Trauma Sensitive Yoga For Children

Published on April 23, 2020


Ongoing studies confirm that yoga and meditation are proven complementary tools


to aid trauma survivors in healing, and support a more lasting recovery. A study

conducted by the Trauma Center at Justice Resource Institute found that a regular

trauma-sensitive yoga practice reduced the participants’ symptoms of post-

traumatic stress disorder PTSD by 30%


The sad truth is trauma can also happen to children. When children find

themselves in situations beyond their control, whether these are situations of

assault, violence or neglect, it can cause trauma. Trauma can be especially

difficult in young children, as these trauma take place in a child’s preverbal



Research suggest that the capacity to encode and retain meaningful internal

representations of the salient elements of a traumatic experience may be present

as early as the second half of an infant’s first year of life. The developmental

implications of early trauma, appear to retain in memory and have enduring




Childhood Attachments And Its effects Into Adulthood


When a child has secure attachment to a sensitive and responsive caregiver, this

forms the basis of her relationships into adulthood. Through her relationship with

her caregiver, a child learns how to express herself and co-regulate her emotions.

John Bowlby succinctly explains “intimate attachments to other human beings are

the hub around a person’s life revolves, not only when he is an infant or toddler or

schoolchild, but through his adolescence into maturity and old age’


An infant whose mother’s responsiveness helps him achieve his own ends develops

confidence in his ability to control what happens to him. As such in situations 

where children do not have a responsive caregiver or may have experienced abuse

or neglect, these have repercussions on the child’s view of her self worthiness (not

worthy of care), self confidence in ability to change outcomes, ability to regulate

emotions, trust and self expression.


Many abused children cling to the hope that growing up will bring escape and

freedom. But the personality formed in the environment of coercive control is not

well adapted to adult life. The survivor is left with fundamental problems in basic

trust, autonomy, and initiative. She approaches the task of early

adulthood――establishing independence and intimacy――burdened by major

impairments in self-care, in cognition and in memory, in identity, and in the

capacity to form stable relationships. She is still a prisoner of her childhood;

attempting to create a new life, she reencounters the trauma.


Trauma And Memory


During extreme stress, our hippocampus does not process the stressful memory as

an integrative whole. Sensory elements of experience are left unintegrated and are

therefore prone to return during flashback, when some sensory elements of the

trauma are activated.


Trauma memories are often fragmentary, intense sensations and emotions,

nonverbal and can be experienced as if the event and one’s sensory, cognitive,

physiological and emotional responses to it are happening all over again.


According to Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD, victims can have difficulty finding meaning

in life beyond their trauma experience, saying that “For real change to take place,

the body needs to learn that the danger has passed and to live in the reality of the



For a child who might have difficulty understanding their trauma, this might be

even more complex. A child might believe the trauma situations to be the norm, he

might not understand the severity of the trauma and might not even have

memories of the event. As such traditional therapy could have its limitations.


Research has shown that trauma is primarily experienced in the body, for example

as somatic symptoms, dissociation and implicit memory (memories stored on a

physiological level). As such trauma can drive a rift between self and the body.



Trauma Sensitive Yoga For Children


Trauma Sensitive Yoga is an evidence-based support that can help young victims

reconnect and reintegrate mentally, physically, and emotionally, thereby bridging

the gap between living in past abuse and living in the present.

In trauma sensitive yoga class, verbal guidance such as ‘you are welcome to find

your own expression of a triangle form’ or ‘feel free to explore how you would like

to place your arms today’ are common as facilitators share power with children.


These invitations could allow children to develop their self expression and

confidence. Further as all adults in the room are practicing together with the

children forming a shared authentic experience, this relationship of doing

something together instead of ‘doing and I am watching’ could form the basis of

trust and nurture in relationships.


Trauma Sensitive yoga for children can promote:

• Awareness in the present moment

• Development of coping skills, self-control, self-care, and self-regulation

• An authentic, shared experience

• Awareness and identification of emotional and physical sensation

• Exercising personal boundaries, safe experimentation, choice, curiosity, and


• Increase capacity for emotional and physical intimacy

• Self-awareness and introspection, behavioural change, cognitive change,

self-acceptance, and sense of connection with others 


With children, development of coping skills can empower them to be more

confident, comfortable and strong in their bodies. As trauma sensitive yoga

facilitators never lay their hands on participants or manipulate their bodies into

poses, this teaches the children to be respectful of each other’s spaces and their



By not mirroring trauma, trauma sensitive yoga allows children to experience

safety, predictability and trust. The hope is to equip children with simple,

sustainable tools to help them navigate complicated situations and emotions so

they can stay safe and continue their path toward healing.





1. David Emerson (2014), Trauma-Sensitive Yoga as an adjunct mental health treatment in group therapy for survivors of domestic violence: A feasibility study

2. Gaensbauer TJ (1995) Trauma in the preverbal period. Symptoms, memories, and developmental impact.

3. Silvia M. Bell and Mary D. Salter Ainsworth (1972) Infant Crying and Maternal Responsiveness, Child Development

4. John Bowlby (1958) “What cannot be communicated to the mother (or primary caregiver) cannot be communicated to the self.”

5. Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence - From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror

6. Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD (2015), The Body Keeps the Score

7. Christine Caldwell, Lucia Bennett Leighton (2018) Oppression and the Body: Roots, Resistance, and Resolutions


Category(s):Child and/or Adolescent Issues, Child Development, Mindfulness, Mindfulness Meditation, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) / Trauma / Complex PTSD

Written by:

Krisa Qiu

Krisa is a certified facilitator in Trauma Centre Trauma Sensitive Yoga (TCTSY), a program by Center for Trauma and Embodiment at Justice Resource Institute (JRI) United States. She is one of the only 2 TCTSY trained facilitators in Singapore.

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