This is a big question, and one that can’t be answered fully in the short span of a blog post. There are books written on this topic (see print resources on trauma-informed) and entire trainings devoted to it.
Similarly, just as most of us realize there really isn’t one standard “traditional yoga” taught in studios to compare trauma-sensitive yoga to, there is also lots of diversity within trauma-informed yoga. And plenty of teachers who perhaps have not had training in trauma-sensitive yoga are in fact sensitive and empathetic in their teaching.
Consider this post a basic introductory outline – and, of course, my own opinion. Do you have other points to add? Let me know!
- Fewer or no physical assists. Touch is powerful and could be triggering. Ask! See: “Please don’t touch”
- Invitational language/more options given. “In your own time…”, “Fold/twist any amount.” “Stay here 5 more breaths or finish when you feel done.”, “…or…”, option to close eyes or lower gaze/let eyelids be heavy if people don’t want to close eyes; options for savasana. See “Trauma-Informed yoga in public classes” for additional examples.
- Trauma-informed environment. Different use of music, props, lighting, set up of room. Use of strap optional (could be triggering for students who were bound or in recovery from drug use); teacher tries to be where students can see them to avoid the feeling of being snuck up on; set up room/mats so people can see the door (though once this is done generally allow people to choose where they set up rather than directing them to move); avoid turning lights out all the way or tell students before you dim them or turn them off. Trauma-sensitive yoga trainings will often go into much more detail on this topic.
- Often less vigorous than public yoga studio classes. Often students in trauma-specific classes are newer to yoga or in some settings (e.g. a drop-in homeless shelter where people may actually be sleeping outdoors/on the ground; people wearing non-yoga clothes such as jeans because that is all they have) may have physical constraints greater than those typically facing regulars at yoga studios. How I modify poses and sequences for community classes.
- Often less focus on spiritual aspects of yoga and/or themes than in a public setting. My view: sometimes themes can come across as advice-giving much like a therapist would do. I don’t think theming is bad, and it’s pretty well-established and expected in some public yoga class settings. Since my expertise is limited to yoga, I’m very cautious about bringing in themes or quotes that appear to give therapy-like advice in settings outside of yoga studios.
Themes that are light and easy in a yoga studio setting may come across differently in a setting where people have very different day to day lives and concerns (e.g. my recent theme of “lean into your discomfort” might come across as unsympathetic or privileged at a class for veterans struggling with physical injuries).
Of course I also think people should teach what is authentic to them! Students and trauma survivors are resilient. It makes sense to think carefully about any theme you bring in, but it doesn’t mean you have to censor yourself.