What The Research is Showing Us


The benefits of yoga for trauma

Over half of the US population reports having experienced at least one traumatic event in their lifetime, and approximately 7.7 million American adults suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) every year (Emerson & Hopper 2011, p.3).

Research has demonstrated that somatic and movement-based therapies, including trauma-informed yoga, have a profound impact on healing from PTSD and adverse childhood experiences. Benefits include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Improved heart rate variability (HRV)
  • Reduced depression and anxiety symptoms
  • Increased window of tolerance/ resilience
  • Improved self esteem and body image
  • Increased ability to form and sustain healthy relationships
  • Decrease in dissociation and self-harm behaviors
  • A rise in interoceptive capability, and “feeling” body sensations
  • Reduction in reliance on psychiatric medications

Pilot studies conducted by Georgetown Law’s Center on Poverty and Inequality and results from programs in the juvenile justice system showed that after girls practiced trauma-informed yoga, they:

  • Reported greater levels of self-esteem, self-respect and general wellbeing.
  • Showed declines in anger, depression, flashbacks, nightmares and anxiety.
  • Improved their ability to identify negative behavior patterns and resolve conflicts.
  • Used breathing techniques to avoid aggressive responses to provocations by peers and to manage the stress of appearing in court.
  • Reported past incidents of sexual violence to staff.

The benefits of yoga for PTSD

Following up on previous work by Bessel Van der Kolk, another 2017 study of women with  chronic PTSD symptoms found that “participants achieved more substantial reductions in PTSD severity, including loss of diagnosis and attainment of asymptomatic status, as well as clinically significant decreases in dissociation symptoms at levels comparable to those established for bona fide trauma-focused psychotherapies (e.g., measured by treatment effect sizes).”


The Difference of
Trauma-Informed Yoga


The Trauma Center at JRI on the core components of trauma-informed yoga:

“Th[e] model of a gentle yoga practice, versus the fixed or universal administration of specific exercises or techniques per se, are the most critical aspects of [the] characterization as a trauma- informed intervention. These processes include use of invitational language; emphasis on personal experimentation, choice, curiosity, and self- care; individually tailored selection of postures, pacing, and challenge level; repetition of specific postures and forms to build incremental mastery; application of yoga elements (breathing, meditation, postures) as primary vehicles of self-control and self-regulation (affective, somatic, behavioral, cognitive); and provision of contained opportunities for social learning, attunement and modeling, co-regulation, and peer support.”

Trauma informed yoga is highly individualized and builds by session so that there is a great deal of repetition of postures.  The focus is mostly on connecting with the self and self-care.  In many yoga environments there can be an (intended or accidental) emphasis on competition or feelings of exclusivity.  Trauma informed yoga (and Terra Firma) strives to create inclusive and healing spaces and encourages participants to explore their own personal experience versus following exact instructions (thereby creating more sense of agency).


Yoga is an opportunity to practice making choices

Yoga is an opportunity to practice being in the present moment


Yoga is an opportunity to practice taking effective action


Yoga is an opportunity to practice moving in rhythm with others



  1. Clark, C. J., Lewis-Dmello, A., Anders, D., Parsons, A., Nguyen-Feng, V., Henn, L., & Emerson, D. (2014). Trauma-sensitive yoga as an adjunct mental health treatment in group therapy for survivors of domestic violence: A feasibility study. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 20(3), 152-158.  
  2. Effectiveness of an Extended Yoga Treatment for Women with Chronic Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Maggi Price, MA,1,2 Joseph Spinazzola, PhD,1,3 Regina Musicaro, ALM,1,3 Jennifer Turner, MA, E-RYT,1 Michael Suvak, PhD,1,3 David Emerson, E-RYT,1 and Bessel van der Kolk, MD1,4
  3. Application of Yoga in Residential Treatment of Traumatized Youth Spinazzola, J., Rhodes, A., Emerson, D., Earle, E., Monroe, K., Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, 2011, 17(6) 431-444.
  4. Pilot studies conducted by Georgetown Law’s Center on Poverty and Inequality
  5. Dale LP, Carroll LE, Galen GC, et al. Yoga practice may buffer the deleterious effects of abuse on women’s self-concept and dysfunctional coping. J Aggress Maltreat Trauma 2011;20:90–102.