking, empathy, and compassion.
Trauma-informed yoga is an approach to yoga that prepares practitioners who have experienced trauma for the practice of yoga. It supports them from the moment they roll out their mat to the moment they awaken from savasana. There isn’t one formula or protocol for a trauma-informed yoga class, but there are elements that are incorporated to facilitate a safe and welcoming environment.
Unlike traditional psychotherapy, yoga gives practitioners the opportunity to come onto their mat and meet their vulnerabilities where they are at, without judgment. The ultimate aim is self-love, but the road is long and the path is winding. Practitioners are encouraged to explore the practice and what is coming up for them on their mat with compassionate loving kindness in an objective way.
There is no regulation on the training or certification of trauma-informed yoga. There are several reputable programs that are available both online and in person. The most important tenants of trauma-informed yoga are to provide a transparent container for practitioners to practice in while offering options that support each practitioner’s lived experience. This might look like a brief introduction where the teacher explains what the class is, how long the class will be, what students can do when they need to modify, how students can pause when they need a break, and how the class will close with savasana.
In some cases, it can be helpful to avoid certain postures. For example, when working with survivors of domestic trauma or abuse it is prudent to avoid postures that put students in vulnerable positions where their heads are down and they cannot see the room. These postures include child’s pose, cat-cow, downward dog, standing forward fold, and half pigeon. Of course, there is no rule that can be applied to all students, but these general guidelines help to provide an environment that is safe and contained.
Many psychotherapists are electing to train as Yoga Therapists in addition to holding a license in their professional field. This is largely due to the fact that somatic experiencing, yoga, mindfulness, and meditation are being proven to help trauma survivors integrate and regulate their past experiences. Trauma-informed yoga certifications are a gateway for therapists who have used tools from their 200-hour yoga teacher training program and are considering diving deeper into yoga therapy. A trauma-informed yoga certification doesn’t make a yoga teacher a yoga therapist, but it might lead them down the path of enrolling in a yoga therapy certification program.
A prerequisite to taking a trauma-informed yoga certification would be to have a 200-hour yoga certification. Although not all trauma-informed yoga certifications are the same, most will provide you with everything you need to adequately hold space for students in both group and private settings. It is important to know that a trauma-informed yoga teacher is not a therapist, and there is not a component of talk therapy in trauma-informed yoga. Trauma-informed yoga is about facilitating a safe and supported, adaptive class that provides students with options to maintain autonomy and security on their mat.