Trauma Centered Trauma-Sensitive Yoga


AUDIENCE   Settlement, social, and health service providers

POPULATION OF INTEREST   Immigrants and refugees, particularly trauma survivors

LOCATION   National

THE NEED   Refugees who come to Canada may have experienced trauma. Integrating trauma-informed yoga into a treatment plan may lead to better mental health outcomes for these individuals, as evidence suggests that the body is a crucial tool for helping people process trauma.

WHAT'S PROMISING   Trauma-informed yoga can be used as an innovative adjunctive treatment for complex trauma.

KEY TAKEAWAY   Trauma centered trauma-sensitive yoga can be integrated as a program or service, serving as an alterative method for processing trauma.

Some immigrants and refugees may have experienced trauma. Although different people respond to traumatic experiences in different ways, most people will not require trauma treatment. Nevertheless, trauma is an experience that can overwhelm an individual’s emotional and psychological ability to cope. Evidence suggests that programs and services for refugees should be trauma-informed to ensure that service providers recognize the effect of trauma on survivors and incorporate this knowledge into service delivery (Fallot & Harris, 2001; Blanch, 2008).

Trauma Centered Trauma-Sensitive Yoga (TCTSY) is an empirically validated, adjunctive treatment for complex trauma or chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD and can help people find new possible ways of feeling in their bodies.

The TCTSY methodology is based on central components of the hatha style of yoga, where participants engage in a series of physical forms and movements. Elements of standard hatha yoga are modified to maximize experiences of empowerment and to cultivate a more positive relationship to one's body. Unlike many public yoga classes, TCTSY does not use physical hands-on adjustments to influence a participant's physical form. Rather, TCTSY presents opportunities for participants to be in charge of themselves based on a felt sense of their own body.  We consider physical assist to be a clinical issue and we do not involve any adjustments in TCTSY, nor do we recommend them. Especially in dealing with immigrants or refugees, touching may be culturally inappropriate. This kind of yoga also excludes the use of any sanskrit or mantras (what may often be experienced in public classes) and avoids potentially triggering gestures and postures; making it accessible to all and is especially ideal for immigrants and refugees who might otherwise be uncomfortable with traditional yoga styles.

More and more research is coming out that point to the body as a crucial tool for helping people process trauma. Trauma is based on immobilization and trauma-sensitive yoga is an opportunity for the opposite - for a person to be completely in charge of his or her body in the present moment. By becoming aware of our body movement, by noticing our sensations, we can help rewire the brain-body experience —potentially then also allowing for a new autographical narrative. In my experience working with refugee children, watching them create this new understanding and relationship with their personal space and self also becomes a bridge to rebuilding their curiosity. Therefore, two of the most important questions we can ask ourselves in a trauma-informed yoga practice are: what am I feeling in my body and what do I want to do about that?

TCTSY is equally accessible to all people regardless of age, gender identity, race, ethnicity, body type, and physical ability. As a service provider, integrating TCTSY into your treatment plan, referring clients to partake in this practice, or by incorporating a certified facilitator into your organizations’ team, may serve as an alternative to more traditional treatments.

For a list of Canadian certified facilitators, and to learn more about this practice, feel free to visit our website, here.

Explore other topics