There are lots of takes on trauma-sensitive yoga. And it is not as if trauma survivors are all the same! It is still a very worthwhile topic to focus on. All the better if more of us can bring a trauma-informed view to any yoga class we teach.
As a child, I was very overweight, and for many years I dealt with issues related to food, weight, exercising excessively, and body image. Whether my experiences around these issues “count” as trauma is probably up for debate, but I think many people share these experiences and would agree they have implications for long-term psychological health.
There are a wide range of views on trauma-sensitive yoga. Sometimes my own experience and views do not match what I hear people recommending. This doesn’t mean they are wrong and I am right, but just that there are bound to be others with my views, including students in classes – I think it makes sense to realize that, just as in teaching any group class, there is not one clear set of “do’s and don’ts”.
Hands on assists: Many trauma-sensitive guidelines recommend avoiding hands on assists completely; some say to wait until students know the teacher better, or ask each time. In my own experience of dealing with body image issues, if I came to a class and saw the instructor assisting everyone except me – I would probably start wondering what it was about me that made the person avoid me. The people-pleasing side of my personality also has trouble saying no even if a teacher asks and I do not want an assist; I don’t want to give someone else that “why not me?” feeling I get if a teacher avoids assisting me.
In some of my public classes, I assist, in my community classes, I do not.
Pace of the class: Coordinating movement and breath has been an integral part of what drew me to yoga. Slow-paced classes, even when I was newer to yoga, were just not engaging for me. I would not go back to a gentle class, or even go in the first place! Flowing movement-per-breath requires more concentration and allows me to get out of my mind and into my body. Not all trauma survivors will be new to yoga or not used to a physical challenge.
My community classes are at a slower pace than my public classes, so I err on the side of being too slow-paced for some, but I don’t think the pace has to be slow for the class to be trauma-sensitive.
Invitational language: I love clarity. I also love moving in harmony with other people. Choosing my own movement in a room full of people makes me feel vulnerable – what if they think I’m weird?! Options are great to an extent.
I offer a lot of options in my community classes but only rarely have the “move however you feel” stuff.
Different personalities: As a student, I am fairly quiet. Although I am a teacher now, I don’t really like drawing attention to myself. If the room was too warm or cold for my personal preference, I might not say it. Some people will… the squeaky wheel gets the oil. Sure, how will the teacher know if I don’t speak up? Of course they cannot know. But to me, rather than assuming students will all share their views or all be of a uniform mindset, the teacher should use their judgement and just work to make people feel comfortable. Talking about students as if they are a cohesive group with shared views on pacing, assists, characteristics of the room etc. just doesn’t reflect reality.
In my own teaching I struggle with this. I try to realize not all students will share their views but find it hard to resist accommodating people who are very vocal.
Having taught a lot of classes, I fully realize it is impossible to please everyone. I don’t intend to imply that these are “never” or “always” issues. But I think it’s fair to take them into account.