Category: Trauma

Trauma Sensitive Yoga Trainings

pexels-photo-167682Trauma-sensitive trainings
in various cities.

If you are interested in training to work with a specific group of participants not covered here, visit my list of Yoga Non-Profits to see if a relevant non-profit has a training in its own city (or perhaps works in various cities but is just not yet included in this main list).

If your organization offers a training please share your info here.



Articles on Trauma (11/20)

How the psoas is connected to anxiety

Veterans with PTSD find healing with horses

Advice for being in a relationship with a trauma survivor

How yoga aids recovery from trauma

Children and trauma:

How childhood trauma affects us as adults

Fear and anxiety impact kids’ ability to learn

Ages when the brain is particularly sensitive to trauma

The connection between childhood trauma and terrorism



The Science behind Yoga and Stress

This article describes how yoga – forward folds, backbends, and holding poses more generally – helps address stress off the mat. The soothing part of the brain (the “logical” side) gets practice stepping in and calming the stress-response part (the “emotional” side) that wants to react. When challenges come up off the mat, and the emotional side of the brain is activated by more “real” situations than yoga poses, the logical part of the brain is stronger and can more easily take over and soothe, rather than letting the panicking emotional part run the show.

It’s not uncommon to find articles on trauma-sensitive yoga that emphasize restorative poses only, and implying poses that “put people on edge” have no place. Certainly some people will find a more restorative style of yoga beneficial – which is fine! – but it’s important to recognize that a more physically demanding practice can have just as many emotional benefits as a more restorative one.

Student Safety in Community Classes

How do you help students be safer in community yoga classes? Obviously student safety is important in any context; this blog focuses on yoga in non-traditional settings. I think safety in this context can be unique because these settings may lack the set up or amenities teachers have access to in more traditional settings.

Asking about injuries

I give students space to share information about any health conditions they’d like to, but always mention in writing that if they have concerns about their ability to do yoga, they should check with their doctor.  Lots of people won’t, or don’t have a doctor, but for the vast majority of yoga teachers – it is very unrealistic to create the expectation that you know how to modify for various health conditions, particularly in a group setting. Students should be considering how their body feels and should feel more than welcome to skip poses or find a more pleasant alternative – rather than assuming the teacher takes their health concern into account when teaching the group. For students who choose not to share their health concerns, the advice to listen to their own body is particularly important.

Giving modifications Continue reading “Student Safety in Community Classes”

My take on trauma sensitive

There are lots of takes on trauma-sensitive yoga. And it is not as if trauma survivors are all the same! It is still a very worthwhile topic to focus on. All the better if more of us can bring a trauma-informed view to any yoga class we teach.

As a child, I was very overweight, and for many years I dealt with issues related to food, weight, exercising excessively, and body image. Whether my experiences around these issues “count” as trauma is probably up for debate, but I think many people share these experiences and would agree they have implications for long-term psychological health.

There are a wide range of views on trauma-sensitive yoga. Sometimes my own experience and views do not match what I hear people recommending. This doesn’t mean they are wrong and I am right, but just that there are bound to be others with my views, including students in classes – I think it makes sense to realize that, just as in teaching any group class, there is not one clear set of  “do’s and don’ts”.

Hands on assists: Many trauma-sensitive guidelines recommend avoiding hands on assists completely; some say to wait until students know the teacher better, or ask each time. In my own experience of dealing with body image issues, if I came to a class and saw the instructor assisting everyone except me – I would probably start wondering what it was about me that made the person avoid me. The people-pleasing side of my personality also has trouble saying no even if a teacher asks and I do not want an assist; I don’t want to give someone else that “why not me?” feeling I get if a teacher avoids assisting me. Continue reading “My take on trauma sensitive”

How do you modify poses/the sequence for a community class?

There are probably as many answers to this as there are teachers – this is mine!

I ask myself this all the time, not just in my community classes but in public classes that tend to draw people with very mixed abilities and ages. Obviously it’s my goal to create a class that has something for everyone. In some settings I teach in – gyms and studios – there is at least a general format and “level” to follow.

Obviously if I know in advance that someone has a particular health issue, I may be able to discuss modifications in advance … not everyone will be forthcoming, and even if they are, they may not want the attention of specific modifications called out just to them. As a new student to yoga who struggled with body image issues, I wouldn’t have wanted attention for this. Modifications given in advance that may seem easy to remember to a yoga teacher (open your arms for twists) may be a lot harder to recall / recognize to someone new to yoga (recognizing that they are in a twist, then remembering to open the arms, and open them forward and back rather than up and down).

Most importantly, I like to be explicit that students should listen to their bodies and feel free to skip poses. Continue reading “How do you modify poses/the sequence for a community class?”

Promoting a free community class

If I teach the class for free, should I be responsible for promoting it ? Why?

I want to promote my class because the environment is so much nicer with a small or even large group than with one or two people. As a student, I feel very much under the spot light when I am the only one practicing! I want people to come to the classes. At the public library class I set up myself, I expected to promote it myself.

When volunteering for a non-profit, I feel that the non-profit should be invested in promoting the class as well. I recognize that many non-profit staff do the work of 2 or 3 people …  it’s unlikely that a non-profit that is unable or uninterested in promoting a free yoga class taught by a volunteer will ultimately be able to offer a sustainable class over time.

In either case, I like to be involved in promotion of the class so I can ensure the class is presented in a light that sets people’s expectations realistically.

How do I promote it? What has been effective?

At the library class, most people have heard about the class through a friend (or knowing me personally), or via a flyer at the library or on the library website. I spent a lot of time copying fliers and posting around the area, and so far no one has said this is what brought them in.  Occasionally someone saw me outside the library with yoga mats and asked about the class – I haven’t seen these people in class yet. On occasion I have circulated within the library and let people already there know there is a regular Saturday yoga class – again, no takers yet.

One avenue I have deliberately avoided is Facebook. Free yoga classes pop up all over the city but most of them are not targeted to underserved communities. My community classes have a slower pace and gentler dynamic than the public classes I teach at studios and gyms. While everyone is welcome, I avoid promoting the class to a more traditional yoga crowd – having a majority of students with an established yoga practice who can pay but prefer not to changes the dynamic in many ways, and makes it harder to teach the class at a gentler pace.

At the non-profit, a few of my students from a gym came with me and we did a gentle demo class during a time when clients were there for other purposes.  The non-profit has a sign up, and told me that social workers tell people about the class (I do not know if this actually happens or not). One person has brought others to practice. I have personally posted fliers at businesses and community locations in the area – so far this does not seem to have drawn anyone in.

One challenge with the non-profit is that I feel I need a staff contact to check in with about my efforts to promote the class (and theirs) and I no longer have one. Obviously I want to respect the organization’s wishes for who can attend the class and how it is promoted, but I also want to run a successful and sustainable class. With little to no staff involvement this is very challenging.

What is on the sign? Continue reading “Promoting a free community class”

Privilege and Yoga

Privilege has become kind of a buzz word – and it almost seems like talking about it “absolves” the speaker of it.

My definition of privilege: benefiting from aspects of your identities that are outside your control – race, gender, sexual identity, socio-economic status, life experiences that are beyond your control. Since we generally see these aspects as “set” or not changeable, you really can’t “remove” privilege. People can debate to what extent these things are changeable, but beyond that, accepting that at least some things are unchangeable and still provide benefits or drawbacks to the person, is what’s relevant to privilege. Being aware of privilege may allow you to minimize its impact on others.

How does privilege come up in general?

Yoga teachers in the more traditional for-profit setting are probably more likely to be dealing with people who share some of the same forms of privilege (or clients may have more privilege than the teacher). Needing to take privilege into account isn’t really specific to yoga, but to taking yoga out of what has become its most traditional setting these days in the US.

I’ve come across this topic, perhaps called by a different name, in international development and education, and those examples inform my views on how privilege appears in yoga. To me at least these examples are important for recognizing that privilege isn’t just “bad” in and of itself, but can actually cause harm – and I think these offer clearer examples than yoga.

Teaching English as a foreign language, I got a job based partly on my 30-day certification in teaching English as a Foreign Language to Adults and performance in an interview … but largely because I am a native speaker of English. How does this hurt people? I hope that my efforts and dedication helped make me a good teacher, but a) some non-native speaker did not get work because I did and b) perhaps students were deprived of a teacher who may have actually been more effective than me, but wasn’t a native speaker.

In international development or aid, organizations that receive grant money tend to be more highly organized and bureaucratic and from “first-world” countries who know how to apply for and win grants. They may have skilled and well-meaning employees, but “local” organizations with similar – or even higher – knowledge of what might work in their own countries will not receive funding if they aren’t “good enough” at the process. How does this hurt people? The culture and views of “first-world” countries are prioritized in the “helped” country over its own. Local organizations grow weaker and less able to assert their values, foreign organizations grow stronger. Perhaps people who could have benefited from a well-informed aid program gain no benefits from an ill-informed program.

How does privilege come up in yoga?

From this perspective, the way privilege manifests itself in yoga may have less serious implications.  Below are some of the practical examples that, to me, illustrate privilege, or a privileged perspective in yoga.

1. Using short quotes or anecdotes in a way that trivializes genuinely severe problems students may experience that the teacher does not: “What you see in the world is a reflection of what you are” – if you live in an area plagued by violence and feel overwhelmed or concerned for your children, are those negative emotions a reflection of who you are? It is a lot easier to see joy, love and beauty with the privilege of a comfortable home, with regular time off and job benefits, than from a sidewalk that doubles as a bed, in a neighborhood plagued with violence.

2. Claiming to share someone else’s experience when you don’t: “We are ALL imprisoned until we are self-realized, awake”.  As an analogy, this is an intriguing idea for exploration, say, in a weekend workshop for yoga teachers and interested students – but said, for instance, by a non-incarcerated yoga teacher to students in a prison setting, it could really minimize what it’s like to truly lack physical freedom.

3. Topics like forgiveness, karma, “choosing how you think”:  These can be very loaded topics, and, as with above, are valuable to explore thoughtfully. But the privilege of not being a survivor of violence, or not being severely or terminally ill, might make one’s personal experience with these concepts very different from people who are.

The Breathe Network offered an example that I would relate to privilege in an article on a different topic – trusting your own practice:

“…the conversation turned to a somewhat callous interpretation of “karma” (a delicate topic for victims/survivors of violence, disease, etc.) despite my belief in something more expansive and less direct … one of my fellow retreaters espoused views that those who persistently struggle with depression create their own misery and simply need to “choose something else””

4. Overreaching yoga’s benefits: Yoga can be a powerful tool for emotional change, and it may be a common factor for many people who decide to teach yoga, perhaps even more so for those of us drawn to yoga service. Everyone’s story and circumstances are different. Yoga may be the thing that helped one person overcome an eating disorder … but if that person also had regular access to therapy, a supportive family, enough income to purchase healthier food, a schedule that allowed for eating meals at regular times at a table, access to the internet to read blogs of others with similar stories … that wasn’t just yoga that helped. Presenting things as so to students may not only minimize their struggle but discourage them from seeking additional forms of support which might help.

How do these hurt people? Denying or invalidating someone’s painful or difficult experience is harmful, particularly in an arena where the idea is to promote positive change. What should you do? I don’t have the answer! I would say to avoid things like these. Be mindful that we are all different, and what worked for me … not only might NOT work for you, but it might be quite offensive to you.

To me, these are the manifestations of privilege that we can take steps to avoid. Other forms of privilege can be addressed in broader ways (supporting initiatives exposing kids from lower income areas to yoga, scholarships for people more historically excluded from teacher training for financial reasons, avoiding making assumptions about someone’s life or experience with yoga based on race, gender, etc).

What examples of privilege have you come across? How do you address it? What resources have you found helpful (specific to yoga or not)?