Trauma Sensitive Yoga


There's no chanting, no meditation, no hands-on assists. Postures are referred to as "forms," and the teacher may not even make eye contact with students.

Trauma Sensitive Yoga (TSY) might fly in the face of everything you've ever learned about teaching yoga, but a recent study shows that it has reduced symptoms for survivors of complex trauma when little else had previously helped them.

"Trauma Sensitive Yoga is a movement-based practice focused on choice-making and interoception," explained Jennifer Turner, yoga program coordinator at the Trauma Center in Brookline, MA, where TSY was developed.

Interoception is the practice of noticing sensation in the body. TSY students are encouraged to notice these sensations, and to then make choices about relating to them, such as whether they want to feel more or less intensity. "We focus on empowerment as opposed to a hierarchical methodology," Turner said.

In one study, 60 women with a history of repeated childhood trauma participated in hour-long TSY classes once a week for for ten weeks. The women suffered from treatment-resistant PTSD that included feelings of low self-worth, shame, reduced body awareness, and difficulty with communicating.

After the TSY treatment, 52 percent of the women no longer met the criteria for PTSD and reported many positive results, such as greater self-compassion, self-acceptance, body awareness, and feeling more related to others.

In a TSY class, the instructor might invite students to notice sensations, or suggest they experiment with variations, but never command or direct them to do it. Language is kept as simple as possible, and teachers avoid Sanskrit terminology or descriptive language. "Part of this is not to be imaginative or get a story involved because [in trauma] that is what the body is tied to," Turner said. "The word ‘form' is used because the idea of posing can be triggering for many clients who have been asked to pose—but also because ‘pose' implies doing it for an external opinion or view.