Trauma Sensitive Yoga and Mindfulness

Trauma Sensitive Yoga and Mindfulness


Trauma treatment is a specialty of AIP and we provide trauma-sensitive yoga classes in schools and in community settings. There is a growing body of evidence that modified yoga; taught by specially trained individuals in a therapeutic context, is an effective tool for healing and empowering people who have experienced trauma. The objective of trauma sensitive yoga is not to dredge up emotions or memories, but instead to help clients have a heightened sense of body awareness, embodiment, choice and empowerment. These simple outcomes have a profound effect on trauma survivors and are proving more potent than other previously used modalities for trauma. Trauma sensitive yoga is vital in helping people who have experienced trauma to learn how to calm their minds and regain safety in their bodies by noticing and learning to tolerate physical sensations. Trauma sensitive yoga brings back a sense of empowerment and choice for people who may have felt choice-less and powerless. 

Effectively dealing with stress or trauma depends upon achieving a balance between the amygdala and the medial prefrontal cortex. To manage emotions, people can learn to regulate them from the top down (the brain) or the bottom up (the body). Top-down regulation involves strengthening the capacity of the medial prefrontal cortex to monitor our body’s sensations. Cognitive behavioral therapy is an example of a top-down regulation strategy.  

Bottom-up regulation involves recalibrating the autonomic nervous system through breath, movement or touch.  The aim is to change our own physiology, our relationship to bodily sensations which can be tracked through heart rate + breathing patterns. Trauma therapists can help clients evoke and notice bodily sensations by tapping accupressure points. Rhythmic interactions with other people are also effective – tossing a beach ball back + forth, bouncing on a Pilates ball, drumming or dancing to music. Other interventions include yoga, mindfulness, martial arts and quigong. 

Arousal and emotional regulation are structured like an iceberg. Most regulation takes place outside of consciousness and cognition accounts for a minor part of our regulation. However, a great deal of emotional regulation takes place in our bodies. Emotions can be and, in fact, probably are mostly processed at an unconscious level. We become conscious and aware of all this after the fact. Trauma lives in our bodies and the bottom-up strategies work through our bodies. There is a growing interest in learning and offering body-based interventions in the mental health field as more and more research results demonstrate the efficacy of these practices. 

Individual therapists are using bottom-up regulation strategies, also known as somatic practices, with clients in therapy for complex trauma and/or PTSD. AIP has 300-hour trained Facilitator of TCTSY and yoga instructor on staff, who provides trainings for yoga teachers and mental health clinicians on Trauma-Sensitive Yoga so that they can apply some of the domains of TCTSY to their work with students and clients. 

AIP has been training Boston Public Schools’ clinicians to implement trauma-sensitive yoga and mindfulness into their therapy sessions with students. We’ve also been leading trauma-sensitive yoga and mindfulness classes with students, typically during classroom time at the requests of teachers. This works especially well with students with special needs and SLIFE (Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education) students. AIP has created Mindful Moments Rooms in BPS schools in which students who need to self-regulate can request a Mindful Moment to do some deep breathing, guided relaxation, mindful coloring, mindful walking or yoga stretches. Teachers can also refer students to the Mindful Moments Room for 5-minute “re-sets”. 

Please contact us for more information about bringing trauma-sensitive yoga and mindfulness to your school or organization.