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How Does Trauma Sensitive Yoga Work? The Neuroscience Behind this Mind-body Treatment.

In this video I talk about some of the neuroscience behind Trauma Center Trauma-Sensitive Yoga (TCTSY).

There is a lot of contemporary neuroscience demonstrating that our sense of self is tied to body sensations. Feeling into our bodies gives us a sense of being in the present moment, is important for decision making, and is fundamental for the feeling of emotions.

Research has shown that different emotions are felt in different areas of our bodies; emotions are embodied experiences (Nummenmaa, 2014).

Holding emotional trauma in your body

Following emotional trauma, it’s not uncommon for people to lose their ability to notice body sensations, including sensations associated with emotions, and sometimes other physical sensations such as the ability to localise touch (van der Kolk, 2015).

It’s thought that this sort of body dissociation can occur because of a few reasons.

For some there is dissociation during a trauma event, where in order to cope with the experience, including the physical sensations associated with the emotional experience of the event, they mental withdraw from their bodies.

And sometimes people experience nervous system shut down, which can include immobilization / freezing. Where they can’t fight back. Again, this can be associated with a disconnect from body sensations.

And after the trauma, say weeks, months, even years following the event its not uncommon for someone’s to stay in a trauma response. People can remain dissociated. Sometimes survivors continue to experience strong body sensations associated with the trauma event or the emotional feelings. In order to cope, in order to continue with day to day tasks, individuals try and ignore these sensations. This can impact their mind-body connection.

When looking at brain activity of people who have experienced trauma, there is reduced activity in areas associated with noticing body sensations, and sense of self. Including, the insula cortex, which is involved in feeling sensations and emotions.

Trauma Sensitive Yoga

Trauma-sensitive yoga uses methods that facilitate an introspective experience, that’s the ability to feel sensations in your body. This is done by using invitational language, choice making, and invitation to notice their interoceptive experience (Emerson, 2015). Sometimes you don’t get these sorts of options in other styles of yoga, or the emphasis of the yoga practice is something different.

The methods associated with trauma-sensitive yoga are specifically designed to facilitate the opportunity to feel into your body, to reconnect with body sensations on a physical and emotional level.

But feeling body sensations can be overwhelming or triggering for someone who has experienced any sort of body dissociation or for anyone that has experienced anxiety. So, the pacing and the movements in a trauma-sensitive yoga class can be very different from a typical yoga class.

The key here is that the client is in control. The classes are designed in such a way that a person can explore feeling body sensations at their own pace.

The Therapeutic Effects of Trauma Sensitive Yoga

Research has shown that symptoms associated with complex PTSD are reduced following a 10-20 week treatment with trauma-sensitive yoga.

In the book the body keeps the score Bessel van der kolk describes research showing recovery of brain activity in the insula cortex. This is the above mentioned brain area that is involved in feeling body sensations and processing emotions.

Thus, trauma-sensitive yoga uses methodologies that have been shown to increase activity in brain areas associated with noticing body sensations. One area of particular interest is the insular cortex, which is involved in interoceptive awareness as well as emotional processing. This is inline with research demonstrating the emotions are felt in our bodies. This suggests that trauma-sensitive yoga can help heal alterations in mind-body connectivity that results from trauma, as well as emotional processing. This can have profound therapeutic impact for individuals during their recovery.


About the Author

Dr Kathie Overeem works one-on-one and in group sessions with people who wish to experience the healing and transformational effect of yoga. She works with clients that have experienced stress, anxiety, complex trauma, PTSD, eating disorders, complex mental illness, and people in alcohol and other drug rehabilitation. Classes are offered online and in person in Brisbane.

To book a private session or attend a group class with Kathie Click Here



van der Kolk, B., (2015) The Body Keeps the Score. Mind, Brain and Body in Transformation of Trauma. Great Britain. Penguin Books.

Emerson, D., (2015) Trauma-Sensitive Yoga in Therapy: Bringing the Body into Treatment. New York. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

van der Kolk, B.A., et al. (2014) Yoga as an adjunctive treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder: a randomized controlled trial.

Nummenmaa, L., et al. (2014) Bodily maps of emotions.

Uddin, L.Q., et al. (2017) Structure and function of the human insula.

Jeong, H., et al. (2019) Diverging roles of the anterior insula in trauma-exposed individuals vulnerable or resilient to posttraumatic stress disorder.

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1 Comment

Nevin Amos
Nevin Amos
Sep 06, 2020

Hi Kathie I look forward to learning more about Trauma Sensitive Yoga online. Thank you..

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