I am reading Trauma-Sensitive Yoga in Therapy: Bringing the body into treatment by David Emerson. As I start in on the first
chapter, I am appreciating that he makes the distinction between teaching asana (postures) and bringing yoga into trauma therapy.
He outlines trauma-sensitive yoga’s principles of physical forms (based on, but distinct from, asana), breath, mindfulness and language and describes how to apply them in psychotherapeutic settings with trauma survivors. The chapters address interception (sensing the body from the inside), choice (a key focus for survivors of trauma), taking effective action, and being present, as well as the application of form and breath to support these concepts.
In the first chapter, Emerson defines trauma-sensitive yoga. In it, he quotes Judith Herman, who says, “No intervention that takes power away from the survivor can possibly foster recovery, no matter how much it appears to be in her immediate best interest.”
Yoga, like therapy, can be either empowering or disempowering. I would suggest one way for yoga to be disempowering, especially in the context of trauma treatment, is for people to be told what to do with their bodies. With trauma-sensitive yoga (TSY), we are trying to create a space where our clients can experiment with doing something safe with their bodies and practice feeling what they feel without being told what to do…
If we tell our clients what to do or what to feel with their bodies, even if “it appears to be in their best interest,” we are not contributing to empowerment but rather reinforcing the trauma paradigm where people aren’t in charge of validating their own experiences.
Empowerment, in the context of TSY, involves giving our clients the space to have their own experiences without anything being imposed from the outside.
I think this is a powerful message that those of us working with trauma, and especially those of us integrating yoga into our work as therapists, need to take into account. As a therapist and yoga teacher, I’m deeply appreciative of this book that provides instruction in bringing the principles most useful for trauma recovery from yoga into therapy. I’m looking forward to reading more of it.