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Understanding Trauma: Yoga for Resiliency (Part 2/3)

Written my Jodi Wasson and Dusty Swehla, Directors of Trauma Supports

This is the 2nd post in a 3-part blog series. For Post 1, click here.

Recently, we shared our Yoga for Resiliency curriculum overview, but we also know that many may not know how to utilize the programming in an effective way. With that in mind, the Trauma Support Department at Challenge to Change, Inc would like to share part 1 of a 2-part series that dives deeper into the structure of our curriculum as well as give some pointers on how to teach in a trauma sensitive way.

We start by viewing this information as a trauma sensitive approach to teaching kids & teens yoga.

What is Trauma?

So, what is trauma? According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), trauma is defined as:

“An event, series of events, or set of circumstances, that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful, or life-threatening, and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well being.”

What this means is trauma can be singular or repetitive, varied or consistent, but the effect of the trauma causes a disruption for the individual in long-lasting ways.

Knowing that trauma is varied, it is also important to acknowledge possible traumatic events/situations. However, it is also important to note these do not encapsulate all possibilities and, when a person experiences one of the possibilities, it also does not mean they experienced trauma. Only the person who experienced the event can acknowledge whether they experienced trauma or not.

Possible traumatic events/situations include:

  • Acute Trauma or singular event: car accidents, sexual/physical assault, natural disaster, human made disaster, violence, invasive medical procedures/surgery, sudden or unexplained separation from a loved one.

  • Chronic Trauma or series of events: physical/emotional/sexual abuse, child abuse/neglect, community or school violence, combat/war, secondary traumatic stress, ongoing fear (pandemic), developmental trauma, or discrimination.

  • Complex Trauma or set of circumstances: experiences of multiple traumatic events.

There is also evidence indicating the body has a response to memories of the event. SAMHSA refers to this as “The Body’s Response” and defines it as: “The symptoms of trauma (physical and emotional) occur from the body’s response to a traumatic event, not directly from the event itself.”

So, what can this "Body Response" cause?

The Impact of Trauma

When teaching, it is important to be aware of your audience- aka your student’s reactions to the content you are teaching. More than two thirds of children reported at least one traumatic event by age 16, so regardless of the setting you are teaching in, it’s likely you will have students present who have been impacted by trauma in some way.

We have all heard of the Fight/Flight/Freeze modes we may see in students, but what is actually happening within their body? When a traumatic event or experience is presented, the sympathetic nervous system is activated and fight or flight response kicks in. if the fight or flight response was activated as the body is able to physically discharge the stress-induced energy built up in the body from the event and the individual may not experience trauma.

However, if an individual is unable to fight or flee, their nervous system goes into involuntary freeze response and immobility. The individual may disassociate from their mind and body during the traumatic experience. During a freeze response, the stress-induced energy continues coursing through the body even after freeze impulse resolves. This can lead to imbalances in the nervous system and may result in depression, anxiety or PTSD. The symptoms of trauma manifest when the body’s response to the traumatic experience is not discharged.

What does Trauma Look Like?

As stated previously, evidence shows the body has a response to trauma and these responses appear in different ways. For some children, these reactions can interfere with daily life and their ability to function and interact with others. They are not limited to the following suggestions, but according to SAMHSA, common sign of child traumatic stress are:

Stay tuned for part 2 of this series. We'll be discussing some techniques you can use to help support those who are showing signs of trauma.

If you would like further information in the meantime, you can also contact Dusty Swehla or myself, Jodi Wasson at



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