Two people do yoga, stretching their arms to the sky

Yoga Therapy

There are currently a number of forms of yoga designed to address trauma that sound similar. Many find it challenging to identify which class and providers are best suited for their unique needs. 

The following definitions are from a course on Yoga Therapy and PTSD with The Minded Institute. They are world leaders in the development and implementation of Yoga Therapy and mindfulness programs for those with mental health and chronic physical health problems.

Trauma-Informed Yoga Therapy:

The provider understands that anyone participating in the class may have experienced trauma. The provider will mindfully hold certain principles around touch and language. This ensures a safe and neutral space is maintained. For example, the provider will ask for consent before touching a participant.

Trauma-Sensitive or Trauma Aware Yoga:

Trauma sensitive (or trauma aware) yoga are classes designed and devoted to holding space for survivors of trauma. Many elements are taken into consideration: touch, postures and how the provider moves around the room. This environment helps to connect participants back to their bodies in a safe way.

For example: The teacher might suggest variations in a particularly vulnerable yoga posture. While doing so, they will be mindful of where they are standing, volume and tone of voice. An example of a lack of trauma sensitivity would be advising a participant to “relax” in happy baby pose, while standing above them at any distance. 

Currently there is a lack of universal guidelines in place for education pertaining to trauma sensitivity. Therefore, we advise researching the experience, approach and qualifications of the teacher. An important detail to consider is the number of hours someone has devoted to increasing their knowledge about working with individuals who have a history of trauma.

Trauma-Focused Yoga Therapy:

Trauma Focused Yoga Therapy involves one-on-one care or a class of less than 5 people. This form of yoga includes a thorough intake and assessment to ensure the teachings are personalized for the individual. The approach uses research from neuroscience and physiology to facilitate connection to one’s own body.

Consequently, this creates classes that can directly influence the systems. This can give rise to traumatic responses and afford greater neuroplasticity. Therefore, most Trauma-Focused Yoga Therapy involves collaboration with mental health practitioners. 

There are particular guidelines when working with folx who have been affected by trauma. To optimize integrated support, participants of Trauma-Focused classes are asked to be working with either a Mental Health Practitioner or a related organization.

How is a Yoga Therapy class different from a yoga class?

Yoga Therapy classes can be quite a different experience from a traditional yoga class being led through a series of postures designed by the teacher or particular lineage.

Similarly to a one-on-one Yoga Therapy session, you’ll be sent an Intake Form that includes a number of questions. This form allows the provider to gather important information. It will give them your health history as well as an understanding of how you are doing in this moment, in the following areas:

  • Physically (including digestion)
  • Energetically (is your sleep restful? how are you breathing?)
  • Mentally and emotionally
  • Embodiment and self-awareness (including sense of agency, discernment, and self-learning)
  • Spiritually-how are you connecting to your inner life and outwardly in the world, how are you making meaning and/or creating beauty in your life?

Lastly, a time will be reserved for you and your provider to review your intake, one on one virtually.

This provides the opportunity to ask questions and allows your provider to plan for your needs and desires.  Your Yoga Therapy classes have a maximum of 5 participants with a “check in” at the beginning of each session. 

At the end, you will also have a chance to reflect or optionally share. From there, individual variations can be planned for during our in person or online class.

But what about the actual yoga in a Yoga Therapy class?

Every Yoga Therapist will come from varying professional backgrounds and yoga teaching experience. This means every Yoga Therapy class will carry a particular uniqueness depending on the therapist.  

About Jen, our Certifying Yoga Therapist

Many of my current Yoga Therapy classes weave in my 20 years of yoga teaching experience. These classes also involve insights from my experience as a Birthing From Within Mentor. They are layered with evidence based yoga, meditation, and health related researcher.

As an Orphan Wisdom Scholar, Sacred Gardener, beeswax candlemaker, and sprouting Herbal Apprentice, I tend to sprinkle in some storytelling, ritual, art making, handwork, plants, or ceremony of some kind into our classes.  

My classes tend to provide space for both expanding your awareness and learning about your body and nervous system. This means that sometimes our classes will take pauses to explain the neuroscience, physiology or research underlying certain practices.  My B.Ed, in addition to decades of learning and teaching both professionally and through homeschooling become useful tools in this regard.

In conclusion

Research around Neuroplasticity and Trauma shows us that yoga and meditation can enhance brain functioning. It is important that participants in a Trauma-Focused Yoga Therapy class are both in a class best suited for their needs and working with a Mental Health Practitioner to optimize integrated support.

Jennifer Gillean

Written by Jen Gillean, Doula and Certifying Yoga Therapist. She works one on one in person or online at Bloom from Tuesdays-Thursdays. Jen is a Birthing From Within Childbirth Mentor, Full Spectrum Doula. She is currently completing her practicum to become a Certified Yoga Therapist with the International Association of Yoga Therapists. 

Her specialization is working from a Polyvagal Theory perspective with people through their sexual, birth or pelvic related trauma and pain. Her goal is to enhance capacities for rest, regulation and resilience. 

Jen is currently working with Neil Pearson PT, MSc(RHBS), BA-BPHE, C-IAYT, in his Pain Care Mentorship Program to expand her clinical skills. This will allow her to gain insights from current evidence based research in supporting people through pain.

 Disclaimer – Everything shared is for informative purposes only. It is not intended for assessment, diagnosis or treatment purposes. If you feel there needs to be further investigation, please seek out a qualified health care professional for a proper assessment.