2017 – Yoga Recovery


Yoga for Recovery (YR) draws from the principles of Trauma-Sensitive Yoga (TSY), breathing practices, self-regu­lation and mindfulness. The aim of YR is for clients to cultivate awareness of the mind-body connection and to build self-regulation skills to address the ways in which trauma is held in the body. According to Emerson (2015) women who have survived complex trauma experience long lasting damage to their sense of self, such as feelings of shame, hopelessness, and worthlessness, and interpersonal functioning, such as isola­tion, lack of trust and unhealthy bound­aries, resulting from their pain.

Like most forms of yoga, YR borrows from all the components overarching the practice which is essentially synon­ymous with purposeful attention. How­ever the difference between regular forms of yoga and YR is that the focus is not on the external expression of the posture itself in YR, rather on the internal and felt experience of the client. Intero­ception is defined as ‘our awareness of what is going on within the boundaries of our skin; intra-organismic awareness’, and gives a cortical representation of our embodied self (Emerson, 2015, p. 44). This shift in orientation from the exter­nal to the internal makes YR a therapy for complex trauma (Emerson, 2015). To be traumatised is to live in a body with which you have an unreliable and unpre­dictable relationship. Valuing the internal perspective sends a clear message that power resides within each client, and not externalised in the posture or the facil­itator. In saying this YR has the poten­tial for clients to reclaim their physical bodies and instil a sense of ownership which many had been lost through their traumatic experiences.

A randomised controlled trial conducted by Bessel van der Kolk and colleagues in 2014, examined the effects of TSY on women with complex trauma who were unresponsive to traditional psychother­apy. Women in the 10 week TSY course were more likely than women in the con­trol group to no longer meet the crite­ria for PTSD post-treatment. The TSY group also showed significant decreases to depressive symptoms, negative ten­sion-reduction behaviours (for exam­ple, self-injury), and reported improved quality of life and personal empower­ment. Furthermore, a long-term follow up conducted by Alison Rhodes (2014) found that the frequency of continuing yoga practice was a significant predictor of long term outcomes. At one to three years post-treatment, women who prac­ticed yoga following the study were more likely to show a loss of PTSD diagnosis and greater reductions in PTSD and depressive symptoms (Rhodes, 2014). These studies suggest that the addition of TSY to treatment may lead to long-term improvement in symptoms that have previously been considered unre­sponsive to other interventions.

In addition, another relevant neuro­science research from Bessel van der Kolk (2006) where trauma clients were exposed to traumatic reminders, found a relative deactivation in the left anterior prefrontal cortex, specifically in Broca’s area, the expressive speech centre nec­essary to communicate thoughts and feelings. This neuroscience research sug­gests that traumatised people may not only be alienated from their bodies but also indicates that they may be unable to communicate their experience due to the impact to Broca’s area. This informa­tion demonstrates that a broader range of treatments for traumatised people other than those that are talk based and cognitive are essential.

The language used in YR is critically important. In most regular yoga classes it is common to hear instructions and commands like ‘raise your left leg’. In YR invitatory language is used where clients are invited to participate throughout their yoga practice, for example, using phrases such as, ‘If you like you could explore lifting your right arm’ or ‘When you are ready you may wish to take a deep breath’. This practice helps a cli­ent to learn that they are in charge and can choose what they do with their body and when they want to do it, ultimately taking control of their bodies through the support of the facilitator.


  • To increase the mind-body connection and sense of embodiment particularly for those survivors that have coped through dissociation.
  • To increase self-awareness through a gentle introduction to practices such as mindfulness, self-enquiry and intra-connectedness.
  • To promote a sense of trust and a growing confidence of regaining con­trol which in turn is aimed to enhance self-regulation, resiliency, deci­sion-making and improved relaxation.
  • To improve quality of life and to facil­itate a process that assists clients to gain a sense of personal empower­ment.



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