Trauma informed yoga means different things to different people – my definition of trauma-informed yoga is yoga that is informed with info on trauma (how a traditional class might trigger to trauma survivors) to make it feel safer and friendlier to trauma survivors, and to the extent that I can, I bring this perspective into all of my classes. I have come across instructors who make a distinction between “trauma sensitive yoga class” and “trauma specific yoga class”, which may also be a helpful way to consider the topic.
My trauma informed classes don’t focus on trauma. One of the most awesome benefits of yoga, in my opinion at least, is that the physical practice and breathe are incredibly powerful tools without the addition of words. There are other modalities, therapies (some would call these “treatments” though I don’t think of yoga as a treatment), that focus on talking and words; many people benefit from these, and people are free to seek them out. I offer yoga to those who want to try out something that is not focused on talking (and mostly don’t encourage my students to talk either).
My training (and/or How do you lead group therapy? I do not have the answer…)
It’s also important to me to focus on what I’ve been trained in: teaching the physical practice of yoga, not conducting psychotherapy or leading a group therapy session. What is incredibly healing for one person to share in a group related to trauma may be incredibly triggering to another person. As the person leading this group, it’s not always obvious how to respond in a way that is both supportive and validating – nor how to facilitate a discussion so that the participants are all responding in a supportive and validating way. My informal insight is that this is a challenge even for psychologists who lead group therapy, even though they have often received training specific to this. It feels wrong to me to assume that because I’m a yoga teacher, I have insight that my students lack above and beyond the physical practice of yoga.
For yoga instructors who are also trained in therapy, or counseling, or facilitating group discussions on sensitive topics, their approach may be different. I certainly don’t think that is wrong – I just don’t think I should be doing that without appropriate training in it.
What about the benefits of yoga for stress?
There are sometimes benefits of yoga that relate to trauma or stress in general, and occasionally I speak to these briefly in my trauma informed classes just as a I do in my public classes – slowing down the pace of your breath signals your brain that it is safe to relax. Activating the “reptilian” part of the brain and then the “rest & digest” part can be akin to training our brains to respond more calmly to stress in life. While these benefits could relate to trauma, they apply broadly, and are not specific to trauma.