In many yoga and healing circles, “trauma-informed” has become somewhat of a buzzword, referring to practices that are sensitive to the needs of—or specifically address the symptoms of—trauma survivors. The foundational intentions of a trauma-informed yoga practice are to help you find a sense of grounding and support in your body, to connect to sensations in a safe way, and to use the practice to help you trust your body’s signals again. This way, you can learn to self-regulate and find a sense of physical, emotional, and psychological safety, as well as presence and balance.
Trauma-informed methodology is less about specific poses or sequences and more about the focus of each pose and how it is inhabited. Ultimately, the practice’s cuing, pace, and sequencing are meant to help create a sense of support so that practitioners can feel sensations and emotions without being overwhelmed. I often say that it’s about learning to tolerate discomfort so that you can move through it rather than run away from it; unresolved trauma can leave you in a constant state of disconnection. Yoga can help free you from the grip of the past so that you can be truly present in an authentic and embodied way.
Traumatic events (car accidents, abuse, natural disasters, violence, death) can overwhelm your capacity to cope and respond. So can high levels of stress. Unresolved trauma affects overall mood regulation and physical health and can leave you feeling disconnected from your body. It can manifest as anxiety, depression, digestive issues, headaches, back pain, or autoimmune illnesses. Trauma can leave you feeling dissociated, where you don’t feel much at all, or highly activated, where you feel intense emotional or physical responses to certain stimuli. The effects vary from person to person, and there isn’t one type of yoga practice that works for everyone. That said, certain basic yoga tools can be helpful for almost anyone struggling with unresolved trauma or high stress.
My training in clinical psychology and Somatic Experiencing (SE)—a body-based psychotherapy that helps people release traumatic stress energy from the body in order to restore it back to its natural, regulated state—provides a framework that can be applied to most styles of yoga in order to make them trauma-informed.
Trauma-Informed Methodology: Feeling grounded, Centered & present in your body
Focus on the following in each pose: Feel the parts of your body that make contact with the ground, engage your core muscles to support your lower back (avoid gripping or trying to flatten your stomach), and breathe. When we breathe deeply, it can create a relaxation response in the nervous system. You want to feel that your breath is available to you rather than forced. Sometimes we don’t have access to a deep breath, and trying to force it isn’t helpful; in those cases, focus on grounding or centering.
Pay attention to how each pose feels during and afterward, and not just in your muscles and joints; notice if you feel calm, anxious, tired, or alert. You want to feel regulated, even in a vigorous pose. If a pose makes you feel anxious or overwhelmed, skip it or back off. Try the following sequence in any order that works for you. It doesn’t matter if you practice it leading with your right or left side; just be consistent. Eyes can be open or closed, whichever allows you to feel more present. This can change from moment to moment.
About the author
Hala Khouri is a yoga teacher and somatic counselor interested in using the power of embodied practices to heal trauma in individuals and communities while addressing the impact of social injustice. She has been teaching yoga and movement arts for more than 25 years and doing clinical work and training for 15 years. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and master’s degrees in counseling psychology and community psychology. Hala leads trama-informed yoga trainings nationally and is a cofounder of Off the Mat, Into the World. Learn more at halakhouri.com.