What exactly is trauma-sensitive yoga?

Now that Care to Change has added trauma-informed mindful movement to its services, we’ve been receiving questions about how what many see as a mystical practice fits with a counseling center that has a Biblical foundation and a solid belief in evidence-based therapies.

Traditional yoga is a form of mindful exercise that’s many centuries old, and it does have its roots in Eastern mysticism. Trauma-sensitive yoga is a much newer form of therapy that’s based on neuroscience and what scientists have learned about psychology. Some of the positions and movements we use in trauma-sensitive yoga look like those you might find in a traditional yoga class, but the similarity ends there. We don’t use Eastern chants or spiritual concepts. Instead, we use science to help people heal so they can more fully live out God’s purpose for them.

In recent years, doctors and scientists have learned there is a strong link between the mind and the body, and that’s especially true when it comes to trauma. In fact, Van Der Kolk has a well written book called “The Body Keeps Score” outlining how the body stores trauma viscerally. Trauma is a term that’s not well-understood outside the medical community. It refers to a broad range of difficult experiences that affect the mind and the body in lasting ways. Trauma can include anything from a fall, to an auto accident, to domestic violence, to living with a family member who suffers from a mental illness or substance abuse, or many other situations.

What all those experiences have in common is that they cause the brain to generate excessive amounts of stress hormones, and to respond that way again when facing other threats. Those stress hormones are intended to protect us from danger, but over time, they can have negative effects on our brains and bodies. People who have suffered trauma often stay in a state of constant anxiety without realizing it. Their brains remain alert, always watching for threats, and responding to even minor issues as though they were life-threatening. Friends and loved ones urge them to relax, but their brains don’t know how to do that.

Fortunately, our brains are plastic, which is a term meaning they can be changed. Through trauma-sensitive mindful movement, our goal is to help our brains and bodies learn how to respond in healthful ways, instead of remaining in that constant state of stress. Scientists have discovered that mindful movement and intentional breathing soothes the nervous system and changes the way the brain responds to potentially stressful situations.

Medical research provides clear evidence that intentional breath work and movement such as yoga help those who have been exposed to trauma establish calmness, reduce stress, improve concentration, increase flexibility and strength, improve muscle tone, and enhance balance and coordination.

We use mindful exercise to help people who are healing from trauma better understand the mind-body connection, so they can become better at reducing stress and anxiety, improving their overall mood. We also teach them restorative breathing and self-regulation, so they can play a more active role in their bodies’ responses to situations. In other words, trauma-informed yoga helps individuals become aware of how it feels to be safe and secure, and they learn how to move their minds and bodies into a more restful state.

If you’d like to know more about the role trauma-sensitive yoga can play in treatment, or if you think you might benefit from mindful exercise, we’d be happy to talk with you. We can also incorporate mindful movement into company wellness programs and use it to help first responders and veterans manage the stresses of what they’ve seen and remain healthy and flexible. Contact us to learn more.

Due to the content of many yoga programs, Care to Change will not endorse yoga practices/programs outside Care to Change. Further, Care to Change is intentionally protecting our faith based mission through using the science of mindful movement and intentional breathwork through this wellness service, and more information about how we are doing that can be found here.