Trauma-sensitive yoga (TSY) is a way for practitioners to safely experiment with having a body. Through yoga, students can experiment with:
Trauma Sensitive Yoga is set up so that students are in control over what they are doing with their body at all times. The teacher is there to provide safe, professional guidance and to help students focus on particular dynamics (what muscles they are using, what it feels like to have their feet on the ground, what it feels like to breathe, etc.).
The main objective is to use yoga forms as opportunities to notice what is felt in the body and to practice making choices about what to do with your body. Interoception to choice making to action, restoring power and control to a person who has had these taken away from them through the experience of trauma.
No experience is necessary and trauma sensitive yoga is accessible to everybody regardless of physical ability.
Angie Davis is trained in TSY through the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute. TSY is the yoga created by Bessel van der Kolk's (trauma psychiatrist and New
York Times bestselling author of The Body Keeps the Score) team. In 2017, this method of TSY became the first and only yoga program to be listed as an evidence-based program/practice for the treatment of psychological trauma in the United States.
What Makes Trauma-Sensitive Yoga Different?
A Trauma Sensitive Yoga practice has less movement, slower movement, and is of less duration than most regular yoga classes. The focus is not on the external representation of the pose/form (how it looks) but rather on the internal experience of the practitioner (how it feels).
In TSY, breath and movement are experimented with but not prescribed. TSY focuses on interoception and anytime the teacher invites the direction of attention, it is always towards sensation and what is felt in the body, not anything else (such as thoughts, feelings, emotions, etc).
In general, words used in TSY are concrete, visceral (can be felt in the body), and repetitive. No metaphors or Sanskrit are used.
More specifically, two types of language are prioritized in TSY:
1. Invitational Language
Words such as, "As you're ready," "If you're ready," "If you like," "Maybe," "You're welcome to" give power and choice to the student.
2. Interoceptive Language
Noticing words such as "Be curious about," "You may feel," "You might investigate," "It might be interesting to you if" allow students to build sensory links between the body and the mind, restoring the felt-sense of the body that was harmed through trauma.
The primary role of the yoga teacher in a TSY environment is to create a sense of safety. Safety is created in many ways:
-The teacher never tells a student what to do. Rather, the teacher shares power with the student through invitatory language.
-The teacher also shares power through having a shared, authentic experience with the student by physically practicing themselves.
-The yoga teacher creates predictability by staying on her mat, wearing plain clothing, and using a steady voice.
-The teacher does not do hands-on, physical assists.
.The Physical Space
The ideal space for trauma sensitive yoga is a calm, uncluttered environment. The room is set up in the same way each time to foster a sense of safety and predictability.