Developed at the Trauma Center in Brookline, Massachusetts, Trauma Center Trauma-Sensitive Yoga (TCTSY) is a program of Center for Trauma and Embodiment at Justice Resource Institute.
TCTSY is an empirically validated, clinical intervention for complex trauma or chronic, treatment-resistant post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
This short video by founders of the programme, Jenn Turner and Dave Emmerson, gives an overview of the TCTSY approach.
There is a growing recognition that trauma is not just memories of an event but is
also remembered and stored within the body.
Leading trauma theorists, such as Bessel van der Kolk, Judith Herman, Arielle Schwarz and Peter Levine,
all advocate incorporating a somatic approach to trauma healing. As many symptoms of trauma are somatically based, trauma treatment must incorporate the body The mind and the body are both significantly impacted by trauma and traditional talk therapy alone may not be effective at addressing
the physical or somatic symptoms of trauma.
Trauma sensitive yoga (TSY) is a specialized form of yoga that helps people
who have experienced trauma or may have a diagnosis of PTSD. Yoga is already
well known for it benefits to general health and wellbeing, but research has
demonstrated that when TSY is practiced regularly there can be a reduction in
symptoms of trauma and PTSD, particularly when used alongside traditional
Why does it work?
When someone experiences trauma we know that it can cause their brain to
function differently, and historically treatment has solely focused on the mind.
However, recent developments in neuroscience and psychological theory have
taught us that the body is just as affected by trauma and that every single cell
can hold on to ‘trauma-memories’.
Human beings have amazing instincts that work to protect us by reacting
incredibly fast, even before our brain has fully processed what is happening.
Unfortunately, after a traumatic experience these instincts do not settle down,
and our body can remain on high alert. Over time this can overwhelm the
nervous system and sufferers can feel like they have lost all sense of control or
By practicing TSY we are helping people to spend time reconnecting with their
body and work to ease these instinctive trauma memories.
Interoception is our ability to notice sensations and emotions that are
happening within our body, and we know that people who have experienced
trauma have a reduced interoceptive awareness.
In a dangerous situation you will be completely focused on the external threat,
and you stop tuning in to how you feel. Trauma sufferers get stuck in this state,
constantly focusing on external threats and they lose interoceptive awareness.
Over time sufferers can feel numb and disconnected from their own bodies.
TSY is a fantastic way to develop interoception or interoceptive awareness by
tuning back into the body.
Neuroscience informs us that there is a part of the brain called the insula, which transmits our physical, bodily sensations into our conscious awareness. Brain imaging studies repeatedly show a marked decrease in activation of the insula, and other parts of the brain that are related to self awareness in people who have experienced complex trauma. Only by activating this dormant part of the brain can we begin to truly feel that we are here now, feeling something in the present moment and not reliving a traumatic event from the past.
Increasing awareness of our body, of even having a body, is vital because if we
are disconnected from ourselves and do not know what we are feeling, it is
much harder to make real changes.
Trauma survivors often describe being stuck in the past. Through practicing TSY
we increase our sense of rhythm, and if done regularly we can reteach our
bodies that sensations are temporary. That they have a beginning, a middle
and an end. Learning and knowing that all experiences are temporary can really help
people’s resilience in coping with the symptoms of trauma.
Central to all TSY classes and session is your empowerment.
Learning to be empowered is so important because experiences of trauma
usually involve an extreme lack of choice resulting in you feeling powerless and
In complete contrast your experience of TSY will be in a safe environment with
a qualified teacher. It will be a calm and relaxed session that you will have
complete control over. Every form and every movement is offered as an
invitation to try, allowing you to make the decision on what you want from the
What to expect in a trauma sensitive yoga session
Trauma sensitive yoga (TSY) is a gentle form of yoga or mindful movement that
is suitable for anybody, no previous experience of yoga, exercise or flexibility is
TSY allows you to practice focusing on being present in your body in a calm and
safe place. The focus is on your own internal experience.