What is Trauma Sensitive Yoga?

Welcome to the Returning To You Yoga blog page. It is an absolute pleasure to have you here and I am super excited to share all things wellbeing, yoga, self care and health.

So firstly, a brief introduction.

Hi, I’m Alison. I live in Stockport, Greater Manchester, UK and I am a Trauma Sensitive Yoga and Pilates Teacher.

My yoga journey began three and a half years ago after I lost my Dad. Yoga became a space for me.
A private place to move, breathe, process my emotions, build strength, flexibility and develop positive self-talk. I always felt connected after my practice; more self-aware and confident.
During a year of world travel I realised I wanted to teach yoga therapeutically to help others process their pain and reconnect. So I enrolled on a Trauma Sensitive Yoga and Pilates Teacher Training course on the beautiful Thai island of Koh Phangan.

It was life changing. We learned experientially and I realised the values of body-based tools first-hand by practicing on myself first. As the course progressed I felt a sense of coming home, to my body and to myself. I had never felt more connected to who I was. I had never felt emotionally lighter.
And so Returning To You Yoga was born. I returned to the UK with a whole new toolbox of skills for myself and in a beautiful position to share these with others.

All this is well and good, I hear you say, but you still haven’t told us what trauma sensitive yoga is. Fair point, let’s jump right in.

Firstly, What is Trauma?

Let’s start off with an example from the animal kingdom. When a zebra escapes the jaws of death after being chased by a predator they shake, twitch, tremble and tremor. This is a physical response to discharge their body of the fear, stress and anxiety coursing through their veins. They literally shake it off (sing it Taylor).

When a creature (human or animal) is plunged into a traumatic experience their body reacts by entering the fight or flight mode. The sympathetic nervous system is activated, and the body understands it is in a state of emergency. All non-essential body functions are shut down and a surge of stress hormones course the system to ensure the individual is primed for threat.
After the threat has dissipated the zebra twitches and shakes in order to rid the tension the traumatic incident has manifested in the body. The nervous system then returns to it’s ‘normal’ resting state and they can carry on with life as normal.

Humans however, once the traumatic experience has ended, do not have this ‘shake it off’ practice and do not rid the body of the tension created by this trauma. The stress hormones remain active and the body remains primed for threat, even when it no longer exists. Trauma pushes the nervous system beyond its ability to regulate and means people get stuck on ‘on’.

When the system remains overstimulated for long periods individuals are left with anxiety, panic, anger, hyperactivity, PTSD, burnout and general overwhelm.

A Triggering Word – Trauma

I think often the word trauma can be triggering. The idea that within one’s life nothing ‘that bad’ has happened to you. Definitely nothing traumatic. Here I think it is important to contextualise the word trauma.

Yes trauma can be war, natural disaster, terrorist attack, sexual assault, combat, a car or plane accident but trauma is also divorce, loss, grief, injuries, emotional abuse, death of a pet, bullying or harassment.
It is less about the incident and more how your body reacts to it that is of interest in terms of categorising what trauma is. Anything that catapults your nervous system into that state of emergency is a trauma.

There is Hope – Release and Rewire

And so in some way or another we have ALL experienced trauma in our lives. And with this in mind it is super important to know that the impact of trauma on our nervous system CAN be reversed.

Utilising a variety of body-based practices we can reprogram our neural pathways. Simple movement, breathing and self-awareness tools help to retrain our mind and body and release the grip trauma has on us. Letting the individual realise that the threat has gone and they are safe, allowing their nervous system to return back to that restful state.