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EMBODY: Trauma Center Trauma Sensitive Yoga to Treat PTSD in Minoritized Women in a Safety Net Hospital

Principal Investigators: Ursula Kelly, PhD, APRN, ANP-BC, PMHNP-BC and Abigail Powers Lott, PhD, ABPP


What is sexual trauma and its common effects? 

Sexual trauma includes exposure to any sexually inappropriate behaviors that cause a person to experience a great deal of fear or stress. When you experience a sexual trauma, it can impact your emotions, your body, and how you experience yourself and others. Experiencing sexual trauma can also increase your risk for negative health outcomes, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.

What is Trauma Center Trauma Sensitive Yoga (TCTSY) and why might it be helpful for women who have experienced sexual trauma?

TCTSY is a distinct form of trauma sensitive yoga that was developed by the Center for Trauma and Embodiment at the Justice Resource Institute in Needham, Massachusetts. TCTSY employs principles of hatha yoga while being distinct from traditional yoga forms because it was specifically developed with trauma survivors’ needs in mind. This also differs from other trauma-informed approaches in that this framework has been uniquely protocolized, making it suitable for research studies and yoga teacher trainings. Although there are many forms of yoga typical Western yoga practices tend to use more command-driven language (e.g., “now, turn your head”) and focus on physical postures (asana) over other more internal aspects of yoga, such as interoception, or the felt experience of the body. In efforts to reduce possible triggers for those who have experienced bodily traumas, TCTSY principles adapt Western yoga practices in five core domains: language, assists, teacher qualities, environment, and exercises. Trauma-sensitive language centers invitational language (e.g., “if you like”) to support choice making and sensation awareness. Visual and verbal assists are emphasized but physical assists are not so the inner experience of the practioner is prioritized rather than and external experience of the form. Importantly, exercises do not focus on posture attainment but rather reclaiming and befriending one’s body (e.g., inner feeling rather than outer form), creating personalized bodily rhythms, and building agency. By adapting the holistic yoga environment to the person, TCTSY aims to provide a tailored, adaptable approach to teaching for individuals with trauma histories who may not feel fully comfortable in traditional or Western yoga classes.

As TCTSY was based on practical and clinical experiences working with trauma survivors this framework intends to be a refined and distinct approach for those with PTSD. By exploring moderators specifically for TCTSY (rather than yoga in general that is taught to trauma survivors) on PTSD, we further narrow and define characteristics of those for whom trauma-sensitive yoga would be most effective. As TCTSY appears feasible in quantitative and qualitative studies with growing evidence of effectiveness we hope to further understand the nuances of its effect.

What is the goal of this study? 

The purpose of this study is to pilot TCTSY yoga intervention for minoritized women in the Grady community who are experiencing PTSD following a sexual trauma. The study will examine the feasibility and acceptability of an 10-session yoga intervention that is trauma-sensitive and culturally responsive in its approach.

What is the treatment?

The treatment consists of weekly group-based yoga sessions spanning the course of 10 consecutive weeks. Each session lasts 40-60 minutes and is currently being held over Zoom. During this treatment you will learn strategies to improve awareness of feelings, thoughts, and body sensations, and move gently through poses that improve your physical health and response to stress.

What are we measuring and how? 

Before, during, and after the intervention, the study will collect several types of clinical data. Before the first yoga session, a clinician will do an interview asking about trauma, PTSD, depression, and other physical and psychological symptoms. You will also be asked to answer questions about your symptoms halfway through the study as well and two weeks and three months after the yoga sessions have ended.

Who are our participants? 

If you self-identify as a woman (over 18 years old) receiving care at Grady Memorial Hospital and have experienced sexual trauma, you may be eligible. You can fill out a referral form on our website (

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