Overcoming Trauma through Yoga: Reclaiming Your Body

If you have suffered trauma or are a Yoga teacher looking for ways to expand your class offerings, Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga stands alone in providing a complete program developed by clinical experience especially designed to address the needs of trauma survivors.

Survivors of trauma through war, abuse, or accident injury suffer from a multitude of complex disorders primarily centered on dysregulation of the mind-body interaction.  These survivors may end up wounded on physical, emotional and mental levels – let down by their body for failing to get them to safety and for failing them still again in the aftermath.  Overcoming Trauma through Yoga offers survivors a mindful approach to healing through calm, step-by-step Yoga tailored to their specific requirements in order to engage and awaken the wisdom of their own bodies.

Trauma sensitive Yoga

David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper begin this landmark resource for Yoga teachers and survivors of trauma with an in-depth look at trauma and post traumatic stress disorder before moving on to the key elements of trauma-sensitive Yoga.  Co-designed by David Emerson, Overcoming Trauma through Yoga provides a modified yoga program focused on mindfulness, breathing, and asanas that may be used at home, in a class setting, or in one-to-one therapy.  Through this program, trauma survivors are given the necessary tools to cultivate patience, tolerance, and an increased awareness and connectedness of self.

In order to fully heal from trauma, the realization and connectedness of mind, body and spirit must be made.  Through the calming and focusing effects of Yoga and the development of mindful awareness, survivors of trauma can bring their bodies into the healing process.  This gives survivors of trauma an opportunity to form a new relationship with their bodies despite their physical limitations.

Beyond talk therapy

Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga expands beyond traditional therapies that only focus on the mind to bring the body into the healing process.  The trauma-sensitive Yoga provided is described carefully and methodically, and integrates the best that Yoga has to offer.  For the Yoga teacher, this book provides individual plans for working with military veterans, children, teenagers, adults, and the elderly. An appendix identifying and illustrating specific trauma-sensitive Yoga asanas completes this valuable tome, making it a perfect companion for those taking the road to recovery and those willing to assist.

David Emerson is the director of yoga services at the Trauma Center (traumacenter.org).  In 2003, David co-designed the Trauma Center Yoga Program with medical doctor Bessel van der Kolk which includes therapeutic classes as well as teacher training programs.  Elizabeth Hopper, PhD., is a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in traumatic stress and works as the associate director of training at the Trauma Center.

The basis for the Trauma Yoga Program and its application in Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga is most aptly described directly by David Emerson himself as excerpted from the traumacenter.org website:

The Core of the human body

When we talk about “the core,” two separate but deeply related ideas come up: core strength, and an actual physical center in the body. It is important to understand both concepts if one is to teach trauma sensitive yoga effectively. Core strength involves the musculature from the knees to the solar plexus (bottom of the sternum/breastbone). This “field” makes up more than half of the body!  In yoga, we are interested in cultivating strength in this part of the body on the front, back and sides. Having a strong core supports the lower back and stabilizes the knees. Being strong and stable at the core allows one to relax muscles in the neck and shoulders, which often compensate for a weak core and try to “hold up the spine.” One key shift is to learn to support the spine from the base, the root and to not try to hold up the spine with the neck and shoulders (which is often our default). Holding up the spine with the neck and shoulders is very stressful and often leads to tension in the neck and upper back; the breath gets stuck up in the chest, which in turn taxes the nervous system.


For a moment, try holding up the spine with the neck and shoulders. Feel the shoulders pull up toward the ears and the muscles futilely contract all the way around to the throat. Feel how the muscles strain, sensing that the mechanics here are actually impossible – do you notice anxiety rise up? Can you feel the breath get choppy and erratic, no longer integrated in the muscular effort but perhaps working against it? Now relax. Pause. Come back to the breath.

Let’s begin to find the physical center. Here, while we are engaging strength in the whole field from knees to solar plexus there is a particular emphasis at the center of gravity, the core of the pelvis, located about two inches below the navel and in toward the spine. Sit in your chair preferably toward the front of the chair so the sit bones can be firmly established but if this is painful in the back for now, you may sit back in the chair. Bring your feet to the floor hip width or a little wider. Feel your feet making contact with the floor. Feel the sits bones rooting down through the chair. Take a moment to get centered (gentle movements side to side and forward to back may help. Notice, as you gently move, abdominal muscles beginning to wake up/brighten/engage.) As you come back to the upright Seated Mountain Pose, hug the lower belly in toward the spine. Gently but firmly draw the lower belly in toward a mid point at the core of the pelvis. As you keep the center engaged at the same time allow the lower back to release – a letting go in the lower back. Allow the tailbone to gently lengthen down toward the chair.


When you have established this physical center, you will have a more stable place from which to experience life. Trauma knocks a person off a stable center and this is a big part of the problem. Without a stable center sensation, information etc. coming at you from all directions is very likely to bring you down. When a traumatized individual learns to maintain a center in the midst even of intense sensation they have gained an invaluable tool to help them along the healing process. Yoga, this practice right in the body, can help with exactly this.

I give Overcoming Trauma through Yoga a resounding.  As both a teacher’s guide and a superb book for anyone who has experienced trauma, this gem deserves a place on the bookshelf.

Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga: Reclaiming Your Body
ISBN – 1556439695
Available for pre-order with an anticipated date for delivery of April 19, 2011…


1 thought on “Overcoming Trauma through Yoga: Reclaiming Your Body”

  1. I am a yoga instructor and also a USMC wife with a husband who suffers from PTSD. I have been researching on how I can work with him on combating his symptoms through yoga and meditation and when I heard about the book I figured it would be an amazing tool. Any other resources that would be helpful to me. Learning about yoga in relation to PTSD has become a passion as well as finding tools to help my husband:)
    Thank you for you’re help!

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