Trauma Center Trauma Sensitive Yoga (TCTSY) is an evidenced-based yoga intervention for survivors of complex trauma — abuse that happens at the hands of people we know and over time. TCTSY has demonstrated that it can reduce signs and symptoms of PTSD by 33% in 10 weeks, according to a National Institute of Health-funded study.


TCTSY is not just for survivors of complex trauma. Its core principles are worth knowing, especially for yoga teachers, yoga students and even those not involved with yoga. These core principles include choice, interoception, taking effective action and present-moment experience.

  • Present-moment experience can be thought of in terms of helping us notice sensation in the body, breath and mind as they are occurring. We can often be stuck with a sensation that takes us to the past and then react based on that experience instead of staying in the present. These kinds of reactions allow the past to control the present moment as opposed to allowing the past to be only one of a number of pieces of information that can inform present-moment choice.
  • Interoception can be understood as including the functional condition of the entire body and the ability of gut-level central nervous system information to reach consciousness and directly or indirectly affect behavior. A slightly oversimplified example is the sensation we get in our stomach that we have learned over time indicates we are hungry. We learn most everything about ourselves through our brain processing the sensations in our body. If, for whatever reasons, our brain and body are disconnected, then we lose information about ourselves.
  • Choice is focused on the idea that trauma survivors often experience limited choice about what they do with their bodies. Addressing when choices are made for us gives us an opportunity to make a conscious decision as to whether or not we actually choose that for ourselves.
  • Taking effective action involves muscular dynamics: We purposefully initiate muscle movement in order to make ourselves feel more comfortable. The key is making a plan based on a sensory experience and then acting on it, not just thinking about it.

We all struggle with the playing out of these concepts to one degree or another throughout our lives. So how might these concepts work in our daily lives?


One thing we have learned about choice is the apparent power of realizing that we are in control of our bodies and get to decide what we want to do with them. During yoga, teachers can remind students they are in charge of what they want to experience with their bodies.


However, what if the student wants to experience something different, and what if you are not a yoga student or teacher? All of us respond to sensations in our body. Sometimes we have learned to ignore a sensation. However, what if we took time to notice the sensation and decided intentionally to respond to it? We are consciously making a choice. What we have learned is that practicing present-moment choice creates awareness of more choices — often choices we did not even know we had.


Interoception is the movement of information through the body via physical sensation and our ability to recognize and make sense of that information. We know that most of us to one degree or another notice more intense sensations, like cold or pain, but what about less obvious ones? If we practice attending to those sensations, our brains and bodies become more connected and we have more information about ourselves. We are more conscious and present in our body and we can use the information to consciously choose how to respond.


Taking effective action is making a plan to move our body in a particular way in response to interoception. For survivors of trauma, it may be helping them learn they can trust their body to act on their behalf and to do what they ask of it. Again, this is the process of intentionally gathering information about ourselves through our body by making intentional decisions about that information and then acting on it intentionally. Practicing this helps create opportunities to intentionally respond to present sensations in ways in which you are in charge of your body.


Staying in present-moment experience can reduce worry by switching from a focus on the future to a focus on the present; it can decrease my guilt and shame about my past behaviors to help me practice better choices in the moment.


These four concepts, when practiced, build increased awareness of information about us in the present moment, create increased choices about how we wish to respond to that information and support our acting on that information. It allows us to create a feedback loop that we can all use to live more intentionally and deliberately.


More information about core concepts can be found in the book Embodied Healing by Jenn Turner.


Note: This content, written by Dallas Adams, LCSW-S, TCTSY-F, was first published on Mind Matters from Menninger, our blog on Psychology Today.