This is a great article on taking trauma into account when teaching yoga. There are a large number of resources on trauma in general, and entire weekend-long trainings related to specific communities, but this is a tremendous and compact list of very practical tips. I love this list! If you want an introduction to some common issues in trauma sensitive yoga, find them here:
Personally, I have worked in settings where participants were likely trauma survivors, and attended trainings connected to the topic … I’ve never taught a class specific to trauma survivors. A few points I found interesting for discussion:
“The Trauma Center considers physical assists to be a clinical issue and they recommend that trauma-sensitive classes do not offer them. In the research they conducted, they found that in classes that offered physical assists, 50% of students did not return.”
In my own classes outside of yoga studios, I am conflicted about hands on assists. Some people like them, touch can offer a unique means of connection … and some people (even in studio settings) will feel that any assist is a correction. Obviously some trauma survivors will not want to receive assists and may not feel comfortable declining either.
You can’t tell who is a trauma survivor by looking, and you may well have trauma survivors in a public class at a studio or gym. Personally, I tend to follow the norm for the venue I teach at, at least in public classes. If hands on assists are a normal part of the experience, I let students opt out, and offer them; if most teachers do not assist, I also refrain. In some cases (particularly non-traditional settings where the class is promoted to people likely to be trauma survivors), I avoid assisting because I don’t think it’s worth the risk of alienating a student. Learning to tune in to your own body is an important skill of yoga, and students can be assisted by words or example.
“Your role is not to attend to each emotion, but to allow students to be safe in feeling their body and emotions in the present moment.” This is a great point to keep in mind, in part to let yourself off the hook as a teacher a bit. One yoga instructor who worked for a victims’ assistance group had the idea to keep small notebooks and pens by mats. If a student had an intense emotion, they could immediately journal about it. Yoga teachers aren’t therapists or social workers – those jobs probably entail more training in boundaries and such, but I suspect many social workers and therapists would also acknowledge that their role is not to attend to each emotion.
“Students who have had recent hospitalizations, active drug and alcohol abuse, and psychosis are not eligible to participate” I understand this as a means of keeping the class peaceful for other participants, which is a goal I agree with. In a setting where a teacher is working closely with a health care service provider or facility, limiting participation to specific people might be feasible. In my experience of yoga outreach, programs are much less structured, to the extent that not only would it be difficult to include or exclude specific individuals, it would be hard to even have this sort of information. I guess in my mind the issue is also complicated by the issue of who is considered a trauma survivor – there are probably individuals experiencing homelessness or in other extreme situations who are in fact trauma survivors, but who also have ongoing addiction issues and could benefit from yoga. Clearly it’s important for a teacher to take into account possible issues that may arise based on addiction or mental health issues and also the resources available to deal with incidents.
What are your views on hands on assisting? Have you developed any tips for dealing with more intense emotions students may experience during yoga? What criteria do your classes have for participation?