Training – The Breathe Network: Teaching Sexual Violence Survivors

I went to The Breathe Network‘s workshop this weekend – Teaching Sexual Violence Survivors – Infusing Your Yoga Instruction with a Trauma-Informed Lens.

I attended both Street Yoga and Prison Yoga trainings through a past job, but this was my first trauma-informed training as a teacher myself (read about my work with yoga service here). It was fantastic! I don’t currently teach any groups focused on survivors of sexual violence, but Breathe Network founder Molly Boeder Harris made the point that trauma survivors come to public yoga classes, in studios and gyms. You won’t be able to identify survivors of sexual violence or other forms of trauma by looking (obviously), and plenty of people, maybe most, may not share this aspect of their life experience with the teacher. Not all trauma is identical to the trauma of sexual violence, but people do come to yoga with all sorts of life experiences and it’s so important to consider how to serve such a wide variety of people.
The workshop was well-organized and had regular short breaks (no joke, this matters, I drink a lot of water…don’t we all?!). It covered background info on sexual violence, trauma’s effects / possible effects on the body, an overview of somatic experiencing, and plenty of options for incorporating trauma sensitivity into your ongoing public classes.
l loved it that Molly shared specific ideas and views, but also wasn’t dogmatic. There are different approaches, different things work for different people, and not everyone will be affected by trauma in the same way. As someone who has found vinyasa flow tremendously helpful in my own life, it was nice to hear that she has also found this style of yoga helpful, even if it’s not what we picture when we hear “trauma sensitive yoga”  There was a short practice at the end and it was helpful to see some of the ideas we spoke about put into action.
A rundown of some of the ideas that stuck with me:
  • Offer options and be explicit: it’s fine to exit a pose or skip it. With longer holds let people know about how long the hold will be – 5 breaths, a minute – and then honor that.
  • Use invitational language rather than more direct commands: Molly had a great way of offering options without making them sound “harder” and “easier” .. “In some bodies, it will feel good to press your toes down, in others, it may feel good to relax the feet…” … “take two more Sun A’s or finish when you feel done”… “fold forward any amount”)
  • I think what really resonated with me was the general idea that things fall along a spectrum, rather than being black/white. A class can incorporate elements of trauma sensitivity – there isn’t an absolute dichotomy between a “regular” class and a “trauma sensitive” one. Maybe give students the option of holding a pose for some breaths and exiting out when ready rather than avoiding teaching the pose completely.  People have been using yoga to heal for a long time, so while discussing trauma-sensitive yoga may be new, the concept of yoga for healing is not.
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