Trauma Sensitive Yoga
"no intervention that takes power away from a survivor can possibly foster recovery, no matter how much it appears to be in their immediate interest"
Judith Herman Trauma and Recovery (1992)
The Core Principles of Practice
Movement cues come with a reminder that everything is optional, you are always welcome to find rest or different movements than the ones offered. There is no expectation set, each class is a guidence.
Non - Coersion
Clear information about all that will happen before, during and after a class, with consistent class patterns and structures, and the complete freedom to participate or not without constraint.
We offer choices with how to move our body in a way that feels okay. We practice autonomy over our body within movement as well as the choice to show up, to leave the room, to take a break.
Invitations to notice sensation in our bodies when and if it ever feels safe to do so. Being able to recognise and tolerate visceral experiences in our bodies is a huge step towards creating safety and healing.
Shared Authentic Experience
We practice aside one another, guided by our own bodies in order to establish relational safety and presence based in truth and trust; we are two people in a room trying to feel that they have feet.
What is complex trauma and how can it affect our bodies?
Complex Trauma describes a relational dynamic which is the opposite of relational safety. It is an experience in which power is hoarded, vulnerabilities exploited and the capacity to consent is eroded and erased. A traumatic experience can affect our interrelational attachment, neurology and biology, it can affect regulation, dissociative survival mechanisms (ie, alterations in consciousness), behavioral regulation, cognition, and self-concept.
In childhood for example trauma can look like this:
My body needs food, I feel this as hunger, it's a feeling I do not want, I cry out in hunger, I am not fed - my internal experience has not been mirrored & verified; I doubt what I feel & therefore who I am. I must now choose which world to believe in - my internal or my external world. And because I am dependent on my external world for survival I must either deny my own reality by completely shutting off from my body or manage two mutually exclusive realities by splitting my life experience as separate from my body's needs.
When we cannot escape hurt, no matter what we do (when I cry out in hunger I can't cause people to feed me; when I cry out in pain I cannot cause you to stop hurting me) it may teach our bodies the following and causes them to respond according to these learned beliefs:
- I have no agency in my world; I am not allowed to make choices safely/I find making choices incredibly difficult and confusing.
- My feelings are intolerable because they cannot be changed; my emotional and physical body cannot be trusted and therefore sensations are not to be felt or expressed, and when they are they are overwhelming and tend to shut my body down. I either feel nothing or too much.
- The world can't be relied upon to tolerate me or my needs, and may consider me unworthy of care; I need to have no needs to survive so will make myself as small and unassuming as possible, or I will instead only mirror the accepted needs of other people even if they cross my boundaries.
- The external world is unpredictable and potentially unsafe; all change is now infused with danger, and as I have no control over some of my external environment I must stay hyper-alert and vigilant at all times, be attuned to behavioral patterns, and be constantly predicting outcomes. I have no bandwidth left for noticing my internal world.
For more information here are some resources you might find useful:
How does Trauma Sensitive Yoga Work?
Using the core principles detailed above, Trauma Sensitive Yoga adapts elements of the standard practice of hatha yoga to empower and cultivate a felt sense of presence on our mats. Each class creates a space that invites participants to begin to build a cohesive and secure relationship with their body, as well as develop interrelational safety with another (the facilitator) who is practicing alongside them. Although this sounds simple, it can be an incredibly powerful, but also incredibly challenging thing for many of us to achieve.. The ability to feel both present and safe; both held and free is a gift not to be taken lightly.
In sessions, participants begin to take autonomy back of their bodies by choosing the ways in which they move based on the sensations they want to feel. Sequences are usually slower to give everyone the time to notice sensations in their body if they would like to/if it's available to them, and often repeated each session in order to establish safety in predictability.
The research is continuously expanding on the way our bodies hold, store, and therefore have the ability to release traumatic experiences. You can read more about somatic trauma treatments in the following materials:
Who is Trauma Sensitive Yoga for?
TCTSY classes are developed for those experiencing the above symptoms of complex trauma or chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD. Due to their gentle and invitational nature, the classes can also be helpful for those experiencing limited mobility, those recovering from medical intervention, and anyone struggling with symptoms of depression, anxiety or grief too. Often, trauma can be the 'great imitator' and can manifest in so many different clinical diagnoses that it is not required to have a confirmed C-PTSD label to practice.
Anyone who feels a disconnection with their body may benefit from this practice - this could be experienced in the form of panic attacks, numbness or inability to localize sensation, a distinct uneasiness about your sense of self etc. You do not have to have any yoga experience or be 'fit' in any way. And it is crucial to note that, although this work can be done alongside a person's therapy program, it is not in itself a form of therapy. Individuals will never be asked to discuss or access trauma memories in either the inquiry process or in class attendance.
However, we do not recommend TCTSY for anyone currently in the depths of crisis. We cannot accept applications from anyone who has been hospitalized with trauma-related issues in the past 6 months, or anyone who has experienced a trauma crisis such as self-harm, suicidal attempt, a traumatic event, substance relapse etc. in the past 3 months. If you are here in your journey you may find support at one of Kent's hotlines:
What is TCTSY?
TCTSY (Trauma Center Trauma Sensitive Yoga) is one of the leading research bodies in the world of trauma yoga. They have developed a specific, empirically validated, adjunctive treatment for PTSD and complex trauma symptoms using the foundations of yoga, neuroscience and biology.
TCTSY originated at the Center for Trauma and Embodiment in Brooklin, Massachusetts, USA based on the work of Bessel van der Kolk (author of The Body Keeps the Score) and David Emerson. The program is now run by co-directors David Emerson and Jen Turner with a focus on embodied, body-first ideas for trauma healing. You can access the TCTSY Website here.
In the United States, the TCTSY program is included in the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREEP) database published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and is fast spreading as an effective treatment for trauma around the world.
What to expect from a TCTSY class?
Classes can be 1:1 sessions or small groups either online or in-person. These sessions are usually 'closed groups' with the same people each week.
Our movement sequences are often repeated each session and made as accessible as possible, so you can use a mat, chair or mobility aids.
Both human and animal carers or supporters are welcome to come along.
If the class is in-person, yoga mats, blankets and chairs are provided; however, you are very welcome to bring your own mat if you prefer.
We try to make the yoga space as safe and supportive as possible and there will often be a 'decompress' space in the room to visit if you need a break, and the class will be accessible to leave at any time.
In online or in-person group classes there is no need for individuals to interact with each other, and it is your choice to have your video switched on or off.
Feel free to wear clothes that you feel comfortable in for example; t-shirts, tracksuits, or any sports or yoga clothing you may have. The facilitator may be practicing without shoes but you are welcome to practice with or without footwear of your choice.
You are welcome to email any feedback or questions to your yoga facilitator before or after the class and if you'd like to see a space where an in-person class is going to be held before the day feel free to ask.
As your facilitator, I, Katie, will:
never use hands-on assistance or adjustments during an in-person class or call you out personally in an online class.
always remain on my mat or chair during the class, I won't be walking around the room and you will know where I am at all times.
be aware and completely accepting of anyone's need to move out of a yoga form at any time.
practice the yoga forms with you and alongside you in my own body's experience.
not need to watch anyone as they practice, I may even have my own eyes shut.
attend monthly peer review and 1:1 supervision, as well as dedicate myself to continued study and professional development as research continues to evolve.