The 4Fs: How Yin Yoga Can Help Regulate Trauma Responses

Annie Au | E-RYT 500

In the face of danger or distressing situations, our bodies and minds activate various survival mechanisms to protect us from harm.

These responses, often referred to as trauma responses, are deeply ingrained in our evolutionary biology. The four primary trauma responses are Fight, Flight, Freeze, and Fawn. From here onward, we’ll refer to them as the 4Fs. Understanding these responses can help us comprehend how individuals cope with traumatic experiences and how we can support them in their healing journey.

Individuals who have consistently experienced feelings of safety and connection during their childhood typically develop a well-adjusted and adaptable set of responses to danger as adults. When faced with genuine threats, they possess the ability to access all four of the 4F choices in appropriate ways.

On the contrary, those who have experienced repetitive trauma often learn to survive by heavily relying on one or two of the 4F responses. Becoming fixated on a single 4F response not only restricts access to the other responses but also seriously hampers the individual's ability to embrace a vulnerable state, thereby confining them to a limited and deprived life experience. With time, the habitual use of a single 4F defense mechanism also acts as a distraction, diverting the individual's attention away from the accumulating unbearable emotions associated with their ongoing sense of detachment and unresolved past trauma.

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Let’s have a look at each trauma response and how yin yoga can help with nervous system regulation:


The "Fight" response is an instinctive reaction to danger that involves confronting the threat head-on. This response is characterized by aggression, assertiveness, and a readiness to defend oneself or others. Individuals with a strong fight response might become confrontational, argumentative, or even physically combative when faced with stressful or traumatic situations. While this response can be protective, it can also lead to interpersonal conflicts or escalate a tense situation. 

How to regulate with yin yoga:

Individuals who exhibit characteristics of the Fight response must develop an awareness of their tendency to rapidly transform feelings of abandonment into emotions like anger and aversion. By increasing their consciousness regarding these sensations of abandonment, they can direct their attention towards acknowledging and experiencing the accompanying fear and shame, preventing its conversion into anger or aversion. 

It is important to down regulate someone who is a habituated Fight responder. 

  • Practicing yin yoga poses such as Caterpillar and Half-Butterfly are great ways to calm the nervous system. 
  • Creating a regular self-care routine such as massage, warm bath or nature walks can help rewire the belief that we need to fight our way through life.
Caterpillar Yin Yoga Annie Au


The "Flight" response involves seeking safety by escaping from the source of danger. This reaction is often accompanied by feelings of panic, restlessness, and a strong desire to flee the situation. Those with a predominant flight response might avoid confronting their trauma or difficult emotions, opting instead to distract themselves or physically remove themselves from triggering environments. While flight can be a useful survival strategy, it may hinder emotional processing and healing in the long run.

How to regulate with yin yoga:

Increasing self-awareness and self-connection is key for people who are habitual Flight responders.

  • Practice short meditation
  • Reflect on the following or similar prompts: "What deserves my utmost attention at this moment?""What emotional pain am I trying to escape currently? “Can I embrace the notion of comforting myself amid this distress?"
  • Yin yoga poses such as Child’s Pose and Butterfly are great choices to slow down and self-reflect. 
Butterfly Yin Yoga Pose Annie Au


The "Freeze" response is characterized by a sense of immobilization or feeling stuck, often leading to a dissociative state. When triggered, individuals might feel disconnected from their emotions, body, or surroundings. This response is thought to be an ancient survival mechanism that allowed our ancestors to go unnoticed by predators. In a traumatic context, freezing can help people endure overwhelming situations, but it can also hinder their ability to respond effectively or process the experience later on.

How to regulate with yin yoga:

Upregulating the nervous system is key in helping individuals with Freeze response. 

  • Yin yoga poses such as Dragon and Dangling will stimulate the sympathetic energy, helping the practitioner to come back to the present moment. 
  • Other tools such as Kaphalabhati (Skull Shining Breath) can help with increasing energy flow in the Solar Plexus chakra which improves a sense of Self and agency.


The "Fawn" response is a more nuanced trauma response that involves appeasing or pleasing others in order to ensure safety or avoid conflict. This response can manifest as people-pleasing, seeking approval, or even becoming submissive in the face of stress or danger. Those who exhibit a fawn response might struggle with setting boundaries, prioritizing their needs, and expressing their true feelings. While this response may temporarily alleviate tension, it can lead to a lack of authenticity and self-neglect over time.

How to regulate with yin yoga: 

Firstly, it is important to reduce individuals with Fawn response to their inherent defensive listening tendencies. 

  • Encouraging self-communication through journaling and short meditation. By harnessing sympathetic energy, they can foster greater self-assurance and more effective self-expression. 
  • Yin yoga poses such as Saddle, Camel, and Toe Squat are great for increasing self-empowerment. 
  • Additional practices like sound healing and chanting will help promote better communication and self-confidence.

Navigating Trauma Responses

It's important to recognize that trauma responses are complex and can vary from person to person. People might exhibit a combination of these responses depending on the circumstances and their personal history. Additionally, trauma responses are not inherently good or bad; they are survival strategies that helped our ancestors navigate threatening situations.

Trauma-informed yin yoga teachers can help support individuals who have experienced trauma by creating a safe and empathetic practice space. A trauma-informed yin yoga practice can help others open communication, establish healthy boundaries, and validate feelings in the long run. 

Having the foundational knowledge of the basic trauma responses:fight, flight, freeze, and fawn, yin yoga teachers can deepen their empathy and compassion for their students who have experienced trauma. By acknowledging the complexity of these reactions, yin teachers can foster a greater sense of understanding and support, helping students on their path toward healing and resilience.

Interested in learning about trauma recovery and yin yoga? I’ll be leading a 50hr Trauma-Informed Yin Yoga Online Teacher Training. Don’t miss out on this training on trauma physiology and sensitivity teaching. Click here for more information.

Annie Au


Annie is the founder of Soulful Yin Yoga, an exclusive trauma-informed Yin Yoga teacher training program that teaches trauma physiology and sensitivity teaching. Annie infuses Chinese meridians and yogic wisdom into her teachings offering a holistic healing in our modern lives. Learn more about her training here.