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:
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.
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.
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).
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?
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!
**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 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 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.
If you are looking into trauma informed yoga training, you are likely realizing that training to offer your services on a volunteer basis also costs money.
What does it cost?
While many organizations offer yoga services to underserved groups at low cost or no cost, there is almost always a cost affiliated with the training. Most 3-5 day intensive trainings range from $200-500.
It can initially be disorienting to think of paying for a training so you can volunteer. Ultimately, you support the important work of these organizations by investing your funds to train. Many trauma informed teachers see it as a responsibility to get trained on trauma as one means to minimize the possibility of causing harm….it also makes sense to ask, “What’s the cost of NOT getting training?” (Can yoga cause harm?)
I spent the last few months as a local Chicago ambassador for Eat Breathe Thrive, raising awareness about the Chicago Module One training among yoga teachers, students of yoga, and professionals in relevant fields. In this 3-day training, participants experience parts of Eat Breathe Thrive’s community program – both as participants as as teachers who might bring some of these practices into their public classes. (Module Two training is available to those who’d like to go on to officially offer the 6-week series on their own on behalf of Eat Breathe Thrive).
To cap it all off I got to participate in Module One of this experiential training with a really lovely group of other yogis and teachers.
As someone who has dealt with a lot of food and body image issues, this was an interesting experience. The interactive portions were both fascinating and hard for me. In some respects, I’ve come a long way. I wear yoga clothes to teach every day; I don’t spend hours a day focused on my size or engage in extreme strategies to lose weight. Still, I found it challenging to talk openly about my past and current experience with these issues, even in this incredibly supportive environment. Many of us have work to do in this space.
I’ve participated in other yoga service trainings, albeit some a long time ago. Here’s what stood out to me about Eat Breathe Thrive’s training:
I felt a strong connection to the other participants was strong, and that surprised me. We did community-building activities and, for lack of a better word, GAMES, that were just plain fun! Trauma, eating disorders and yoga service are serious topics and while lots of the training obviously spoke to that, part of Eat Breathe Thrive’s philosophy is that community plays a role in healing. Taking part in group activities allowed me to experience this connection first hand. Talking about disordered eating and body image all weekend could easily get overwhelming – getting to know the others through fun, collaborative activities helped strike a balance.
Other Info: This 2-day training will provide you with effective, yoga based tools for working with incarcerated youth and other at-risk populations. As part of the training, you will learn about UpRising Yoga’s approach to teaching yoga, based on practical experiences learned from our work in incarcerated settings. You will also have the unique opportunity to interact and learn from subject matter experts in juvenile justice, public policy, healthcare, community engagement and research. You do not have to be a yoga instructor to attend our training. In fact, many social workers, psychologists, teachers, and more, have been able to incorporate our teachings into their practices.