Trauma-informed yoga is based on a particular understanding of trauma, one that emphasizes its impact on the entire mind-body system, as opposed to particular mental states (e.g., troubling memories) viewed in isolation from the physical body. “Trauma,” Bessel van der Kolk explains, “is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on mind, brain, and body.”
Drawing from neuroscience, developmental psychology, and interpersonal neurobiology, this view of trauma considers body-based therapeutic methods, such as trauma-informed yoga and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), to be at least equal in importance to more traditional therapies, like talk therapy.
Traumatic events involve “inescapable shock”: threats to physical survival and/or psycho-emotional integrity experienced in circumstances that prevent safe escape. Traumatic events may be one-time occurrences, such as a car crash, or part of an ongoing pattern, such as chronic domestic violence.
Though single-event trauma and complex, developmental trauma differ, both evoke the nervous system response that involves the body’s instinctual fight/flight/freeze pattern, which is hardwired into the human nervous system to help protect us from harm. Normally, this provides the energy needed to propel us to safety. Trauma occurs when we are unable to take effective action to stay safe, and remain trapped in a physically threatening and/or psychologically overwhelming situation.