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WHAT IS TRAUMA-INFORMED YOGA?

For a long time, mental illnesses or trauma were dealt with as an illness of the mind. We now know that trauma lives in the body, and a truly integrated approach to healing requires that we involve the body in some way. For many people, traditional therapy does not help, and can even actively re-traumatize people if traumatic situations are dredged back up without a foundation of safety. Yoga offers us a reintroduction to our bodies, experiencing our bodies -  perhaps for the first time! It allows us to create a container of safety, and bit by bit, to learn to sit with our emotions.

Trauma is fundamentally a disconnection from self, from our bodies and emotional realities. Trauma-informed yoga does not try to ‘fix’ you but embraces you as you are, helping you to be fully present with yourself, and supporting you in your journey to feeling your feelings. This can be a very overwhelming process for some, and a trauma-informed approach means holding space for all emotional realities and experiences.

The response to trauma in the brain looks like a reorganization of the nervous system. Polyvagal theory describes how the nervous system affects our emotional states and vice versa. Our nervous system exists in 3 states:

  • Hypo-arousal (shutdown, immobile) 

  • Window of Tolerance (calm, connected, safe) 

  • Hyper-arousal (fight or flight) 

 

Asana practice can help us gradually regulate up or down, slowly spending more and more time in the window of tolerance - this is where we want to be! The fastest way into the window of tolerance (and the fastest way to widen it!) is through movement. Trauma-informed yoga encourages us into embodiment through a variety of techniques, always meeting our experience with radical acceptance. 

 

These practices help to decrease the activity of the amygdala, decreasing reactivity to potential triggers. Presence and awareness of the body can activate the parasympathetic nervous system and give students the tools to regulate and calm themselves down. 

 

“Neuroscience research shows that the only way we can change the way we feel is by becoming aware of our inner experience and learning to befriend what is going on within ourselves.” - Bessel Van Der Kolk

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"Yoga sessions with Emily have always made me feel incredibly safe. I have struggled in other yoga classes due to the demand on my body and anxiety, but Emily's classes allow me to access yoga in a way that suits my body's needs and in an environment that holds space for grounding myself when I need to. I have never experienced anything like it; I always come away feeling empowered and like I've learnt important things about what my mind and body is capable of."
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