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.
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.
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.
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?”
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”
Invitational language is language that incorporates invitations and options rather than imperative style commands. In yoga, instructors might offer students options to choose from, or encourage students to notice how they feel and choose how to move (or be still) based on that.
Why use invitational language?
Particularly in a trauma informed context, making choices about how to move one’s own body can help return a sense of control that is sometimes lost in trauma. In settings where people may be very new to yoga or to movement in general, it can also often feel more inclusive to have people choose between options rather than frame these as “modifications” of the “full expression”.
I’ve come across the view – and agree! – that a teacher does not have to offer an option every single cue or use the word “invite” every single cue. It will often be enough to create an invitational environment, let students know you respect their ability to choose how to move, and then reflect that approach in your language and approach in general.
If you do choose an invitational approach, it makes sense to consider how other aspects of the environment and your teaching reflect this approach. For instance, although I don’t offer hands on assists outside of yoga studio spaces, I do in my public/yoga studio classes – where I still try to create as invitational of an approach as possible. I don’t think hands on assists are necessarily outside the scope of an invitational environment, but if I encourage students to choose the length of their warrior two stance based on how much intensity they’d like in their legs today, it makes sense to let them actually do that, rather than to assisting someone deeper into the lunge.
These are examples of cues I have heard or used, to illustrate some differences between more traditional cues and more invitational cues. Obviously there is no one “right”way to teach, or words, phrases, grammatical structures I would consider “forbidden”. Context matters! These are just examples.
- Traditional cue: Close your eyes
- Invitational cue: I invite you to close your eyes or lower your gaze.
- Traditional cue: Fold as far as you can; use your hands to grip your feet
- Invitational cue: Fold any amount. See if you can feel gravity doing some of the work of the fold, maybe all of the work of the fold. If you’re curious about more sensation in your hamstrings, grip something with your hands – your mat, your feet, your legs.
- Traditional cue: Create a ninety degree bend in your front knee.
- Invitational cue: Notice your front knee; check that it’s right about over your ankle, rather than forward of it. Choose the length of your stance – a longer stance will usually bring more intensity to the legs, a shorter stance may feel more stable.
- Traditional cue: Sink your hips lower in chair pose
- Invitational cue: Draw your knees back in space so they stay behind your toes. If you’re interested in more depth, draw your hips both back and down. Experiment with a lower seat, either stay or come back up!
- In some bodies, it will feel good to … in others…
- In your own time…
- We’ll be here another six breaths or so, or finish when you feel done…
- Options in savasana (LINK forthcoming)
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?