Category: Opinion, Discussion, Debate

YSC 2017: Cultural Competency

I attended a breakout session on cultural competency at the Yoga Service Conference in May. I looked forward to it because I care about this topic a lot, and because plenty of my students are people of color.

A very specific topic sparked my initiative to share my thoughts. Then, I found myself needing to write another whole blog post on cultural competency in general, in large part so I could be more sure people would not think I was a racist. After that, one more. This post is the fourth! I share this now not because I feel like I’ve finally said it perfectly, or covered all there is, but because I really think this same sort of concern (I don’t want people to think I’m racist!) prevents a lot of valuable conversation on this topic.
One aspect of the conference and the session was that we want to be mindful of respecting the privacy of people within each session. Know that I’m limiting some of what I say in order to hold to that. One comment, though, worth sharing specifically, came from one of the presenters, that we need not only “safe spaces” to discuss, but “brave spaces”. In that spirit, of all the possible topics to write about, I’ve written about these:

 

Continue reading “YSC 2017: Cultural Competency”

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Cultural Competency: Points from the Breakout Workshop

I participated in a Yoga Service Conference session entitled Best Practices for Cultural Competency and came away with a lot of thoughts! What I think loved the most about this session is that it made me think – and write, on my own, later! – excessively, rather than list notes during the talk. I think this speaks to both the value of this session as well as the talent of these speakers as educators in a general sense.
It’s challenging to try to summarize what was presented on a topic which is potentially very sensitive – it’s also my goal to maintain the privacy of individuals who participated alongside me. It’s probably best to read this post as what I came away with and am sharing, keeping in mind that my focus may differ from what the presenters intended, and that I am omitting some information in order to keep the confidentiality of the group.
Professor of Journalism Tamara Jeffries, and Dr. Santiba Campbell, Professor of Psychology, framed their presentation in terms of their experience bringing a for-credit yoga class to Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina. Bennett is a small, private historically black college. They were explicit that this was their experience, in a specific setting, which was distinct from some of the various settings yoga service teachers may work in.  I thought it still made a lot of sense to have a very specific starting point to serve as a context, rather than speaking only in generalities.

Continue reading “Cultural Competency: Points from the Breakout Workshop”

Cultural Competency…not enough?

I’m white and it’s rare that I perceive someone to be reacting to me differently in a negative way because of my race (I wrote about one unusual comment more than a year ago here). It’s very likely that people DO react to me differently because of my race – but since I’m white, it’s in a positive direction that I perhaps take for granted.
When it may seem that I’m being treated in a negative way due to my race, it’s obviously painful. I can’t change my race. I care about making our society kinder and more inclusive and I like to think of myself as on the same “side” as people of color – it hurts to feel I’m being grouped with the white people I’d consider racist. So what to make of it? I won’t pretend my answer is right for everyone, and of course my perspective has evolved,  even somewhat since I wrote the post linked above last year.
I can’t read minds –  I could be wrong.
I could be mistaken that someone is making a judgement based on appearance. In her workshop on facilitation, Dr. Melody Moore touched on the concept of projection – assuming a person feels x because *I* feel x.. Personally, I DO feel guilt or at the very least unease regarding this country’s poor treatment of people of color. It’s possible that because *I* feel personal guilt, I assume that in a given setting a person of color considers me personally guilty –  even if they don’t.
What if I’m right?

Continue reading “Cultural Competency…not enough?”

Do I encourage my students to talk in trauma informed yoga classes?

Mostly, no.

Why not?
One of the biggest things that spoke to me personally about yoga was that I could move and breathe and participate in the group without needing to talk. Practicing postures and breathing helps me get out of my head (for many of us, being in our heads can be related to anxiety, stress, or trauma) and into my body (often this means more focus on the present moment). The need to talk pulls me right back into my head, not only the work of putting things into words, but “What is the right answer? How are people going to judge me for this?” It’s one thing to talk about letting go of that stuff – I agree that we all should! – but in practice it is much harder than we’d like to think.

I don’t think everyone has to benefit from yoga in the same way I do (assuming that everyone has the same experience as me would be a form of privilege), but there is an intention behind making minimal use of student talking, aside from hearing myself talk!  There are various group activities where talking makes up the essence of the activity … while talking isn’t necessarily incompatible with a physical yoga practice, it’s also not an essential part of it.

Why else?  Continue reading “Do I encourage my students to talk in trauma informed yoga classes?”

Do I talk about trauma in my trauma informed yoga classes?

Mostly, no.

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…) Continue reading “Do I talk about trauma in my trauma informed yoga classes?”

YSC 2017 – The Science and Research Evidence for Yoga for Underserved Populations

I’ve been blogging about upcoming sessions I’ll attend at the Yoga Service Conference – and I’m looking forward to hearing about the science and research on yoga as it pertains to underserved groups.

“This presentation with Sat Bir Singh Khalsa will review some of the basic science underlying the psychophysiology of yoga practices…[it will] also examine the scientific rationale for the benefits of yoga as a therapeutic intervention for underserved populations including veterans, the elderly, trauma survivors, and in public schools.”

My impression is that people in general, including many medical professionals and social workers, see yoga as primarily a tool for physical fitness. The “yoga industry”  – which I also work for – probably bears a lot of the responsibility for this image! Obviously any serious research will help to frame yoga more realistically for the benefits it can offer.

I’m also fascinated by the limitations of research, how those limitations impact what is studied, and consequently, what sort of evidence we can reasonably expect to have regarding the benefits of yoga. (Sat Bir Singh Khalsa’s work is particularly interesting because of its depth and focus on mental health factors that more basic research might not capture.) Continue reading “YSC 2017 – The Science and Research Evidence for Yoga for Underserved Populations”

YSC 2017 – Yoga Cues for an Inclusive Environment

My thoughts on this topic were inspired by Jasmine Chehrazi’s Yoga Service Conference Session “Inclusive Cuing:  The Art of Offering Sensitive Cues for Diverse Experience Levels, Intentions, and Mobility Expressions” which has unfortunately been cancelled. Hopefully it will be rescheduled to fit into another part of the conference!

“We’ll explore the best practices of using objective rather than subjective qualifiers in cuing, as well as process-oriented cues rather than goal-oriented cues. This discussion will also examine how to present options sensitive to common physical and psychological conditions. We will learn how to use class time before the practice begins to set guidelines that promote inclusivity and celebrate diverse practice expressions”

My Master’s Degree is in International Communication, and while I don’t use that degree in the capacity I planned to (media development in post-conflict and transition countries …obviously!), I do love using words in a logical way to communicate in general, and enjoy finding creative ways to communicate in yoga.

Why do verbal cues matter?

Much of our lives revolve around visual input, so, for me, switching to audio without visual creates a qualitatively different experience. This is part of what a lot of us want in yoga. Since I don’t offer hands on assists in my trauma informed classes, and usually at least some students are newer to yoga, I mostly do the postures as I teach them. This has both advantages and disadvantages (students working to replicate what I’m doing instead of making the practice their own, for one). But cues still matter, quite a lot, both when I do the poses in trauma informed classes, and when I mostly don’t, in public classes which I also work to make trauma informed.

How do I personally use cues to make classes more inclusive?

I feel like there is always space to learn! Right now, I work to make my cuing inclusive in a couple main ways:

  • using invitational language
  • [if I’m right with my interpretation] using objective rather than subjective cues, speaking to “if you feel stable here, lift your back knee up” versus “level one keep your back knee down, level two lift it up”
  • offering cues that speak to intentions other than finding the “deepest expression” of a pose; intentions other than physical alignment (notice your breath, move with your breath, identify where you feel the most sensation in this pose and also somewhere you feel ease). Physically the “full expression” may not be accessible to some students due to experience level, injury, body type, or anatomy. Always speaking as if there is one “full expression” that is the goal can imply that their practice is somehow “less” because of this. It’s not!

Isn’t alignment important for safety?

Continue reading “YSC 2017 – Yoga Cues for an Inclusive Environment”

This Is What You Came For: Predictability in Yoga Classes

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.

“Trigger warning” 
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. Continue reading “This Is What You Came For: Predictability in Yoga Classes”

Yoga Service Conference 2017: Sessions to look forward to

I’ll be traveling to Rhinebeck, New York to Omega for the 2017 Yoga Service Conference in May. I’ve been involved in yoga service work for a while, and founded Share Your Practice in 2015. People approach this work in so many different ways. I’m excited to meet new people and encounter new ideas to add to my existing mental inventory of yoga service knowledge!

I’ll be blogging while I’m there, but also in advance, first focusing on the sessions I’ll be attending, my thoughts on these topics now, and what I hope to learn. I’ll follow up during and after. What do you want to know about yoga service, and about these topics? What questions do you have, and what experience can you share?
Friday, May 19
Saturday, May 20
 Sunday, May 21
  • Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There: The Transformative Power of Stillness & Its Role in Yoga Service (Gail Parker)
  • Changing the Paradigm of Self Care From Individual Act to Communal Covenant (Leslie Booker and Teo Drake)
Special Mention
I worked under Yoga Activist.org founder Jasmine Chehrazi and this session has officially been cancelled, but I’m hopeful it will be fit in at another point in the weekend! It was 🙂 My takeaways.
**These are just the sessions I’ll be attending – there are others at the same times! Time permitting I’d love to share info on these sessions and perhaps link up with others attending those to exchange info.

Can yoga be harmful?

Can yoga cause harm? Many yoga teachers, and in particular those who teach trauma informed yoga, want to share this practice specifically BECAUSE it has felt so healing to us. Causing harm is often the last thing on our minds.
People – students and teachers of yoga – are of course different. The thing that serves one person so well, the practice that is so healing to one person, may be the opposite for someone else. It’s hard to know what could be triggering for a trauma survivor. So should you just give up on trying to inform yourself to avoid harm?
No! Trauma informed yoga may sound like a new and perhaps even unnecessary addition to the practice of yoga, with its long history, but as human beings we are constantly learning, and have the opportunity to infuse our practices with new knowledge. Opening up our minds to the possibility that even well-intentioned work can cause harm allows us to at least consider the possibilities of how, and to take steps to avoid it.
Most 200-hour yoga teacher trainings address well the idea of preventing physical harm with attention to anatomy, sequencing, and cueing, so that’s not a focus here…how else can yoga cause harm in a trauma-informed context?
Being triggered
Being triggered can mean something in the present environment (words, touch, sounds, a smell) bringing a trauma survivor back to back to vivid impression of the traumatic experience, or a flashback. More than “just” a bad memory, this implies experiencing at least some of the same physical sensations and thoughts as during the initial traumatic event.

Continue reading “Can yoga be harmful?”