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Trauma Informed Yoga

Yoga for Stress Management and Mental Well-being

In an increasingly fast paced society with expectations of constant availability, social media, and pressure to perform, we see a rise in mental health issues among people. Depression, anxiety, burnout, bodily tension, headaches, and chronic pain are becoming more common. In some cases, one may need help in restoring balance in life, and that's where yoga is a tool that can be used for support alongside other treatments.

On this page, you can read about how yoga can promote your well-being, help you feel better, and learn about the methods we use at Ashtanga Yoga Malmö to help treat stress related symptoms. Our teachers have many years of experience in teaching yoga and have received training or taken individual courses in trauma informed/sensitive yoga.

Stress - a natural response

The physical stress response we experience in challenging situations or when faced with danger is a natural response that helps the body prepare to handle the events we encounter in life. Thus, stress is not solely something negative; the same chemical response in the brain can arise from things we perceive as enjoyable or challenging, such as exercise, interesting projects, new love, an exciting journey, etc. (positive stress is called "eustress").

It is our autonomic nervous system (the part of the nervous system we cannot control consciously) that regulates different responses during activity and rest. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is activated during stress, while the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is activated during rest and recovery. We constantly fluctuate between these two systems throughout the day, and in a healthy body, these two systems are balanced.

When stress becomes unhealthy

If we are exposed to prolonged or chronic stress (too much positive stress can eventually turn into having a negative impact), we can end up in a vicious cycle where the SNS is constantly active, and the PNS becomes weakened - an imbalance that results in a lack of opportunity for recovery. Our ability to put on the break (PNS) becomes impaired. This can lead to feelings of anxiety, negative thinking, difficulty sleeping, and deteriorated physical and mental health. Anxiety and/or depression can be the result of being exposed to prolonged stress that one feels unable to handle. In the long run, chronic stress may also lead to collapse, with an overly strong PNS response resulting in exhaustion and emotional burnout.

Trauma - what is it?

A more severe consequence of one or several events that overwhelm us emotionally, psychologically, and physically can be the development of trauma. Trauma is an individual experience, what is traumatic for one person may not necessarily be traumatic for another. Trauma can be something that happens to us or something that doesn't happen, such as a lack of love and care.

Traumatic stress that stays in the body is a survival response but can produce symptoms and reactions that negatively affect our lives. The affected individual may relive frightening memories through flashbacks, nightmares, and feelings of hopelessness, grief, and intense fear. Another reaction may be dissociation from reality and physical sensations. Trauma can also affect our relationships and cause avoidance of certain situations and places. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a stress-related diagnosis if persistent negative symptoms affect us for more than a month after the trauma.

What is Trauma-Informed/Sensitive Yoga and how does it work?

In cases of depression, anxiety, burnout, or trauma, the individual may experience losing control over themselves and their body. In such cases help may be needed to restore balance in life. Please note that trauma treatment is complex and should always be carried out by licensed trauma therapists. Yoga can facilitate and serve as a tool to support this process in a gentle manner.

Trauma-informed yoga (TAY in Swedish) is an evidence-based form of yoga that may have a positive impact on an individual's health by relieving symptoms of trauma. It can be used as a complementary approach to other treatments. Trauma-informed yoga is not limited to individuals who have experienced trauma but can also be beneficial for treating conditions such as anxiety, depression, exhaustion, addiction, neurodevelopmental disorders, and more. The goal of Trauma-informed yoga is to provide individuals with knowledge and practical tools to understand, manage, and change their reactions and behaviors, thereby fostering a better approach and a new lifestyle.

The methods of Trauma-informed yoga are based on understanding the connection between the brain and the body’s functions in theory and practice. By increasing awareness and understanding of how the body works, individuals can not only understand why different emotions, thoughts, and reactions arise but also learn how to manage them through various self-regulation techniques.

What to expect in a trauma-informed yoga class:

Trauma-informed yoga aims to help individuals become aware of different behaviors and thought patterns and strengthen their ability to discern what enhances their lives in a constructive direction. The method focuses on the principle that the body itself can facilitate and support recovery by addressing the imbalances in the autonomic nervous system, and by contributing to increased inner calm and security. The method and pedagogy aim to enhance participants' sense of empowerment, self-control, presence, and safety in the body and within the yoga group. Between classes, exercises, tips, and advice are provided to contribute to self-regulation techniques that can be used in everyday life.

The main focus of Trauma-informed yoga is to increase self-regulation skills and promote a sense of safety in the present moment. Through specially designed physical classes that strengthen and balance the nervous system, participants have the opportunity to experience a calm moment without demands or expectations. Each class involves exploring different movements in the form of yoga poses, group-adapted breathing exercises, and various relaxation techniques. Classes often revolve around specific themes where individuals are introduced to different tools and methods for increased self-awareness, stress management, and stress reduction.

How does a trauma-informed yoga class differ from a regular yoga class?

Trauma-informed yoga is a gentle method with an understanding of common trauma responses, which makes it accessible also for those with complex issues and difficulties attending open yoga classes. When attending a trauma-informed yoga class, one should feel secure in knowing that the instructor has the knowledge about common trauma reactions, and can handle panic attacks and strong reactions. Trauma-informed yoga:

  • Provides a safe, secure, calm, supportive, non-judgmental environment
  • Helps individuals recognize their own boundaries and needs
  • Encourages self-awareness and self-regulation
  • Inspires individual exploration rather than comparison and competition with others
  • Fosters curiosity and interest in the body and the subjective experience of the moment

Trauma-informed yoga methods can support the strengthening of the body, mind, nervous system, and brain functions, and contribute to a meaningful community and everyday life. The benefits of yoga classes based on Trauma-informed yoga methods include reduced stress and anxiety, increased mindfulness and enhanced body awareness, increased inner calm and mental well-being, improved joint mobility, increased concentration and energy, reduced aggression, improved impulse control, and better sleep quality.

Trauma-informed yoga as a method in healthcare

Trauma-informed yoga (TAY in Sweden) has been developed in collaboration with leading researchers and experts in body-based methods for trauma support and common contemporary psychiatric conditions, making it well-suited as a method of support within psychiatry. It is currently used nationally as a complement to other treatments. TAY Sweden's methods are also used within the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (BUP) and BUP in Örebro are pioneers in Sweden to train staff in the method. TAY is continuously being implemented in more psychiatric clinics in Sweden during 2022-23 and is already used in all British women's prisons, and adult psychiatry in Upstate New York as well as within the Prison Yoga Project's international programs.

Learn more about yoga for mental health

Note: The information provided here is a general overview of trauma-informed yoga and its principles. It is important to consult with qualified professionals and seek appropriate guidance for individual circumstances and needs.

More information for individuals:

  • Take a course in  yoga for stress reduction
  • Private sessions

Information for Yoga teachers/Health care professionals:

  • Trauma Informed Yoga Sweden (TAY)
  • TAY certified teachers Sweden
  • The Minded Institute (UK)