Why Yoga Can Be Triggering for Trauma Survivors
Your relationship to stillness affects your experience on the mat
I’ve had a yoga practice for nearly 20 years. While there’s no readily apparent novelty in a middle-aged, white, female wellness practitioner doing some yoga, if you knew the story of my work, you might find it surprising.
I’m a trauma-informed personal trainer who lifts weights as a healing practice. Trauma-informed strength training is an embodied approach to resistance training that focuses on increasing your capacity for stress and nervous system resiliency. It helps you cultivate tools that you can use to help you process your trauma in therapy, repair boundaries, and increase your self awareness so you feel more equipped to take action on your own behalf and be more active than reactive in your daily life.
More significantly, my work was spurred on by the fact that I found yoga, even trauma-sensitive yoga, to be rife with triggers. Many trauma survivors turn to yoga for support, and it’s wonderful that it often works. But I think we’ve let down too many trauma survivors by overselling yoga as “the” movement-based wellness solution for trauma and related disorders such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex-post traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD).
Your experience may be that yoga elicits more complicated feelings than other movement modalities. Maybe you experience an increase in intrusive thoughts or flashbacks, or are much more on edge on the mat than when you do other things. Or maybe after a yoga class you feel depleted or numb. This can be for all sorts of reasons, including your current orientation toward stillness. To better understand why yoga can be triggering for some, we need to look at trauma from a body-based perspective.
What is trauma?
Trauma is the unprocessed physiological response to an event that overwhelmed your nervous system and prevented you from moving through your natural threat-response cycle, leaving you effectively stuck somewhere in that response even after the threat is gone. This “stuckness” leads to changes in your emotional and physical state that are likely dissonant with your present reality, whether you’re in yoga class, your home, or the grocery store.