Understanding Yoga Therapy for Trauma

Article by Teresa Powers

What is yoga therapy for trauma?

Can any yogi or therapist facilitate healing from trauma through yoga?

The medical and therapeutic communities have a deeper understanding of the mind/body connection through the work of Peter Levine and Bessel van der Kolk, renowned leaders in their fields.

This is a connection that energy workers have long since understood and is now measurable through the advancement of modern technology.

“Trauma” and “yoga” are buzzwords in the therapeutic community, and to some degree are heard in our daily life experience. We have all had bad days, and bad experiences.

Perhaps, at the end of the day, when someone asks us how our day was, we might respond: “I’ve had a traumatic day.” Bad days, hard days, not getting the right coffee, missing the bus, etc. are certainly not fun and can drain our energy.

However, these do not constitute “trauma”. A trauma is an event that occurs once, or repeatedly, resulting in psychological, physical and emotional harm; symptoms are varied and can last for years.

Image by Michel Rathwell

In recent years there has been much attention to these concepts. As a result, specific training has been developed to meet these unique needs. Yoga therapy for trauma addresses the whole person because the traumatic event itself impacts the whole person.

I work with children who have experienced trauma, and with their families. The impact of trauma does not stop with the person or persons who personally experienced the event; not only does yoga therapy for trauma address the whole person, it can also include the system a person interacts with every day.

Although yoga instructors are taught about trauma and the body, not every yogi has the training or desire to work with this specialized population. Just as not every counselor, therapist or psychologist is trained to work with trauma.

When working with traumatized clients, these are a few guidelines I adhere to:
20-25 minute yoga instruction: A typical yoga class is around an hour in length. In a yoga therapy session for trauma, the yoga portion of my class is 20-25 minutes and the rest of the time is used to process what comes up and to re-ground before going out into the world again. The process of grounding can take 10-15 minutes itself, depending on the client.

Breathwork: I spend time each session teaching children, and their families, how to breathe again. This practice alone can release emotion.

Hold space: It is important that as the yoga therapist, you hold space while the client is processing whatever comes up. As energy workers, we are familiar with this concept. It can sometimes be challenging. Remember to ground yourself first so you can be open and ready to hold the necessary space for the client.

Yoga poses do not have to be precise: Sure, we want the maximum benefit from executing yoga poses correctly, however, for someone who is becoming comfortable with themselves after a traumatic event, the most important thing is to support and encourage any degree of healing movement.

Keep classes small. In the therapy realm, the recommended group ratio is 7:1 maximum: 7 clients per therapist. If I am running a new group, I keep my yoga therapy groups at 5 clients/students. If I know the clients, their trauma, their trauma response, and I feel they would be appropriate in a larger group, I would consider a 7 client group.

Have fun! Trauma is serious. Healing is vital. Fun is important.

Teresa Powers
Teresa Powers

Teresa Powers is a Reiki Master, child therapist, yoga instructor and certified holistic practitioner. She graduated with a MS degree in Mental Health Counseling and post degree in Play Therapy. She ran a therapeutic foster home for many years and has worked with survivors of sexual abuse. She is currently pursuing a doctorate from the University of Sedona. She runs a private practice in Englewood, CO. She can be reached on her website Teepeewellness.com and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/teepeeranchandwellness.