“Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga” by David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper

Subtitle: Reclaiming Your Body

Recommended to me by: a client

This book is divided into three parts: a general introduction to the history of trauma treatment and PTSD, a suggested yoga practice for traumatized people, illustrated with photographs, and suggestions for offering trauma-sensitive yoga for clinicians and yoga teachers.

Throughout the book, it is clear that these people get it. They emphasize choice, empowerment, and reconnecting with the body. From Stephen Cope’s foreword: “Sometimes we encounter experiences that so violate our sense of safety, order, predictability, and right, that we feel utterly overwhelmed […]. Unable to bear reality. We have come to call these shattering experiences trauma.”

Trauma involves being helpless to avoid pain. In trauma-sensitive yoga, students are repeatedly encouraged to change postures if they are painful, and instructions emphasize choice and control over their own bodies. Students are encouraged to attend to their own experience, rather than trying to get postures “right”.

There were two instructions in the book that seemed less well-attuned to traumatized yoga students. One is to “lift the crown of the head,” without explaining how to find a balanced upright posture for the head. The other is to “hug in and around the lower belly” to activate core muscles. Many traumatized people chronically clench their bellies already.

Trauma-sensitive yoga classes move slowly to give students time to connect with their physical experience. “Physical assists” (touching students) is done rarely, with permission, and with careful attention to possible triggering effects. Thought is given to the props available – many trauma survivors find straps triggering because of having been restrained, so the book suggests not having straps in the room.

“In teaching trauma-sensitive yoga, the job of the yoga teacher is not to create artificial challenges—many of our students have already challenged themselves more than we may ever know just by showing up. The work of the teacher is to cultivate enough safety so that students can challenge themselves as they are ready, and in ways they feel safe.”

Highly recommended for its compassionate approach to anyone dealing with trauma or traumatized people.

Available at Powell’s Books.

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