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Trauma-Informed Yoga for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

by Rebecca de Jesús

der (PTSD), the yoga community has embraced this as an opportunity to tailor curricula that aim to teach those suf- fering with the condition how to cope and heal. This awareness has prompted scientific inquiry into the effectiveness of yoga and meditation for individuals with PTSD. The results are extremely positive and institutions like Harvard University have published a wealth of evidence- based research providing data to support funding for yoga studios and other organizations to offer veterans and their families free or donation-based classes. The response to the rapidly increasing number of soldiers with a PTSD diagnosis has sparked more curi- osity within the yoga community. Inter- est among individuals working in fields of human services such as social work, foster homes, correctional facilities and many more is on the rise as well. There are many symptoms of


PTSD, with some of the most com- mon being nightmares, intense anxiety, flashbacks and depression. Could the time-honored traditions of yoga and meditation ease the symptoms of PTSD and after-effects of severe trauma for these populations? Denise Veres, founder and execu-

tive director of Shanthi Project, is a cer- tified yoga teacher who agrees that it’s possible. The nonprofit, which is based out of Easton, Pennsylvania, brings weekly trauma-informed yoga classes to at-risk youth and trauma survivors,

46 Lehigh Valley

ith more and more soldiers returning from combat with post-traumatic stress disor-

including children in the foster care system, veterans and the incarcerated. “Yoga is a practice of inquiry, of self-care and discovery,” says Veres. Children who grow up in abusive and violent situations are often focused on survival and aren’t taught how to have healthy relationships. They often turn to drugs or alcohol to numb and escape from their thoughts and feel- ings. One of the reasons mindfulness strategies can help is because they are adaptable. Skilled teachers are able to come up with creative ways to make yoga and meditation accessible to just about anybody. Trauma-informed classes are

sensitive to common triggers and avoid things that are often a part of yoga classes at studios and gyms. For exam- ple, the teacher instructs from the front of the room, often doing the postures along with the students, and there are no hands-on adjustments. Yoga teach- ers attend trauma-informed teacher trainings so that they are more aware of potential triggers and can avoid those as much as possible. Teachers also learn to use invitatory language, which has an emphasis on body awareness, and being mindful of not sounding authori- tative or commanding. The goal of creating a mind-body connection is so that individuals can learn what it’s like to feel safe and learn how to love and take care of them- selves. Creating a space for people with PTSD and symptoms from trauma al- lows them to look inward and explore. Along with maintaining a safe space

to explore and discover, the teacher explains to the students how to notice thoughts and feelings without getting wrapped up in them. The teacher pro- vides suggestions for how the students can take what they learn in class and use in their daily lives. Mindfulness teaches how to be present and in the moment. Learning how to ground oneself in the present is a great way to manage flashbacks from traumatic events. The person learns how to notice what’s going on at that moment in their mind and body and realize that it’s not actually happen- ing. They learn that it’s just an intrusive memory or a sensation and that they have the tools to cope. Veres says children have told her

that they’ve learned that they can do something about their thoughts and change them. She adds, “Our program of therapeutic yoga and mindfulness is designed to teach people how to go within, observe and come back with a more integrated sense of self. Our students tell us they feel calmer and more peaceful. Prisons are noisy places. Huge magnetic doors are always slamming shut. People are unhappy. The feeling of having this stuff around you and not having to react to it is very powerful. It’s a sign of mindful- ness, of living in the moment.” In addition to experiencing calm and peace, teaching mindfulness in a trauma-informed way can assist in emo- tion regulation, developing resilience and creating a sense of empowerment. Quantitatively, research is providing data that shows changes in various brain structures to support these find- ings. From a qualitative, or subjective, standpoint, a large percentage of people engaged in these practices confirm the theories to be true. Mindfulness prac- tices that forge the mind-body connec- tion, such as yoga and meditation, teach people how to change their coping strategies to ones that ultimately lead to more healthful and productive lives.

Rebecca de Jesús completed her RYT-200 certification at The Yoga Loft of Bethlehem. She earned her trauma-informed teaching certificate with Shanthi Project. Contact her at

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