I feel strongly that it makes sense to give yoga students a sense of what to expect in a yoga class, and stick to a predictable format, particularly in a trauma informed yoga context. Here’s why:
Creating a sense of safety
Trauma is often connected with a loss of control – over a situation, over one’s own body, even over one’s own thoughts in some cases. Having access to a practice that is at least somewhat predictable and consistent can be calming.
Life will often offers triggers that survivors have no control over; yoga is a free time activity that ideally will be pleasant. Some students want a restorative practice, or a practice with discussions on the philosophy of yoga, or a primarily physical class. Some people know they will find stillness, quiet, meditation triggering – spending time with the contents of your mind can be challenging for any of us, and some trauma survivors might prefer to avoid this in a public yoga class setting to instead focus on it with a trained therapist. People in this mindset might deliberately avoid a more restorative class. Some people just know they will be tired by a certain time of day and a class with a lot of movement would be unwelcome – these folks might prefer a more restorative class.
Some people will be open to taking on the unknown, others may know what they want or don’t want. Offering information on the general style of your class allows people to make an informed choice.
In my trauma-informed classes, I try to make every class accessible to a beginner student, while still acknowledging that at some points, some people may not feel sure of the alignment – this is okay because our own intuitive sense of our body is worth trusting, and okay because uncertainty happens in life. Moving through familiar poses can create a sense of mastery and certainty, but ultimately, getting poses “right” isn’t the goal – my intention behind a predictable sort of class isn’t because it’s important for students to “learn” the poses.
In public classes, most classes have a written description, and often a level associated with them. Some studios even have a guide for teaches to keep in mind as they sequence. While I don’t think there is just one way to sequence a class, and level can mean many things …. particularly if people are led to believe there is a rhyme and reason behind classes and class names, it just seems disrespectful to students to advertise one thing and provide something else.
I give cues to make the class accessible to all, and to the best of my ability modify the class to a level suitable to the “midline” of the group, but when I teach a level two class that is advertised as such …it will generally be a level two class. A new student who wants the challenge is welcome to join the group and do what is accessible, but I don’t change the level of the class to accommodate one person.
Practical purposes – attendance and subs
While my trauma informed classes include some changes each time, there are definitely yogis who return again and again to classes with a set sequence in my public classes. If a class is described accurately, and at least somewhat predictable, people who like that style and approach will tend to return. Whether or not students come to expect the same teacher each class depends on the setting – but it seems obvious that students do connect to individual teachers.
My trauma informed training definitely influences my teaching style, so in my trauma informed classes, I think carefully about bringing in subs. In many cases, I would cancel a class rather than ask someone to sub; at the very least I’d inform students if there were a sub, and ideally ensure that sub has been to my class and had trauma informed training.