Do I encourage my students to talk in trauma informed yoga classes?

Mostly, no.

Why not?
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.

Why else?  Continue reading “Do I encourage my students to talk in trauma informed yoga classes?”

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’.

Do I talk about trauma in my trauma informed yoga classes?

Mostly, no.

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?”

YSC 2017 – The Science and Research Evidence for Yoga for Underserved Populations

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

What is invitational language?

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”.

Invitational Approach

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.

Examples

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!

Other phrases

  • 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)

Continue reading “Invitational Language”

YSC 2017 – Yoga Cues for an Inclusive Environment

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?

Continue reading “YSC 2017 – Yoga Cues for an Inclusive Environment”

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!

This Is What You Came For: Predictability in Yoga Classes

I feel strongly that it makes sense to give yoga students a sense of what to expect in a yoga class, and stick to a predictable format, particularly in a trauma informed yoga context. Here’s why:

Creating a sense of safety
Trauma is often connected with a loss of control – over a situation, over one’s own body, even over one’s own thoughts in some cases. Having access to a practice that is at least somewhat predictable and consistent can be calming.

“Trigger warning” 
Life will often offers triggers that survivors have no control over; yoga is a free time activity that  ideally will be pleasant. Some students want a restorative practice, or a practice with discussions on the philosophy of yoga, or a primarily physical  class. Some people know they will find stillness, quiet, meditation triggering – spending time with the contents of your mind can be challenging for any of us, and some trauma survivors might prefer to avoid this in a public yoga class setting to instead focus on it with a trained therapist. People in this mindset might deliberately avoid a more restorative class. Some people just know they will be tired by a certain time of day and a class with a lot of movement would be unwelcome – these folks might prefer a more restorative class. Continue reading “This Is What You Came For: Predictability in Yoga Classes”

Yoga Service Conference 2017: Sessions to look forward to

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?
Friday, May 19
Saturday, May 20
 Sunday, May 21
  • Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There: The Transformative Power of Stillness & Its Role in Yoga Service (Gail Parker)
  • Changing the Paradigm of Self Care From Individual Act to Communal Covenant (Leslie Booker and Teo Drake)
Special Mention
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! It was 🙂 My takeaways.
**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.