I recently participated in a 14-hour Trauma Sensitive Yoga training led by Molly Boeder Harris of The Breathe Network. The organization and the training focus on survivors of sexual violence; I don’t work specifically with survivors of sexual violence, but as founder Molly Boeder Harris points out, sexual violence is unfortunately pervasive. Even if you don’t know it, in your public yoga classes there are likely survivors of sexual violence – in addition to survivors or other forms of trauma, many of which manifest in the body in similar ways.
I attended the Breathe Network’s 3-hour workshop last year, and what struck again even more so this round is that – on top of all the practical info – the trauma-informed perspective was infused into the workshop itself.
Right at the start Molly said to take breaks when you need them, and feel free to move around (bonus points for legs up the wall!). And my inner child glowed when she offered pages from one of these new “meditation coloring books for grown ups.” Doodling can be a great way to take a break, let your mind wander when the topic is an intense one, and then refocus and join back in.
It’s just nice as a participant to experience this, particularly in a workshop connected to such a serious topic as sexual violence. But it’s also significant when someone really embodies the philosophy they teach. As yoga teachers (and as teachers of any subject, really) we learn to tell people what to do – and often this is expected of us! Offering options, including the option to disregard the teacher’s cues, is a big part of trauma sensitive teaching. As yoga teachers, workshop leaders, or in any number of other roles, it can be disorienting to have people doing their own thing – but part of letting people do this is trusting that they are in charge of their body and their movement and their time – and conveying that to them by letting them do that.
The training had a very practical focus and I found that I can infuse lots of trauma-sensitive practices into my own public classes. Each day Molly led us in a short yoga practice. It was fantastic to hear the options she offered, her language, and her demeanor (full disclosure: several things have already made their way into my mental thesaurus of cues). She also offered a system of anonymous feedback at the end. She plans to return to Chicago in the fall so stay tuned if you’d like to attend then! You can also follow the Breathe Network on Facebook.