Category: Trauma

Training: Yoga for Survivors of Sexual Violence

I recently participated in a 14-hour Trauma Sensitive Yoga training led by Molly Boeder Harris of The Breathe Network.  The organization and the training focus on survivors of sexual violence;  I don’t work specifically with survivors of sexual violence, but as founder Molly Boeder Harris points out, sexual violence is unfortunately pervasive. Even if you don’t know it, in your public yoga classes there are likely survivors of sexual violence – in addition to survivors or other forms of trauma, many of which manifest in the body in similar ways.
I attended the Breathe Network’s 3-hour workshop last year, and what struck again even more so this round is that – on top of all the practical info – the trauma-informed perspective was infused into the workshop itself.
Right at the start Molly said to take breaks when you need them, and feel free to move around (bonus points for legs up the wall!). And my inner child glowed when she offered pages from one of these new “meditation coloring books for grown ups.”  Doodling can be a great way to take a break, let your mind wander when the topic is an intense one, and then refocus and join back in.
It’s just nice as a participant to experience this, particularly in  a workshop connected to such a serious topic as sexual violence. But it’s also significant when someone really embodies the philosophy they teach. As yoga teachers (and as teachers of any subject, really) we learn to tell people what to do – and often this is expected of us! Offering options, including the option to disregard the teacher’s cues, is a big part of trauma sensitive teaching. As yoga teachers, workshop leaders, or in any number of other roles, it can be disorienting to have people doing their own thing – but part of letting people do this is trusting that they are in charge of their body and their movement and their time – and conveying that to them by letting them do that.

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Trauma-Informed Yoga in Public Classes

One of the most significant things I’ve learned about trauma-informed yoga is that “being” trauma-informed exists on a spectrum. Classes can be more trauma informed or maybe less, but it’s rarely an either/or situation. I’m no expert, I haven’t been teaching that long, but it is very possible to take small simple steps to bring more trauma sensitivity into your public classes. Trauma-sensitive yoga trainings (and in particular the Breathe Network’s training) can offer some great ideas for this.

Why? Trauma survivors are all around and don’t always (or often) identify themselves. And different people like different yoga practices, regardless of their history of trauma or lack thereof. My public classes – which include yoga sculpt! – are definitely not the same as a class billed as trauma-sensitive at a non-profit. But I do bring it in. Here is how:
1. Always offering the option to opt out of hand on assists. I offer assists in my public studio classes; not in gyms or community classes.
2. Offering options throughout class, and doing my best not to rank them in terms of “easier” and “harder”. See below for wording ideas.  In many traumatic situations, the survivor had little to no control or choice over events – making yoga different from this by offering options can be significant.
3. …and once I’ve given multiple options, I respect people’s choice to move their own bodies in a way that feels most suitable. I will talk to people about safety if they look in danger of injury, or if they seem to be feeling really unwell, but sometimes people do things contrary to what I say. They may have a reason – or they may not! – they don’t have to tell me or be confronted about it unless their safety is at risk.
4. Giving options for savasana. They don’t have to stay still and they can choose a different pose or shape to rest in.  Some trauma-sensitive teachers advocate not asking people to stay for savasana. I wouldn’t stop someone from leaving, but in (public class) settings where it has become common for multiple people to depart from class – loudly – not just before savasana but during, I do have concern for the experience of the students who stay – and who might be trauma survivors themselves. To be lying on the ground with your eyes potentially closed and have multiple people walking around you, opening and closing the door to the room – not a very calming experience. What I usually say: “Savasana. Extend your legs long, extend your arms. Close your eyes or soften your gaze. The purpose of this pose is rest. So if another shape or pose would be more restufl, feel free to take it. Feet on the ground, fetal pose, seated meditation. I do ask that you stay for this part of class so we can all enjoy the calm atmosphere. If you need to move to find more comfort or ease, do that.” Another great idea is to have a seated posture or breathing practice immediately before savasana, and offer the option to simply stay or to recline down.
5. In my opinion, trauma sensitivity also includes situations where students may just feel uneasy or uncomfortable because they  feel they can’t do what others can do. This might not be because they are a “trauma survivor” but it can be a very alienating situation for someone new to yoga to feel in the spotlight for NOT being able to do something – and if someone who is a trauma survivor is also new to yoga, feeling singled out for something negative might be enough to make them not want to come back. I am just mindful of this and let this inform my decisions on when and what to address with alignment.
Specific language and wording I’ve come across and/or use:
  • At the start of class (and particularly in the gyms I teach in where many students are newer to yoga): “I offer a lot of breathing cues and alignment cues. I invite you to follow but always check in with your own body first. If any poses don’t feel suitable today, feel free to skip them, wait for the next one, or find something that does feel okay.”
  • Option to (release your back knee to the ground in revolved crescent) rather than “If your balance is unsteady, put your back knee down.”  In some bodies, it feels good to (keep your legs straight in a fold), in others it might feel good to (take a generous bend in your knees). Alternately, teach the pose starting with the modification and offer the “advancement” as an option to add on, rather than starting with the “full expression” and indicating that some people should put their knee down, etc.
  • If you’re curious about more sensation (for instance in baddha konasana), hinge your torso forward and fold any amount. (Thanks to Molly Boeder Harris at the Breathe Network for this and several other awesome cues!)

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Articles on Trauma (2/17)

Treating trauma likely leads to health care savings

Traumatized birds help veterans cope with PTSD

How trauma manifests in kids’ unruly behavior

Why the current trauma model fails trauma survivors

Soldiers with PTSD more “tuned” to angry faces

Sexual trauma increases risk of suicide among veterans

“Pipeline to prison” may start with childhood trauma

Kindergartner trauma survivors struggle more in school

Kansas City school implements trauma-informed care

Training: The Art of Yoga Foundation

Organization: The Art of Yoga Project
Name of Training: AYP Trauma-Informed Training
: Redwood City, CA
Number of Hours: 10 hours
Cost: $300 ( includes all materials and a healthy light lunch on Saturday). Use Promo code BAYAREAYOGA to receive a $50 discount.

Contact Email:
Other Info: In our next training program – Using Yoga and Art to Support and Empower At-Risk Teenage Girls: A Workshop for Instructors – participants will learn about The Art of Yoga Project’s integrated approach to teaching yoga in juvenile detention facilities, the value of integrating creative expression into yoga classes, and tips and techniques for understanding and effectively handling issues specific to at-risk teen girls. If you are interested check out our website for more information.

Training: Exalted Warrior Foundation

Organization: Exalted Warrior Foundation
Name of Training: Teaching Yoga & Meditation Techniques for Trauma
s: Tampa, FL, Asheville, NC
Number of Hours: 14.5
Cost: $275

Contact Email:
Other Info: In this training, you will learn how to:
* Support students with any type of trauma.
* Create a secure space for students to experience themselves in a gentle & supportive manner.
* Cultivate a self-care routine to sustain your work.
Annie Okerlin, RYT, is a certified yoga instructor in the traditions of Bikram, Vinyasa, and Power Yoga, as well as an iRest yoga nidra instructor. She also founded the Exalted Warrior Foundation (EWF) in 2006, a yoga program designed for the nation’s wounded war veterans, their families, and staff therapists intimately involved with their care and rehabilitation in major military medical and veterans’ hospital facilities. The EWF program, which she also directs, supports wounded veterans with amputations, orthopedic poly-trauma, burn injuries, traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. The owner and president of Yogani Studio in Tampa, Florida, Annie Okerlin began practicing yoga in 1996. She opened Yogani Studios in 1999 in a small, one-room studio. Since then, Yogani Studio has expanded into a thriving community.

Can Yoga Sculpt Be Trauma-Sensitive?

What speaks to me about yoga: mindful movement. Coordinating my movement and breath. Challenging my body in a safe way. Getting stronger, more flexible, more agile. Practicing self-care.

What is yoga sculpt: a format developed at Core Power Yoga that adds weights to yoga postures, and uses sun salutes to warm up. Like most of CPY’s classes, this one is heated to 90 degrees or over. Full disclosure – I now teach this format! I am mainly a yoga person, but for me yoga sculpt can be fun and energetic. Being able to teach it has made it more feasible for me to earn a living as a yoga teacher and have a more normal schedule.
People like and need different forms of movement in their lives. Yoga sculpt is not for everyone … and neither is yoga … and that is okay! I don’t believe yoga sculpt is intrinsically “bad” or “un-yogic”. Plenty of people seem to have this view without ever taking a class.  I believe there is a more yogic way of approaching movement, and you can bring that approach to other formats. And similarly, you can bring other approaches to a physical yoga practice of any style. Practicing yoga in and of itself does not make a person “higher” or “better” than people who practice other forms of movement and (yes) exercise.

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Training: Exhale to Inhale

Organization: Exhale to Inhale, Inc.
Name of Training: Exhale to Inhale Trauma-Informed Teacher Training
Locations:  Various trainings held in New York City, Westchester, NY, and CT
Number of Hours: 5
Cost: $150

Contact Email:
Other Info: The training fee is waived for yoga teachers that plan to teach for Exhale to Inhale.  If you are interested in teaching for Exhale to Inhale (currently NY, CT, NJ, LA, and MA only) the first step is to fill out the form on the “teach for us” section of the Exhale to Inhale website.

Training: yogaHOPE Trauma Informed Mind Body Training

Organization: yogaHOPE

Name of Training: Certified TIMBo Facilitator Training (Trauma Informed Mind Body)

Location: Ipswich, Massachusetts
Number of Hours: 100
Cost: $775-$2500

Contact Email:
Other Info: Module trainings offer 30 CEUs (each module) for Registered Nursing (including Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioners, and Licensed Practical/Vocational Nurses); Certified Nursing Assistants; Licensed Social Workers, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy and Licensed Mental Health Counseling; Licensed Massage Therapists; Dietetics and Nutrition.


How do I get involved in yoga service?

  • Train to work with trauma or other specific needs. Take a trauma-sensitive training. Lots of people have experienced trauma, both those in public classes and those served by a variety of non-profits; people are all different and trauma survivors are no exception. But if you’ve never worked in a social service setting, a 2-3 day training can provide an excellent orientation to issues that may not be obvious.