Everything You Need To Know About Adaptive Yoga Therapy

Updated: Jun 23

Starting a yoga regimen is intimidating for most of us because we don’t know what it entails or whether we can do the poses. Adapting yoga; or Trauma sensitive yoga therapy, is to fit your level as the norm. But, for people with anxiety, mobility issues or other restrictions, trauma sensitive yoga is more than just chair yoga; it can be part of a life-changing therapy to help relieve symptoms and improve your overall quality of life. That is what trauma-sensitive yoga therapy does.

What is Trauma Sensitive Yoga Training or TSY?

Yoga means “yoke” or “union.” Thus, yoga is automatically inclusive, helping people create bonds and connections between the self and the world on every level.

Trauma Sensitive yoga training is “yoga” because it uses yoga poses and techniques to help you find energy, clarity, calmness, and stability as well as physical exercise. The yoga is “adaptive” because it is designed to fit each student’s needs, as opposed to teaching set yoga poses and practices that everyone must attain; it is unique to the individual. And, adaptive yoga therapy is “therapy” because it helps with the following:

  • Reduce your symptoms

  • Manage symptoms that cannot be reduced

  • Identify causes and root problems

  • Learn how your anatomy compensates for your conditions that lead to imbalance

  • Holistically find your balance

  • Improve functioning of your body, mind, emotions, and spirit together

You may wish to read these articles:

Yoga for Post Traumatic Symptoms

Research on Yoga & Epilepsy

Brain Concussion & Yoga Therapy

Training for trauma sensitive yoga therapy focus on the healing benefits of yoga rather than perfecting a yoga posture. According to Samy Mattei, an adaptive yoga specialist, “All yoga poses are based on physical alignment. Adaptive yoga keeps the alignment, but you do it from modified positions.” So, adaptive yoga therapy adjusts poses specifically for your body while remaining within yoga’s traditional alignment to manage your conditions with calm and focus.

young man struggles with mental health, when trauma sensitive yoga may help
suffering from anxiety, a young man considers trauma sensitive therapy

5 Most Significant Adaptations in TSY & Adaptive Yoga Therapy

Adaptive Yoga Therapy is absolutely inclusive. When Mattei conducts her adaptive yoga classes, she says that all of her students “look different on the outside: it looks like everyone is in a different pose. But we’re all really doing the same alignment with different adaptations to do it.”

Mattei continues, “asana means ‘find your seat,’ or to find your peace sitting still.” She explains, “this means that yoga helps all of us to find our inner peace.” Adaptive yoga therapy helps students find their seat in each yoga pose with various modifications, support, and the assistance of props.

Top 5 Specialties For Adaptive Yoga Therapy:

1. Yoga for pregnancy

Yoga for pregnancy consists of almost every yoga pose available, with two exceptions: inversions and lying prone on your belly after the first trimester.

However, inversions, like head stands or shoulder stands, may be completed by pregnant women only if you have performed these poses regularly in your pre-pregnancy practice. But if you have not done inverted poses regularly, then you should avoid doing them during your pregnancy, as the risk of falling out of the pose is greater. This increases the risk of injury.

Similarly, lying prone on the belly is neither advisable for pregnant women after the first trimester, nor is it comfortable!

Adaptive yoga works to help expectant mothers balance their changing bodies by strengthening leg and back muscles, maintain a straight spine, and relax their joint s to prepare for childbirth. Debra Flashenberg, a yoga for pregnancy expert, says yoga helps pregnant women with the process of pregnancy and birth, and prepares them for labor with hip-opening poses and breathing techniques. Flashenberg adds, “Yoga for pregnancy balances the pelvis and puts the fetus in the optimal fetal position, which means an easier birth.”

Additionally, yoga for pregnancy causes no harm to either the mother or the fetus. Both the mother’s and the fetus’s heart rates remain at safe levels during yoga sessions.[1]

2. Yoga for Seniors

A 2016 study found that 40% of Americans who practice yoga are over age 50.[2] Unfortunately, yoga-related injuries are the highest among this age group, as well. Of almost 30,000 yoga-related injuries, 58% of them occurred to people aged 65 and older.[3] Most of the injuries were related to the trunk of the body, involving either a sprain or a strain.[4] So, it is especially important for seniors to maintain the upper body as one unit.

A retired man in a laugh yoga class can not stop laughing.
Senior enjoying laugh yoga | Upsplash

Ageing has a variety of symptoms: arthritis, stiffness, balance issues, pain, knee or hip replacements, glaucoma, hypertension, and heart disease (among others). And, according to Melissa Eisler, specialist in yoga for seniors, “Yoga can improve balance, stability, flexibility, and respiration.”

Research shows that yoga for spine flexibility for women aged 50-70 increased muscle flexibility and range of motion. The study recommends yoga for seniors to improve their quality of life.[5]

3. Yoga for Sickness

Sickness is a broad term that means anything from a passing flu virus to depression, to COVID, Parkinson’s Disease, Fibromyalgia, or Muscular Sclerosis. Now, so many of us are grieving with PTSD, PTS loss, depression and anxiety of someone or something dear to us, even our way of life has been upended.


The risks of being a Long-Hauler or living with a chronic illness is alarming to all of us. Post-COVID days are allowing us to assess the aftermath while many of us deal continue to struggle with long-term and serious health problems. This is where trauma sensitive yoga training is designed to adjust to everyone's needs and help alleviate symptoms and improve overall well-being.


More and more studies are being conducted about the complementary benefits of yoga for sickness to intervene where medication doesn’t have an impact.[6] It also helps to clear the brain fog that often accompanies COVID-19 illness or prescription medicine.[7]

A woman wearing a mask suffering from fatigue and other symptoms of COVID 19
Fatigue and anxiety overwhelm during the pandemic

Dr. Victoria Maizes says that yoga helps support even compromised immune systems. If you use yoga for sickness, it is very important to practice regularly, even on days when you can’t get out of bed. As Samy Mattei told Yoga.Health, “Poses can be adapted to reclined positions that you can do in bed!” And, yoga has many reclined asanas, like happy baby pose, single knee-to-chest post, and yoga nidra.

Adaptive yoga for sickness helps treat the body and mind together so that your muscles can flow and function into better conditioning. You could try a one-on-one class to address the specific needs of an illness. But, there are also videos online and group class sessions dedicated to a particular concern or condition, like Yoga for PTS or Yoga for Parkinson’s Disease. Mattei adds that her adaptive yoga class meets once per week and they have bonded and eat lunch together every week after class. “It´s a community bonding among people with the same sickness that also really helps adaptive yoga students.”


4. Yoga for Disabilities

Yoga is available to people with disabilities! According to Germán Bravo-Casas, a yoga instructor at the United Nations, “if you can breathe, you can do yoga.” The primary goal of adaptive yoga therapy is to make sure that you can perform them for your specific needs and symptoms.

Sketch of a man in locked wheel while practicing yoga poses
Wheelchaired man practices chair yoga

There are dozens of adapted classes for yoga for disabilities, including yoga for paraplegics or yoga for prosthetics. These can ease the physical or mental symptoms of the disability, as well as help you reach a wide variety of goals, including weight loss, relief from insomnia, mental clarity, balance, flexibility, better quality of life, and reduced stress.[8] Matthew Sanford, a yoga teacher and paraplegic has said that moving with your whole body is something that everyone needs.

One recent study verified the effects of yoga for quadriplegics and paraplegics using deep breathing and yoga mudras, followed by back stretches.[9] It proved that deep breathing exercises, mudra yoga, and asanas enhanced their energy and quality of life.[10] It also increased the students’ willingness to continue doing yoga.[11]

Woman in research test lab for osteoarthritis practicing lunges while wearing strapped sensors on her body
Research lab tests for Osteoarthritis

YogaMobility founder and tutor Mary Madhavi says, “Move it or lose it! A lack of flexibility makes living with a disability so much worse!”

5. Yoga for Injuries

Injuries can take weeks, months, or years to heal. After a traumatic injury, such as a spinal cord injury, many practitioners add yoga to their physical and occupational therapies for additional or different benefits.[12]

Adaptive yoga therapy offers holistic healing of the body and mind. Not only does yoga not harm the injury, it significantly alleviates depression and improves self-compassion, mindfulness, and non-reactiveness during healing.[13]

Yoga expert Olivia Zurcher says you should only begin yoga for injuries after the first week of the injury. “Begin with gentle stretching to avoid re-injury or inflammation of the area,” she says. If you start adaptive yoga therapy promptly reduces the chances of your body automatically compensating to prevent pain to the injury site. It will help you to maintain muscles balance and good functioning of your entire body as you heal. There are many forms of yoga that do not require full-form physical poses.



We've Included A List of Yoga Tools & Techniques Often Used In Adaptive Yoga Therapy:

Deep Breathing

Deep breathing offers the vitality of yoga to literally everyone. It can be used to deepen every yoga pose or on its own as a form of yoga and alignment. Doing deep breathing yoga – primarily expiratory exercises – for 12 weeks significantly improved the symptoms of people with mild to moderate asthma.[14] Deep breathing also improves clarity and focus, and relieves stress.[15]

Chair Yoga

Anyone can do chair yoga.

Chair yoga has even been used by people with psychiatric disorders to increase physical balance and strength, and thus, prevent falls.[16]

Leading chair yoga instructor, Sherry Zak Morris, says that you feel the effects after just one session. She adds, “It’s best to try different chair yoga classes to experience different styles, and see which type works best for you.”

Face Yoga

Face yoga exercises the 43 muscles we have in our faces. It consists of rhythmic facial movement, muscle stretching, and controlled breathing.

Fumiko Takatsu, the founder of the Face Yoga Method, recommends, “Have fun with face yoga! Making weird and fun expressions every day is so fun and it’s so beneficial!

Face yoga has helped improve symptoms of depression among elderly patients who couldn’t do full-form physical activity.[17]


Hand Yoga (or Mudra yoga)

Hand yoga, or mudra yoga, are hand positions that can be used with any yoga pose or on their own. They are done either with each hand or with both hands together. There are more than 50 yoga mudras.

Paul Harrison, mudra expert, says that mudras activate certain parts of the brain and body. “The hands are a mirror of the body and mind.”

And, holding a mudra yoga pose for 20 minutes per day effects the nerve endings in the finger tips and activates various centers in the brain.[18] And beyond this, mudra yoga has helped improve cognitive learning and adaptability.[19]

As a final note: yoga expert Suza Francina tells us to remember these additional points:

  • · Only go as far as you can on any given day

  • · Begin slowly and don´t press too far or go too fast

  • · What feels good on one day might not feel good the next day, week, or even month, so be aware of your changing limits, day-by-day

  • · Consult your primary healthcare physician to ask about beginning an adaptive yoga therapy regimen or Trauma sensitive yoga practice

[1] N. R. Gavin, B. K. Kogutt, W. Fletcher, and L. Szymanski. (May 2018). “Fetal and Maternal Responses to Yoga in the Third Trimester.” Retreived from: https://journals.lww.com/greenjournal/Abstract/2018/05001/Fetal_and_Maternal_Responses_to_Yoga_in_the_Third.247.aspx.

[2] Ipsos Public Affairs. (2016). “2016 Yoga in America Study.” Retreived from: https://www.yogaalliance.org/Portals/0/2016%20Yoga%20in%20America%20Study%20RESULTS.pdf.

[3] T. A. Swain & G. McGwin. (Nov. 16, 2016) “Yoga-Related Injuries in the United States From 2001 to 2014.” Retreived from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27896293.

[4] T. A. Swain & G. McGwin. (Nov. 16, 2016) “Yoga-Related Injuries in the United States From 2001 to 2014.” Retreived from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27896293.

[5] M. Grabara and J. Szopa. (Feb 2015). “Effects of Hatha Yoga Exercises on Spine Flexibility in Women Over 50 Years Old.” Retreived from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4339138/.

[6] E. Vinoski Thomas, J. Warren-Findlow, and J. B. Webb. (Jan-April 2019). “Yoga is for Every (Able) Body: A Content Analysis of Disability Themes within Mainstream Yoga Media.” Retreived from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6329228/.

[7] T. Oka, T. Tanahashi, N. Sudo, B. Lkhagvasuren, and Y. Yamada. (Apr 10, 2018). “Changes in fatigue, autonomic functions, and blood biomarkers due to sitting isometric yoga in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome.” Retreived from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5891891/.

[8] E. Vinoski Thomas, J. Warren-Findlow, and J. B. Webb. (Jan-April 2019). “Yoga is for Every (Able) Body: A Content Analysis of Disability Themes within Mainstream Yoga Media.” Retreived from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6329228/.

[9] M. Wane, S. Shrivastava, R. Dulani, and M. Dhore. (Jan. 2013). “Yoga for Rehabilitation of Patients with Spinal Cord Injury: a rural experience.” Retreived from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/283466181_Yoga_for_rehabilitation_of_patients_with_spinal_cord_injury_A_rural_Experience.

[10] M. Wane, S. Shrivastava, R. Dulani, and M. Dhore. (Jan. 2013). “Yoga for Rehabilitation of Patients with Spinal Cord Injury: a rural experience.” Retreived from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/283466181_Yoga_for_rehabilitation_of_patients_with_spinal_cord_injury_A_rural_Experience.

[11] M. Wane, S. Shrivastava, R. Dulani, and M. Dhore. (Jan. 2013). “Yoga for Rehabilitation of Patients with Spinal Cord Injury: a rural experience.” Retreived from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/283466181_Yoga_for_rehabilitation_of_patients_with_spinal_cord_injury_A_rural_Experience.

[12] Spinal Cord Team. (June 18, 2018). “What Type of Yoga Can I Do For a Spinal Cord Injury?” Retreived from: https://www.spinalcord.com/blog/what-type-of-yoga-can-i-do-for-a-spinal-cord-injury.

[13] K. Curtis, S. Hitzig, G. Bechgaard, C. Stoliker, C. Alton, N. Saunders, N. Leong, and J. Katz. (May 3, 2017). “Evaluation of a specialized yoga program for persons with a spinal cord injury: a pilot randomized controlled trial.” Retreived from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5422575/.

[14] T. Saxena and M. Saxena. (Jan-June 2009). “The effect of various breathing exercises (pranayama) in patients with bronchial asthma of mild to moderate severity.” Retreived from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3017963/.

[15] M. A. Russo, D. M. Santarelli, and D. O´Rourke. (Dec. 2017). “The physiological effects of slow breathing in the healthy human.” Retreived from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5709795/.

[16] S. Ikai, H. Uchida, Y. Mizuno, H. Tani, M. Nagaoka, K. Tsunoda, M. Mimura, and T. Suzuki. (Nov. 2017). “Effects of chair yoga therapy on physical fitness in patients with psychiatric disorders: A 12-week single-blind randomized controlled trial.” Retreived from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28750232.

[17] R. Okamoto and K. Mizukami. (2018). “The effective of facial exercises on the mental health in elderly adults.” Retreived from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29503371.

[18] K. S. Kumar, T. M. Srinivasan, J. Ilavarasu, B. Mondal, and H. R. Nagendra. (May-Aug 2018). “Classification of Electrophotonic Images of Yogic Practice of Mudra through Neural Networks. Retreived from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5934951/.

[19] H. G. Namratha, V. M. George, G. Bajaj, J. Mridula, and J. S. Bhat. (Aug. 2017). “Effect of yoga and working memory training on cognitive communicative abilities among middle aged adults.” Retreived from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28779944.


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