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Why Dr. Bessel van der Kolk Recommends Yoga for Trauma

Updated: Jun 8, 2023

The Transformative Power of Yoga: Why Dr. Bessel van der Kolk Recommends Yoga for Trauma


In recent years, the integration of mind and body approaches in the field of psychology has gained significant recognition and acclaim. Among the various therapeutic modalities, yoga has emerged as a powerful tool for healing trauma.


Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, a renowned psychiatrist and trauma expert, has played a crucial role in promoting the use of yoga for clients who have experienced trauma. In this article, we will explore yoga as an effective adjunctive treatment for trauma.


Understanding Trauma and Its Effects

Trauma can have a profound impact on an individual's mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Survivors of traumatic experiences often struggle with symptoms such as anxiety, depression, hyperarousal, and a disconnection from their own bodies. Traditional talk therapy approaches, while valuable, has been show to be far less effective for healing trauma than body based methods.


This is where yoga, with its focus on integrating the mind and body,

can be a game-changer.


Yoga as a Mind-Body Intervention

Yoga is a holistic practice that combines physical postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), mindfulness, and meditation. It cultivates a mind-body connection, promoting self-awareness, relaxation, and empowerment. When incorporated into trauma therapy, yoga can help clients regain a sense of safety, release stored tension, and develop resilience.

  1. Embodied Healing: Trauma is stored not only in the mind but also in the body. Yoga offers a safe and gentle way for individuals to reconnect with their bodies, facilitating the release of trauma-related tension and emotions. Through deliberate movement and breathwork, yoga enables clients to cultivate a sense of embodiment, grounding them in the present moment.

  2. Regulation of the Nervous System: Trauma often leads to dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system, resulting in hypervigilance or dissociation. Yoga practices, particularly those emphasizing slow, mindful movements and deep breathing, activate the parasympathetic nervous system. This activation can help regulate arousal levels and promote a sense of calm and safety.

  3. Resilience and Empowerment: Trauma can leave individuals feeling disempowered and disconnected from their own strength. Yoga provides a space for clients to explore their boundaries, build strength, and cultivate self-compassion. By gradually challenging themselves within a supportive environment, clients can develop a sense of resilience and agency, empowering them in their healing journey.

  4. Mindfulness and Emotional Regulation: Yoga teaches individuals to observe their thoughts and emotions without judgment, fostering mindfulness. This practice helps clients develop emotional regulation skills, allowing them to respond rather than react to distressing stimuli. By integrating mindfulness techniques into therapy, therapists can help clients develop greater emotional resilience and self-regulation.

Conclusion

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk's recognition of yoga as a valuable adjunctive therapy for trauma has been transformative for the field of mental health. By incorporating yoga into trauma treatment, therapists can address the somatic aspects of trauma, helping clients regain a sense of safety, rebuild resilience, and reconnect with their bodies.


Yoga's focus on integrating the mind, body, and spirit provides a unique and powerful approach to healing trauma. As therapists incorporate yoga into their practice, they thank Dr. van der Kolk for his advocacy and research, which have paved the way for a more holistic and comprehensive approach to trauma therapy. Together, therapists with yoga training are supporting individuals on their journey toward healing, resilience, and befriending their body.


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