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.

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Community Yoga Class – West Side

Is your business interested in donating space for a community/donation-based yoga class on a weekend morning? I’m an experienced yoga instructor who has taught for more than two years in studios, gyms and non-profit settings such as Cook County Jail, a counseling center for survivors of sexual violence, and libraries. I have training in trauma informed yoga and host events to speak to other yoga teachers on resources in this field.

Yoga can be a tremendous tool for self-care. People practice for all different reasons – the mindful physical stretch, the breath awareness that leads to stress relief, even the potential to help in the healing of trauma. Help make this practice more financially accessible.

I’m accepting applications with the hope of identifying a new yoga host partner! Apply here.

Can you offer:

  • A clean indoor space big enough to host 20+ participants on yoga mats
  • A staff member present for the class/responsible for the premises
  • A staff contact who can reply to a text/email confirming space availability each week (that the room isn’t booked or set up with tables/chairs)
  • A budget for the teacher – helpful, not required
  • Fundraising assistance with a GoFundMe page

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Directory – Trauma Informed Yoga Trainings / Yoga Service Trainings

This directory represents a culmination of much time, effort and data entry! My experience is that yoga teachers are very interested in yoga service and trauma informed yoga, and do sometimes have a (limited) budget to pay for trauma informed yoga training – but very often don’t know where to start. Start here!
  • What’s included in the directory?

The database currently includes a large number of yoga service trainings in the United States (as well as a few abroad); it’s open to all at no cost through 7/30/2017. From 8/1/2017 on, you can gain access to the directory by joining Share Your Practice as an individual or organizational member.

Each listing includes the name of the yoga service organization offering the training, the main website link, the name/date/location of the training, the main community served, and in most cases, the cost and number of hours of the training. I do not charge or take payment to include trainings in the directory. I aim to include trainings organized by established yoga service non-profits and most often Yoga Alliance Continuing Education Units will be awarded for participation.
  • What can I search for?
The directory is currently an Excel spreadsheet shared via Google Drive / Google Sheets. After many hours trying to set up a Caspio searchable database, my account was deleted due to misinformation about the free account option. Just like any Excel spreadsheet, you can click on a category (community served) and sort A-Z to see trainings on similar themes (trauma; youth) grouped in order. Email kate@shareyourpractice.org and I’ll share the “view only” version of the spreadsheet via Google Drive. It’s possible you may need a gmail account to do this.
I do my best to remove past trainings; viewing past trainings can still be informative in estimating when or where additional trainings may occur. Of course it is best to reach out directly to the individual organization with any questions!
  • Where does this information come from? Is it reliable?
I gather and update information on yoga service trainings via websites and newsletters to the best of my ability… on top of a full-time yoga teaching schedule and a number of yoga service classes.  I am currently in the process of reaching out to all yoga service organizations included, but am not necessarily in direct contact with each provider.  Any mistakes are my own.  If you are a staff member of a yoga service organization and would like to confirm the info I have on the training gathered from your website, or have a training I have not yet included, please email me at kate@shareyourpractice.org.
Inclusion in the database is obviously not an exact science, nor do I charge organizations to be included. If for any reason your organization prefers not to be included, let me know and I’m happy to remove the information. In general, I follow organizations with a focus on yoga service and/or trauma informed yoga. Both yoga service and trauma informed yoga are broad categories which different practitioners approach differently – I certainly haven’t attended all of these trainings, and can’t claim that they all reflect my own views on these topics, or, obviously, yours. Interested participants should investigate details of any training independently.  If you have experience with one of these trainings and would like to share feedback, please email me at kate@shareyourpractice.org.

YSC 2017: Inclusive Cuing

How can yoga teachers cue in a way that is relevant to a variety of experience levels and mobility expressions? Any public yoga class is bound to include diversity, as will any yoga service class. Jasmine Chehrazi spoke about inclusive cuing at a breakout session of the 2017 Yoga Service Conference (read my pre-session thoughts too). My takeaways:
  • The answer isn’t all about the language you use. Remind yourself however you can (sitting with students, mantra, silence) that you are one with your students. Recognize this unity before differentiation. Consistency is part of this too. Rather than using “special” rules for yoga service or trauma informed classes, work with the same general teaching guidelines all the time. For me, this often means adjusting the class to the broad “level” of the group, but speaking with similar language and referencing similar benefits of the practice.
  • Focus your teaching and cues on processes rather than goals. In a physical practice, sure, we are teaching poses, but the “full expression” in my body may look very different from the full expression in yours. Avoid language that ranks poses as “full expression”, or “if you want to go deeper”, or “if you can/can’t”. Invite students to explore where they feel engagement or sensation within a pose, perhaps even at the same time they feel ease somewhere else.
  • Students sometimes say they don’t know what feels right Why? How can they not? My view is that sometimes our culture trains us to defer to a teacher or instructor and set our own experience aside, so even if we *do* feel, we dismiss that or devalue it in favor of what the teacher says. So if a teacher *doesn’t* say what to feel or do – “what’s wrong with this teacher?!”  Sometimes, though, we disassociate from our senses due to stress or trauma, and this is a widely recognized and real phenomenon in trauma research. Disassociation has a helpful purpose in some short-term settings – to minimize the impact of an emotionally or physically painful event; to stay focused and alert despite extreme fear – but in the long-term it’s ideal to turn back on the connection to our senses and as a result feel the full range of emotions. This is where yoga comes in, not just doing physical poses to “get them right”, but to bring our awareness to the moment and the physical sensations in the body.
  • Verbal outbursts can be tools for exploration  “Ouch!” Rather than treat this as a disruption to class, treat it as an opportunity to reflect on the sensation (obviously after the student is in a pose or shape that isn’t painful). What did you feel? Where did you feel that? Did anyone else feel something similar, or something different? Observing these physical sensations is not just incidental to the practice, it’s an important part of it and we can do this off the mat too.

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YSC 2017: Cultural Competency

I attended a breakout session on cultural competency at the Yoga Service Conference in May. I looked forward to it because I care about this topic a lot, and because plenty of my students are people of color.

A very specific topic sparked my initiative to share my thoughts. Then, I found myself needing to write another whole blog post on cultural competency in general, in large part so I could be more sure people would not think I was a racist. After that, one more. This post is the fourth! I share this now not because I feel like I’ve finally said it perfectly, or covered all there is, but because I really think this same sort of concern (I don’t want people to think I’m racist!) prevents a lot of valuable conversation on this topic.
One aspect of the conference and the session was that we want to be mindful of respecting the privacy of people within each session. Know that I’m limiting some of what I say in order to hold to that. One comment, though, worth sharing specifically, came from one of the presenters, that we need not only “safe spaces” to discuss, but “brave spaces”. In that spirit, of all the possible topics to write about, I’ve written about these:


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Cultural Competency: Points from the Breakout Workshop

I participated in a Yoga Service Conference session entitled Best Practices for Cultural Competency and came away with a lot of thoughts! What I think loved the most about this session is that it made me think – and write, on my own, later! – excessively, rather than list notes during the talk. I think this speaks to both the value of this session as well as the talent of these speakers as educators in a general sense.
It’s challenging to try to summarize what was presented on a topic which is potentially very sensitive – it’s also my goal to maintain the privacy of individuals who participated alongside me. It’s probably best to read this post as what I came away with and am sharing, keeping in mind that my focus may differ from what the presenters intended, and that I am omitting some information in order to keep the confidentiality of the group.
Professor of Journalism Tamara Jeffries, and Dr. Santiba Campbell, Professor of Psychology, framed their presentation in terms of their experience bringing a for-credit yoga class to Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina. Bennett is a small, private historically black college. They were explicit that this was their experience, in a specific setting, which was distinct from some of the various settings yoga service teachers may work in.  I thought it still made a lot of sense to have a very specific starting point to serve as a context, rather than speaking only in generalities.

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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.

Continue reading “Cultural Competency in Yoga: What is it and why does it matter?”

Cultural Competency…not enough?

I’m white and it’s rare that I perceive someone to be reacting to me differently in a negative way because of my race (I wrote about one unusual comment more than a year ago here). It’s very likely that people DO react to me differently because of my race – but since I’m white, it’s in a positive direction that I perhaps take for granted.
When it may seem that I’m being treated in a negative way due to my race, it’s obviously painful. I can’t change my race. I care about making our society kinder and more inclusive and I like to think of myself as on the same “side” as people of color – it hurts to feel I’m being grouped with the white people I’d consider racist. So what to make of it? I won’t pretend my answer is right for everyone, and of course my perspective has evolved,  even somewhat since I wrote the post linked above last year.
I can’t read minds –  I could be wrong.
I could be mistaken that someone is making a judgement based on appearance. In her workshop on facilitation, Dr. Melody Moore touched on the concept of projection – assuming a person feels x because *I* feel x.. Personally, I DO feel guilt or at the very least unease regarding this country’s poor treatment of people of color. It’s possible that because *I* feel personal guilt, I assume that in a given setting a person of color considers me personally guilty –  even if they don’t.
What if I’m right?

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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?”