Trauma Informed Yoga and Savasana

“The hardest pose”… “The most important pose”…Savasana is at the center of a surprising amount of strong emotion in yoga, at least in some circles of teachers! With some poses (arm balances, inversions, but any, really) we might say that the pose isn’t really the point. Not so much with this.

What if people leave during savasana, or skip it, or move during it?  In particular, leaving during savasana can be noisy and disruptive to other students. In the bigger yoga sculpt classes I teach, which incorporate weights AND savasana, and where I’ve found people a little more likely to head out early in some locations, I politely request each time that I invite people to stay, but if they know they must leave early, to please do so before we start savasana, so those who are staying can experience that quiet time without the sounds of multiple sets of footsteps and weights being put away.

Why do people leave class early? In some settings, with some people, no doubt, it’s just practical. They need to get a head start on their day, they don’t want to wait to shower, who knows why. They may not care if their noise disrupts others in rest – and this is unfortunate.

For others, savasana can be triggering. What might it feel like for a sexual violence survivor to  be directed to lay on your back, close your eyes, be still, and know that the instructor may circulate and massage your neck and shoulders? How about a first responder whose life is literally on the line at work, who hates closing his or her eyes because know what is going on in the immediate vicinity is essential to survival? This pose may not feel safe or relaxing at all – even if the yoga practice right before was tremendously beneficial.

At the same time, what if a sexual violence survivor, a first responder, or someone else whose trauma comes up in this pose takes the risk of trying it out? And, with eyes closed, several people walk by their resting head (perhaps with weights they will need to loudly put away?). Not good either.

And as a yoga teacher, you don’t know who is who, most of the time. Some survivors won’t be bothered by savasana; even if you know a student is a first responder – totally possible they leave early just to beat the others to the shower! As yoga instructors, we don’t know what’s going on for our students, and it’s not really the nature of our relationship to know their personal lives as a psychologist would.

The Breathe Network blog has an excellent video on why savasana might be so difficult for trauma survivors – and in particular its similarity to freeze (link forthcoming).

Of course as instructors of groups we can’t make everyone happy all the time. But what could make savasana feel safest for more people? Continue reading “Trauma Informed Yoga and Savasana”


Half Poses

This week I’m teaching a sequence with lots of “half poses”. Some are well-established halves (half split, half pigeon) but others are a little more creative (half tadasana, half eagle – what!? Take class and find out!). Why? Partly, for variety! I love love love sequencing and for me, when I practice, NOT knowing what to expect and really truly NEEDING to be focus and listen to know where to go is what brings me into the present moment rather than letting my mind wandering.

Continue reading “Half Poses”

Teaching Yoga in Jail: What I’ve Learned

I started teaching yoga to women at Cook County Jail (CCJ) about a year ago, as a volunteer for Yoga for Recovery, a Chicago-based non-profit that has been doing this work for years. The CCJ website lists its average daily population at 9000 detainees – it is one of the largest single site pre-detention facilities in the US. “Pre-detention” means a large number of detainees are not people who have been convicted but rather are awaiting trial. Sometimes the wait is months long or longer.

Yoga for Recovery offers its volunteers a manual on teaching, assistance with paperwork, and a network of teachers who sign up to teach yoga to women detainees about once a month. A different group of detainees comes each week. One of three weekly Yoga For Recovery classes is for detainees who are pregnant or who have recently given birth. I got involved in yoga service a long time ago but hadn’t taught in any detention centers. I was curious about what it’s like to teach in a jail (post forthcoming) and hesitant to take on a regular class myself till I knew. Yoga for Recovery provided exactly what I needed: a chance to teach occasionally in an established program to see what it’s like, but a program that could continue without me if it turned out it wasn’t for me.

Here’s what I have learned:

I can stay cool under challenging circumstances. I mean, in regular life, I manage, but my ability to chill at the jail sometimes surprises me!

I try to work with the same set of “rules” (for myself and my approach) in all my classes… but teaching in a jail is just different.  Mostly, for those I teach at the jail, I am the one yoga instructor. People don’t have other classes, other days, other times, other studios to go – this is it. I sometimes teach classes quite different from classes I would take or, quite honestly, classes I would enjoy. But beyond the yoga poses and breathing practices and breath/movement vinyasa, these classes offer participants an experience. That experience may well be more important than the strictly-speaking “yoga.”
In my public classes, I tell students they have options, and I say that here too… but in a setting where people are incarcerated, and in which many or most times they don’t actually have options, my saying it may not make people feel that they really do.  As a yoga instructor, as a volunteer, as someone who is not also incarcerated, I am in a position of power over them, whether I like that or not, whether I think that’s right or not. I try to be mindful of that in how I approach things with this in mind.
People who have had dramatic experiences, like many who are incarcerated, are strong and have survived those experiences. I aim to teach an inclusive trauma informed yoga class, of course, and to a large extent I believe I do. But my work, or a mistake, will not break them. As meaningful as the classes are to ME (and they are: this is a tremendous way to feel I’m using the skill set I have to be of service to those who wouldn’t otherwise have access to yoga and the benefits it entails), and as meaningful as I like to hope the classes are to the women I teach, this is one hour or less of their week. There may not be lots of other activities, but a lot is going on. Loss, anxiety, a whole host of new people and circumstances to acclimate to.
There’s a difference between nervous and friendly laughter, on the one hand, and making-fun-of laughter on the other. Both have come up in yoga classes at the jail. More of the nervous/friendly kind but some of the making-fun kind, and I usually have a sense of which it is. There’s not necessarily a “solution” to stop people from making fun of yoga, but it’s reassuring to know that not all laughter is that kind, and in fact, most of it isn’t.
For detainees who seem to approach things differently than me … I sometimes imagine how they’d respond to different things in my life, in my shoes, and sometimes I think their response would be better than mine.
I grew up very shy. I don’t like to be the center of attention. It can be hard to tell people no diplomatically. I sometimes indirectly undermine myself. Certainly there are incarcerated women like me, and perhaps these aspects of our personalities are connected to the reasons some of us wind up incarcerated, but there are also plenty of women who come across differently – louder, bolder, happy to say no and without any explanation!  I wouldn’t want to trade places and don’t intend to glorify being incarcerated, but I can learn from them too.
The women I teach are not that different from me. It would feel easier to imagine that this group of people is so unique and different from “the rest of us” that “we” could never wind up in their shoes. Most of the time, we could. Perhaps life circumstances set us apart. It’s rare we know all the details of anyone’s life story, but realizing how similar we are can make it harder when we do learn details of people’s lives or involvement in the criminal justice system.
People are, however, different from each other. Stereotypes aren’t true. Detainees are different from each other, and so are staff. I hadn’t thought a lot about staff at CCJ.  I think volunteering in this capacity has given me at least a sliver of insight into what it might be like to work in a detention center, and an appreciation of why it could be a challenging environment to exist in, both as a detainee and as a staff member. It’s not as simple as condemning the system or supporting it wholeheartedly…and that’s it, there’s no clear final answer. This experience makes me question anyone who presents things as if there is.

40-Hour Sexual Violence Crisis Intervention Training with the YWCA

In March of this year I completed 40 hours of training in sexual violence crisis intervention through the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, the largest Illinois provider of services to sexual assault survivors. I’ve trained separately in trauma informed yoga, including the Breathe Network’s Sexual Violence, Yoga and Resilience training, and took this training to prepare to teach yoga at the YWCA or any other rape crisis center. (In contrast to the YMCA, which I think nowadays is primarily known for group fitness classes, the YWCA focuses on eliminating racism, economic empowerment and counseling/other services related to sexual assault and domestic violence).


This 40-hour training is primarily intended for those who will go on to serve as rape crisis hotline volunteers, or medical advocates, who (offer to) accompany survivors through the hospital visit. If you are interested in volunteering in these capacities – reach out to the YWCA! The volunteers I met in training were amazing and inspiring. While the training is not specific to yoga, it is excellent for any yoga teacher who wishes to work with sexual violence survivors (there is a different 40-hour training focused on domestic violence)…and I’d say any yoga teacher at all, as there’s a big chance most public classes include survivors.


Read on to find out 8 ways this training is relevant to yoga classes, both public or specific to survivors.

8 Ways That Sexual Violence Crisis Training is Relevant to Teaching Yoga

Read more about the 40-hour training in general here.
1. The statistics are pretty sobering: 1 out of 6 US women has experienced attempted or completed sexual assault; 1 out of every 10 survivors are male; 21% of transgender college students have been assaulted (via RAINN).  Sexual violence is unfortunately not uncommon, and survivors are likely part of any given public yoga class. Whether you intend to teach survivors or not –  most likely you already do.

In contrast to rape crisis hotline volunteers or medical advocate, it’s less likely that I’ll be       having conversations so specifically about sexual violence as a yoga teacher – but the level of detail that came up really expanded my picture of how sexual violence can affect people.  A survivor assaulted by someone they know and will likely see again.One person’s concern that if they report the assault, their partner won’t understand, or the situation in which it happened will make their sexual orientation known and they haven’t come out. Parents who want their (adult) child to pursue a different path after the assault – reporting it or not, changing jobs, getting counseling – and struggle to let their child choose her/his own path.

The fact that someone hasn’t disclosed to you that they are a survivor of sexual violence does not mean they are not.

2. Victim-blaming is still a thing, whether it’s blatant or subtle (and “subtle” can be just as insidious – see microaggressions below). Rape culture is the attitude that normalizes or trivializes sexual assault, for instance, shifting the burden of prevention from the perpetrator and the wider social context that normalizes sexual violence to the (potential) individual survivors: take self defense! don’t wear revealing clothing! never walk alone at night! Self defense isn’t a bad thing, but the main problem is not that survivors didn’t take self defense, but that perpetrators committed violence against them.

Continue reading “8 Ways That Sexual Violence Crisis Training is Relevant to Teaching Yoga”

Community Yoga Class – West Side

Is your business interested in donating space for a community/donation-based yoga class on a weekend morning? I’m an experienced yoga instructor who has taught for more than two years in studios, gyms and non-profit settings such as Cook County Jail, a counseling center for survivors of sexual violence, and libraries. I have training in trauma informed yoga and host events to speak to other yoga teachers on resources in this field.

Yoga can be a tremendous tool for self-care. People practice for all different reasons – the mindful physical stretch, the breath awareness that leads to stress relief, even the potential to help in the healing of trauma. Help make this practice more financially accessible.

I’m accepting applications with the hope of identifying a new yoga host partner! Apply here.

Can you offer:

  • A clean indoor space big enough to host 20+ participants on yoga mats
  • A staff member present for the class/responsible for the premises
  • A staff contact who can reply to a text/email confirming space availability each week (that the room isn’t booked or set up with tables/chairs)
  • A budget for the teacher – helpful, not required
  • Fundraising assistance with a GoFundMe page

Continue reading “Community Yoga Class – West Side”

Directory – Trauma Informed Yoga Trainings / Yoga Service Trainings

This directory represents a culmination of much time, effort and data entry! My experience is that yoga teachers are very interested in yoga service and trauma informed yoga, and do sometimes have a (limited) budget to pay for trauma informed yoga training – but very often don’t know where to start. Start here!
  • What’s included in the directory?

The database currently includes a large number of yoga service trainings in the United States (as well as a few abroad); it’s open to all at no cost through 7/30/2017. From 8/1/2017 on, you can gain access to the directory by joining Share Your Practice as an individual or organizational member.

Each listing includes the name of the yoga service organization offering the training, the main website link, the name/date/location of the training, the main community served, and in most cases, the cost and number of hours of the training. I do not charge or take payment to include trainings in the directory. I aim to include trainings organized by established yoga service non-profits and most often Yoga Alliance Continuing Education Units will be awarded for participation.
  • What can I search for?
The directory is currently an Excel spreadsheet shared via Google Drive / Google Sheets. After many hours trying to set up a Caspio searchable database, my account was deleted due to misinformation about the free account option. Just like any Excel spreadsheet, you can click on a category (community served) and sort A-Z to see trainings on similar themes (trauma; youth) grouped in order. Email and I’ll share the “view only” version of the spreadsheet via Google Drive. It’s possible you may need a gmail account to do this.
I do my best to remove past trainings; viewing past trainings can still be informative in estimating when or where additional trainings may occur. Of course it is best to reach out directly to the individual organization with any questions!
  • Where does this information come from? Is it reliable?
I gather and update information on yoga service trainings via websites and newsletters to the best of my ability… on top of a full-time yoga teaching schedule and a number of yoga service classes.  I am currently in the process of reaching out to all yoga service organizations included, but am not necessarily in direct contact with each provider.  Any mistakes are my own.  If you are a staff member of a yoga service organization and would like to confirm the info I have on the training gathered from your website, or have a training I have not yet included, please email me at
Inclusion in the database is obviously not an exact science, nor do I charge organizations to be included. If for any reason your organization prefers not to be included, let me know and I’m happy to remove the information. In general, I follow organizations with a focus on yoga service and/or trauma informed yoga. Both yoga service and trauma informed yoga are broad categories which different practitioners approach differently – I certainly haven’t attended all of these trainings, and can’t claim that they all reflect my own views on these topics, or, obviously, yours. Interested participants should investigate details of any training independently.  If you have experience with one of these trainings and would like to share feedback, please email me at

YSC 2017: Inclusive Cuing

How can yoga teachers cue in a way that is relevant to a variety of experience levels and mobility expressions? Any public yoga class is bound to include diversity, as will any yoga service class. Jasmine Chehrazi spoke about inclusive cuing at a breakout session of the 2017 Yoga Service Conference (read my pre-session thoughts too). My takeaways:
  • The answer isn’t all about the language you use. Remind yourself however you can (sitting with students, mantra, silence) that you are one with your students. Recognize this unity before differentiation. Consistency is part of this too. Rather than using “special” rules for yoga service or trauma informed classes, work with the same general teaching guidelines all the time. For me, this often means adjusting the class to the broad “level” of the group, but speaking with similar language and referencing similar benefits of the practice.
  • Focus your teaching and cues on processes rather than goals. In a physical practice, sure, we are teaching poses, but the “full expression” in my body may look very different from the full expression in yours. Avoid language that ranks poses as “full expression”, or “if you want to go deeper”, or “if you can/can’t”. Invite students to explore where they feel engagement or sensation within a pose, perhaps even at the same time they feel ease somewhere else.
  • Students sometimes say they don’t know what feels right Why? How can they not? My view is that sometimes our culture trains us to defer to a teacher or instructor and set our own experience aside, so even if we *do* feel, we dismiss that or devalue it in favor of what the teacher says. So if a teacher *doesn’t* say what to feel or do – “what’s wrong with this teacher?!”  Sometimes, though, we disassociate from our senses due to stress or trauma, and this is a widely recognized and real phenomenon in trauma research. Disassociation has a helpful purpose in some short-term settings – to minimize the impact of an emotionally or physically painful event; to stay focused and alert despite extreme fear – but in the long-term it’s ideal to turn back on the connection to our senses and as a result feel the full range of emotions. This is where yoga comes in, not just doing physical poses to “get them right”, but to bring our awareness to the moment and the physical sensations in the body.
  • Verbal outbursts can be tools for exploration  “Ouch!” Rather than treat this as a disruption to class, treat it as an opportunity to reflect on the sensation (obviously after the student is in a pose or shape that isn’t painful). What did you feel? Where did you feel that? Did anyone else feel something similar, or something different? Observing these physical sensations is not just incidental to the practice, it’s an important part of it and we can do this off the mat too.

Continue reading “YSC 2017: Inclusive Cuing”