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Trauma informed yoga training: taking care of YOU (the teacher/trainee!)

Street Yoga will be coming to Chicago this weekend for it’s very last (for now) trauma informed yoga for youth training, before the organization disolves mid-April. Lots of yoga teachers care deeply about offering yoga to underserved communities to help people heal, often in ways we feel yoga has helped us heal. Getting formal training in trauma and how to make a yoga practice trauma informed is something my experience in this fiels makes me feel is essential.
But these trainings often deal with difficult topics. What situations may lead youth to become homeless, what challenges they face on the streets…teachers may do roleplays which are tremendously useful…but also just sad. It’s not impossible to feel triggered yourself.
How can teachers take care of themselves during these trainings?
Molly Boeder Harris adresses this topic in the training I took with her (Teaching Trauma Informed Yoga: Trauma, Yoga and the Physiology of Resilience, coming to Yogaview again soon!), so while my ideas below are probably a mix of ideas I’ve taken from a variety of sources, she deserves a lot of credit for tackling this head on!
  • Go into the training aware that you may be encountering heavy topics.
  • As much as possible, ensure you have support available outside the training, or even within it – think of a friend or relative or therapist who may be available to check in with, or someone in the training you know.
  • Take breaks when you need to. Make it a bathroom break or a water break or a walk break. Every training is different, I thought it was tremendously valuable that Molly encouraged us to do this, to sit comfortably or do legs up the wall or to slouch if we needed to … maintaining “solid alignment” seated cross legged may be good for our spines but really doesn’t take into account our mental health at all. You shouldn’t need to give a reason to take a break.
  • Nourish yourself adequately with water, food, and self-care practices outside of the training.
I’m excited to be attending the Street Yoga training and it will be hosted in a public school by my friend and yoga student (she was actually in the very first studio class I taught more than four years ago!). I have a number of friends attending too. I have not-pleasant memories of high school, of most school, and have not been in a public school setting much since leaving. The one time I was in recent history, it was to teach a “yoga club” class a few times. The students were lovely and very sincere in their interest in yoga … but it was also unsettling to be in a school environment, even though it wasn’t my own former school. Even being aware of this, and the reason why, made me feel a little less icky.
What tips do you have for yoga teachers (or others) attending trauma informed trainings on how to take the best care of themselves?

NEW $5 Community Yoga Class – Midday Saturdays at Pendulum Space



Join me for low-cost community yoga near the brown line, middays on Saturdays! Just $5 per person cash. Initially class is from noon-1pm and this time will shift slightly  based on availability of the space. Follow Chicago Community Yoga Facebook group to stay posted on news and updates! I hope to see you there.

When and where is the class?

Pendulum Space at 1803 W Byron. Ring the bell for #216, enter the door, and take the first staircase up on the left. Follow the signs to Room 216. Yoga will be in the back/last studio all the way down the hall. I will do my best to make temporary signs with arrows.

Generally we need to wait to enter the space until the start time of the class. If you arrive more than 5-10 minutes early and there is no response when you ring the bell, please be patient – you might have arrived before me! Definitely arrive within the first 10 minutes of the start time as we can’t hear the buzzer to let you in after that!

Is this class ongoing?

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Half Poses

This week I’m teaching a sequence with lots of “half poses”. Some are well-established halves (half split, half pigeon) but others are a little more creative (half tadasana, half eagle – what!? Take class and find out!). Why? Partly, for variety! I love love love sequencing and for me, when I practice, NOT knowing what to expect and really truly NEEDING to be focus and listen to know where to go is what brings me into the present moment rather than letting my mind wandering.

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8 Ways That Sexual Violence Crisis Training is Relevant to Teaching Yoga

Read more about the 40-hour training in general here.
1. The statistics are pretty sobering: 1 out of 6 US women has experienced attempted or completed sexual assault; 1 out of every 10 survivors are male; 21% of transgender college students have been assaulted (via RAINN).  Sexual violence is unfortunately not uncommon, and survivors are likely part of any given public yoga class. Whether you intend to teach survivors or not –  most likely you already do.

In contrast to rape crisis hotline volunteers or medical advocate, it’s less likely that I’ll be       having conversations so specifically about sexual violence as a yoga teacher – but the level of detail that came up really expanded my picture of how sexual violence can affect people.  A survivor assaulted by someone they know and will likely see again.One person’s concern that if they report the assault, their partner won’t understand, or the situation in which it happened will make their sexual orientation known and they haven’t come out. Parents who want their (adult) child to pursue a different path after the assault – reporting it or not, changing jobs, getting counseling – and struggle to let their child choose her/his own path.

The fact that someone hasn’t disclosed to you that they are a survivor of sexual violence does not mean they are not.

2. Victim-blaming is still a thing, whether it’s blatant or subtle (and “subtle” can be just as insidious – see microaggressions below). Rape culture is the attitude that normalizes or trivializes sexual assault, for instance, shifting the burden of prevention from the perpetrator and the wider social context that normalizes sexual violence to the (potential) individual survivors: take self defense! don’t wear revealing clothing! never walk alone at night! Self defense isn’t a bad thing, but the main problem is not that survivors didn’t take self defense, but that perpetrators committed violence against them.

Continue reading “8 Ways That Sexual Violence Crisis Training is Relevant to Teaching Yoga”

Cultural Competency in Yoga: What is it and why does it matter?

Cultural competency is a hugely important topic – and also a hugely scary one to write about, for me.
I am from the US and currently live here. This country’s human rights record is shameful, in particular in terms of treatment of people of color. Some things have changed, some have not, and even following change, past practices affect us today.
I also lived for 3 years in a country where civilians of Muslim background were targeted in conflict and went without international assistance for years. I spent a fair part of a two year dating a black man.  I don’t claim to experience racism or discrimination in the way people of color do, but issues such as racism and discrimination feel personal and close to my heart.
Selfishly, it would also just be painful to be called a racist. Plenty of people are unwilling to spend the time and take the risk of going out on a limb to start a discussion on this topic, but quick to point out fault when others do.
What is cultural competency? What is it not?
Does it mean I should teach yoga to black people differently than I’d teach it to white people? Does it imply all Latinos are the same? Does it mean I can’t teach people of color well because I’m white? You might already have guessed my answer is no, I don’t think so!
One definition I liked, stated succinctly in an NCBI article regarding cultural competency in health care  (helpfully provided by a simple google search) is:
“Culture is defined as patterns of human behavior that are part of a racial, ethnic, religious, or social group…Some of the variance across cultural groups can be affected by immigration, family structure, educational attainment, and socioeconomic status…Cultural competence …is an acknowledgement and incorporation of the importance of culture, the assessment of cross-cultural relations, vigilance towards the dynamics that result from cultural differences, the expansion of cultural knowledge, and the adaptation of services to meet culturally unique needs.”
The concept of cultural competency does imply that different cultures exist, and sometimes these fall across similar lines as race and ethnicity…but obviously variation can occur within groups as our identities are intersectional.  To me, it’s important to balance this out with a reminder that we are all connected as human beings, and to avoid “othering” people by acting in a way that implies we are incredibly different. We can still become informed about experiences or practices that tend to go along with a particular culture.
Holding space for a discussion around this topic is, in my view, more important than me personally figuring out and sharing the “right” way to look at this topic. With cultural competence in mind, in particular, it makes sense to hold space for voices from people of color, not just “too” but primarily, instead of solely my view as a white yoga instructor.
That said, I am a white yoga instructor who thinks this topic matters, and really can only speak from my personal viewpoint! Here’s my way of looking at why this topic matters. What’s yours?
White people in the US benefit from privilege rooted in current discriminatory attitudes towards people of color, and also due to the legacy of racism and prejudice. This is true even though white people today may not have personally “done anything” or asked for privilege.
Even for those of us who haven’t necessarily “done anything”, it’s possible in any interaction to cause harm, including unintentionally.
As a yoga teacher – as a person! – I don’t want to cause harm! I can act like a human being with all people, but with culture in particular, we often take things for granted, that what is true for me in my culture, I don’t even think of it as culture, I think of it as truth. Particularly in a country with such a legacy of injustice, it behooves us all, and white people in particular, to pay attention to this topic and to learn and consider what others have to say.

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YSC 2017 – The Art of Facilitation w/Dr. Melody Moore – What I Took Away

I got to Omega Institute just before 10am after a full night of driving (and napping in the car!). The irony of attending a workshop that at least touched on self-care after depriving myself of a hotel room or a flight to save money was not lost on me. But we all have to make sacrifices to do awesome things!
I mainly teach physical yoga classes, so it was hard to know how much of the presentation would be relevant to me. It was! In fact, I now think it was even more ideal to speak more generally around facilitation, rather than assuming we all did the same thing and there was one “right path” for us all. I really enjoyed Dr. Melody Moore herself – she was both very human and very professional at the same time.
Our small group formed our own community agreements, including regarding confidentiality, so it’s important to point out that what I share is what I took away from this session in general, and I strive to avoid publicizing any individual personal experience shared. And, of course, my takeaways might contain mistakes that are mine alone.
Read on to see 10 things I can and will apply to my own yoga classes (public and service classes), and other forms of facilitation such as workshops and teacher training.

Continue reading “YSC 2017 – The Art of Facilitation w/Dr. Melody Moore – What I Took Away”

YSC 2017: Community Agreements & What I Took Away

I spent last weekend in Rhinebeck, New York at the Yoga Service Conference. I’d been looking forward to all of the sessions (and blogged about my thoughts on a few in advance!).  In true yoga form, our printed program started with some community agreements intended to foster connection, understanding and respect (see photo!). Dr. Melody Moore hosted the Friday intensive I attended, and she guided our smaller group through the creation of some of our own community agreements. Among others – confidentiality.

I think it’s important to share what I learned in terms of what I took away from this session and others – lots of people can benefit from the info; plenty likely would have loved to attend but could not afford the time away or tuition. But it’s important to be clear that what I share here is what I took away from the conference and the sessions I attended. I tried my best not to violate anyone’s confidentiality by speaking on any personal experience shared. Any inconsistencies (or outright mistakes!) on the topics at hand reflect my own errors and not the speakers’.

YSC 2017 – On Being: The Art of Facilitation with Dr. Melody Moore

My weekend at the 2017 Yoga Service Conference will start with Dr. Melody Moore‘s Friday intensive session on facilitation.  I’m especially interested in this session because even though my own work with higher trauma groups is pretty limited, it can still be a challenge to find a balance between serving others and caring for yourself.

“As facilitators, it is necessary that we understand how to become safe havens for our clients and students without causing harm to ourselves. Often, in our attempts to serve others, we end up overwhelmed, over-invested, or overcompensating…We will explore attachment theory, boundaries, shadow work, family systems, and group dynamics” (text from YSC website)

Even for those of us, or for me at least, who may not experience vicarious trauma in the sense of getting into great detail about specific challenges facing the people we teach as social workers or therapists might, it can be a lot to recognize that those circumstances are real for the people we teach and care about … and recognize that, despite what we CAN offer through yoga, there are many things we cannot offer..and perhaps things that no one can offer.

I’ve found it hard some days to transition from teaching in a jail, or taking a training on sexual violence, into something in my life with a more joyful or lighthearted intention. But I can still recognize how important it is to maintain a balance, to practice self care, so I can also extend care and positive energy to others.

I plan to blog about the sessions I attend, so stay tuned for my impressions of this intensive!

Why does yoga and body image matter?

When I talk about trauma-informed yoga or yoga service, some people want to know, or at least wonder: what’s your story? What have you dealt with that makes you want to do this?Kate photo
And I get it. Many people interested in this work come to it because yoga has helped them heal. Yoga has helped me heal too! When I’ve met someone who shares that they have dealt with something similar to me, I feel more connected to them. Often, even if I haven’t experienced something similar, it’s inspiring to hear how yoga has helped them – and even with different life experiences, our yoga experience may be similar.
Continue reading “Why does yoga and body image matter?”

Training: UpRising Yoga

1243772Name of Organization: UpRising Yoga

Name of Training: Trauma Informed Yoga Training

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Number of Hours: 17 hours

Contact Email:

Cost: $300 early bird; $350 regular price

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.