Teaching Trauma-Sensitive Yoga

Posted by – September 20, 2019
Categories: Fitness & Sports General Guest Post Health & Healing

Reflections on teaching trauma-sensitive yoga from Brendon Abram.


I have been privileged to share trauma sensitive yoga (TSY) in clinical and studio settings with military veterans, first responders, Sexual Assault Centres, and Children’s Aid organizations. I have watched people learn to overcome the debilitating symptoms that trauma can cause. I have come to understand, though, that people can still benefit from the accessibility that TSY offers, even if they don’t have a trauma-related condition.

I started a public class at a community centre in rural Ontario, where the concept of yoga is relatively new and the promise of health benefits is motivating people of all ages, shapes, and sizes to try it for the first time. When it was time to teach, I was presented with a totally diverse group. Half were first-timers. Some were young and fit.

Just as many were middle-aged or out of shape. There were seniors with limited mobility, a man who believed he was not flexible enough, and a very accomplished yogini who has been practicing longer than me. It was daunting. I needed to teach a class that would not discourage the newbies and would still engage the more experienced practitioners. So, I defaulted to what I know: I taught a trauma-sensitive class. I did my best to make it safe, needs-adaptive, empowering, and mindful. At the end, when people were reluctant to move from savasana, I knew I got it right. When the “inflexible” man walked by and said “see you next week” and the accomplished yogini did the same, I realized just how powerful a trauma-sensitive approach can be.

I learned that TSY is more than making allowances for the trauma condition. TSY accommodates diversity and promotes inclusivity. It shatters the misconception that we need to be young, flexible and magazine-cover-attractive to pursue this healing practice. It reinforces the concept that we can be part of a larger community just the way we are. It was a profound realization, but perhaps not an original one, for as Desikachar said in the The Heart of Yoga: “Anybody can breathe; therefore anybody can practice yoga…but…it has to be the right yoga for the person.”

About the author

Brendon Abram is a 30 year veteran of the Canadian Forces who served with the United Nations in El Salvador and NATO in Bosnia. A Yoga Alliance registered EYT (experienced yoga teacher), he has trained with David Emerson, is certified by the Trauma Centre in Boston to teach trauma sensitive yoga, and has taught yoga to United States Military veterans with PTSD. He was also an instructor for a research study that examined the effects of yoga on people recovering from operational trauma.

As an associate at Trent View Counselling in Trenton, Ontario, Abram has worked under the direct supervision of a clinical psychologist for the past three years to teach yoga-based self-regulation practices to those living with trauma and other stress-related disorders. He has worked with military veterans, first responders, and survivors of domestic and sexual abuse. Applying what he has learned in the clinic, Abram frequently teaches trauma-sensitive yoga at teacher trainings and Yoga Alliance-certified workshops to yoga teachers and mental health care professionals.

Learn more about Teaching Trauma-Sensitive Yoga.


About the Author

North Atlantic Books (NAB) is an independent, nonprofit publisher committed to a bold exploration of the relationships between mind, body, spirit, and nature. Founded in Vermont, in 1974, NAB aims to nurture a holistic view of the arts, sciences, humanities, and healing. Over the decades, it has been at the forefront of publishing a diverse range of original books in alternative medicine, ecology, and spirituality, with a pioneering publishing program that encompasses somatics, trauma, raw foods, craniosacral therapy, shamanism, and literature.