Informed teaching: Yoga for trauma

Illustration by Marcus Parker for Little Village

As a yoga practitioner turned instructor, I need no convincing of the positive effects that yoga can have on one’s physical, mental and emotional health. In my own yoga journey, I have experienced better sleep, formed stronger muscles and achieved greater stamina through breath control, just to name a few items on the list. I am mentally and emotionally relaxed and my levels of anxiety are greatly reduced after an hour practice. I wouldn’t consider myself someone who has experienced great emotional or mental pain, no more than the average person, but yoga has helped me focus on the important aspects of my life and release the need to control things that are out of my hands.

But what about those who have suffered through trauma — those individuals who have experienced extreme loss? According to, 5 percent of Americans (more than 13 million people) have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at any given time.

Can these individuals just pop into any yoga class and feel like a new person upon rising from Savasana? Probably not, but research has suggested regular, trauma-informed yoga can be an effective way to ease the symptoms of PTSD.

A three-year yoga and trauma study funded by the National Institute of Health and conducted in the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute in Brookline, Massachusetts was presented in 2010. Linda Sparrowe summarized the results for Yoga International.

“Initial study results revealed that participation in trauma-informed gentle yoga leads to a significant reduction (over 30 percent) in symptoms of post-traumatic stress, including fewer intrusive thoughts and less dissociation from the body,” Sparrowe wrote. “By the end of the study (after only 10 weeks of yoga) several women in the yoga group no longer met diagnostic criteria for PTSD.”

If you are an avid yoga practitioner or instructor, those findings probably come as no surprise. But what may surprise you is that a regular yoga class at your everyday studio may not be appropriate for yogis diagnosed with PTSD.

Joyce Bosen, founder of Trauma Recovery Yoga out of Las Vegas, recently gave an interview about taking a yoga class after her own PTSD diagnosis: “I didn’t like that the lights were dim. I didn’t like that my back was to the door. I didn’t like that people were moving about the room and I didn’t know where they were. I didn’t like the music they were playing …”

Bosen was already a yoga instructor before her traumatic experience and in order to heal her own wounds and the wounds of others, she went on to create the Trauma Recovery Yoga (TRY) method. Bosen and other TRY-certified instructors train other yoga instructors and caregivers on working with those with PTSD, including appropriate verbiage and touch in a class, the psychology of trauma and how to work with a wide spectrum of mobility variations. It is important to know how to set up a class so the participants feel as safe as they can and free from any triggers or stimulation that may bring on anxiety. It is also very possible that a participant may have a physical disability as a result of their trauma, and modifications need to be available for them.

People with PTSD reside all across the United States, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has published a multitude of resources for veterans on where to find yoga, including a variety of organizations geared to providing yoga for those with PTSD.

If you are interested in teaching yoga for trauma, I strongly suggest you educate yourself on how to set up your class so as to provide the best and healthiest experience for your participants. We as instructors have a responsibility to understand more than just the asanas and the breath work when teaching yogis who have suffered from trauma.

Seeking formal education on yoga for trauma? A 20-hour Trauma Recovery Yoga training will be held in Lone Tree, Iowa August 16-18. I reached out to TRY in hopes of bringing them to Iowa so I and my peers might undergo training, and happily, they agreed! Yoga instructors are eligible for 20 hours of Yoga Alliance continuing education, and social workers are eligible for 17 hours of continuing education through the state of Iowa. You do not have to be a certified yoga instructor to take the training. Find out more and register at

Cara Clonch Viner is co-host of the Trauma Recovery Yoga training in August.


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