Should trauma training be required for yoga teachers?

Margaret Howard argues that trauma sensitivity should be a required part of yoga teacher training, in her three part Huffington Post piece.  Yoga can be an intimate environment, she points out, and many people have experienced trauma even if they don’t identify as “trauma survivors” or fall into a specific category served by a non-profit. Yoga teachers hold a position of authority, and could potentially trigger students and make things worse.

She speaks specifically on touch (asking individually or once at the start of class may not be a perfect solution), use of props (straps in particular), language (always use invitational language and allow students to ultimately decide), and modifications more generally (respect a student’s choice of modification unless there is a risk of injury).

I think this would be more helpfully framed as “why trauma sensitive training can benefit any  yoga teacher”  – and I do think yoga stands out among other formats of physical movement. Yoga teachers often present a yoga as something “more than” other forms of exercise – something with the capacity for healing, with a purpose beyond a workout. Plenty of teachers bring a non-physical theme or intention in as well. Particularly when a teacher frames yoga as something “more”, trauma sensitive training could be seen as an addition responsibility.

My view is that an orientation to trauma sensitive practices can be helpful just as that, an orientation. No teacher is perfect. And there is no “one” way to be trauma sensitive with every pose, with every person, all the time.  Invitational language, for instance, may be particularly helpful to people whose trauma involved having their ability to choose taken away. It may be less helpful to people totally new to a yoga practice who find the extra verbage confusing or overwhelming … or people whose first language isn’t the same as the teacher’s. For some people, silence – versus excessive teacher talk – lends itself to beneficial introspection. For others, focusing inward may be triggering.  Many students – presumably including at least some trauma survivors – love physical assists. Some people have much stronger views on why touch should be treated very carefully.

This doesn’t mean invitational language or steady teacher talk is wrong; teachers can be exposed to that idea, and the reasons behind it, and use that to inform their own choice based on the individual or group they work with. A trauma-informed perspective can be a great tool to add to any teacher’s tool box of skills.

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