Trauma Sensitivity in Yoga

The attached content was used in our 200hr Vinyasa Yoga Teacher Training Program.

An essential aspect of recovering from trauma is learning ways to calm down, or selfregulate. For thousands of years, yoga has been offered as a practice that helps one calm the mind and body.

More recently, research has shown that yoga practices, including meditation, relaxation, and physical postures, can reduce autonomic sympathetic activation, muscle tension, and blood pressure, improve neuroendocrine and hormonal activity, decrease physical symptoms and emotional distress, and increase quality of life.

For these reasons, yoga is a promising treatment or adjunctive therapy for addressing the cognitive, emotional, and physiological symptoms associated with trauma, and PTSD specifically.
— Emerson, Sharma, Chaudhry & Turner (2009)


  • Come as you are

  • Welcoming, Inviting, Non-judgmental (drugs, diet, lifestyle, etc)

  • Use Language in a trauma sensitive manner

  • Omit postures that could trigger traumatic memory (sexual abuse)

  • Non-Authoritarian Approach


  • Empower student to make choices for him or herself. From the start of class, remind students they have the right to say “no”

  • Use caution around mentioning the concepts of God, Guru, having a Teacher, and being an obedient or “good” student.

  • Do not shame or punish student for coming late. Even coming to class can be an overwhelming experience.

  • In offering instructions, invite students to have a curiosity and explore, as opposed to the more authoritarian approach of “do what I say,” or telling them what to feel. There are many reasons student(s) may be unable to follow requests. It’s impossible to know what someone else is feeling.


  • Keep posture choices simple and safe enough that refinements are unnecessary.

  • Ask permission before adjusting someone, even if you have already established consent.


Never give medical advice, and if asked, withhold your opinion and defer to a professional.

  • “I feel so much better when I do yoga, I just want to do it everyday. Do you think maybe I can stop taking my anti-anxiety meds?”


Keep instructions simple:

  • Do not use anatomical words or alignment terminology

  • Mental confusion or Physical struggle can trigger self-defeatist thought patterns and anxieties

  • In groups, teach easy poses and remove intermediate level challenges

De-personalize Instructions:

“Inhale to lift your right leg.”
vs “Inhale, lift the right leg.”

Now I want you to lift the right leg…”
vs “Inhale, lift the right leg.”

Avoid language and postures that could be easily sexualized:

Examples of word choices to avoid:

  • ”Drop the Pubic Bone” vs “Lengthen the belly”

  • “Bend Over” vs “Fold forward”

  • “Spread the legs” vs “Step the feet 4-5 feet apart”

Honour the diversity of potential experiences…

Don’t tell people what they “should feel”

  • “This pose should stretch the back of the legs,”
    vs “There might be a stretch in the back of the legs, or no stretch… It doesn’t matter.”

  • “The belly should rise on the inhale and fall on the exhale.” ….
    vs “Notice the breath, and notice any areas that seem to move with the breath”

When students appear unresponsive to your instructions

Keep in mind that certain body shapes may remind a student of past situations. Examples:

  • Happy Baby,

  • Cat/cow,

  • Downdog,

  • Wide leg folds,

  • Bound Angle, Etc…

Be prepared to offer individuals alternatives. Remind them that resting is always an option - it’s best to establish that in the beginning.