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!
**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.

Can yoga be harmful?

Can yoga cause harm? Many yoga teachers, and in particular those who teach trauma informed yoga, want to share this practice specifically BECAUSE it has felt so healing to us. Causing harm is often the last thing on our minds.
People – students and teachers of yoga – are of course different. The thing that serves one person so well, the practice that is so healing to one person, may be the opposite for someone else. It’s hard to know what could be triggering for a trauma survivor. So should you just give up on trying to inform yourself to avoid harm?
No! Trauma informed yoga may sound like a new and perhaps even unnecessary addition to the practice of yoga, with its long history, but as human beings we are constantly learning, and have the opportunity to infuse our practices with new knowledge. Opening up our minds to the possibility that even well-intentioned work can cause harm allows us to at least consider the possibilities of how, and to take steps to avoid it.
Most 200-hour yoga teacher trainings address well the idea of preventing physical harm with attention to anatomy, sequencing, and cueing, so that’s not a focus here…how else can yoga cause harm in a trauma-informed context?
Being triggered
Being triggered can mean something in the present environment (words, touch, sounds, a smell) bringing a trauma survivor back to back to vivid impression of the traumatic experience, or a flashback. More than “just” a bad memory, this implies experiencing at least some of the same physical sensations and thoughts as during the initial traumatic event.

Continue reading “Can yoga be harmful?”

What’s the cost of trauma informed yoga training?

It’s an investment, not a cost!

If you are looking into trauma informed yoga training, you are likely realizing that training to offer your services on a volunteer basis also costs money.

What does it cost?

While many organizations offer yoga services to underserved groups at low cost or no cost, there is almost always a cost affiliated with the training. Most 3-5 day intensive trainings range from $200-500.

It can initially be disorienting to think of paying for a training so you can volunteer. Ultimately, you support the important work of these organizations by investing your funds to train. Many trauma informed teachers see it as a responsibility to get trained on trauma as one means to minimize the possibility of causing harm….it also makes sense to ask, “What’s the cost of NOT getting training?” (Can yoga cause harm?)

How can you reduce this cost?

Continue reading “What’s the cost of trauma informed yoga training?”

Guest Post: How does Dance Movement Therapy work?


by Eve Chalom (read more from Eve on her blog)

Dance Movement Therapy starts with the base idea that the body and mind are one.  “Body movement reflects inner emotional states and changes in movement behavior can lead to changes in the psyche. . .Helping individuals to regain a sense of wholeness by experiencing the fundamental unity of body, mind, and spirit is the ultimate goal of dance movement therapy” (Dance Movement Therapy, a healing art by Fran Levy, pg 1).  

What I often find is that people with healthy relationships to themselves and others have a naturally comfortable interaction and communication between their conscious and their unconscious mind.  There are different parts of the brain that interact, and some of what we do and think and feel is conscious, and some is unconscious.  With people who have healthy relationships, the unconscious and conscious parts of the brain are communicating all the time and working together well, and not at odds with each other.  Where there are dysfunctional relationships, or what I see as dysfunctional, the conscious and unconscious parts of the brain/mind have a very different relationship.  It is oppositional, or extremely disconnected, and the flow of communicating between the two is disrupted for some reason.  Dance movement therapy is so powerful because it works different parts of the brain at the same time, and works to improve the communication between the conscious and the unconscious parts of the brain/mind.  This has a positive effect on the person’s relationship with him or herself, and with their relationships with other people. Continue reading “Guest Post: How does Dance Movement Therapy work?”

How do you teach movement without focusing on alignment?

My trauma informed yoga classes are largely made up of postures and breath. While I don’t teach a lot of vigorous pose-to-pose sequences, I do incorporate simpler breath/movement coordination. I don’t believe that achieving a certain alignment in yoga postures is the goal of yoga, even though my classes are mainly physical in nature – but how can you teach yoga postures in a way that isn’t solely about alignment? For many yoga teachers, learning alignment is a huge part of teacher training, perhaps the main part.

In my trauma informed yoga classes, I’m not assisting, and I’m mostly doing the practice with students. I still give alignment cues, but the fact that I’m doing the poses too means my cues can be fewer and farther in between than if I were not.

I also try to choose cues that speak to things other than physical alignment. “Resist gravity with your arms.” “Feel the length from your front big toe to your fingertips” “Notice where you feel the most sensation from this pose” “Focus your gaze somewhere that brings ease to your neck”. I offer options and agree that choosing what to do with one’s own body can help rebuild a sense of control that is sometimes lost in trauma.

I avoid assuming that the goal is the deepest most challenging expression of each posture every time. Rather than “sit lower” in chair pose, I might say “if you’re interested in more depth, draw your hips lower and further back” or “draw your hips lower and further back, notice what’s going on in your quads. Choose to stay here or to come back up”. Continue reading “How do you teach movement without focusing on alignment?”

What’s the Purpose of the Yoga?

Are the poses the purpose of yoga …?

Both my public classes and my trauma-informed classes mainly focus on movement and breath. Power vinyasa is the branch of yoga that initially spoke the most to me, and while most of my trauma-informed yoga classes are considerably slower and gentler than a typical power vinyasa class, this is still the style that has been healing and invigorating to me. It’s what my 200-hour teacher training is in, and it continues to influence me.

As someone who has run half marathons and is active almost every day, a vigorous yoga practice feels good to my body, and offers a tool to keep my mind engaged in the present moment. Many people who can benefit from yoga, and perhaps many trauma survivors who come in all different physical ability levels, are turned off by a slow-paced or meditation-based yoga practice. This doesn’t mean I think those practices have no value, just that some people who can benefit from yoga more broadly will simply never do them. Plenty of instructors offer classes with little movement or primarily seated poses, and I think that’s fine – there is room for all different modalities!

There are lots of ways to approach yoga, and obviously different things will speak to different people. Since my work is both in a power yoga studio and in trauma informed settings, I sometimes get exposed to views and practices very different from my own. I prefer to avoid “my way is the right way and yours is inferior, here’s why!” … since I avoid this, though, I sometimes feel like I have to defend my approach. I invite you to read this post, and, really, all of my posts, in that light!

So if I’m teaching a largely physical practice, do I think achieving yoga postures is the goal of this practice? No! And this is true both in public classes and in trauma informed classes.

My view is that yoga postures provide a context for:

a) physically taking care of the body,

b) bringing our awareness to the present moment, at least in part through some attention to where our body is in space (eg alignment), and

c) improving our own body-mind connection, where our body in space, how moving one part might affect something else, linking breath and movement. Continue reading “What’s the Purpose of the Yoga?”

Training: Eat Breathe Thrive / Module One: Yoga, Food & Body Image Intensive

I spent the last few months as a local Chicago ambassador for Eat Breathe Thrive, raising awareness about the Chicago Module One training among yoga teachers, students of yoga, and professionals in relevant fields. In this 3-day training, participants experience parts of Eat Breathe Thrive’s community program – both as participants as as teachers who might bring some of these practices into their public classes. (Module Two training is available to those who’d like to go on to officially offer the 6-week series on their own on behalf of Eat Breathe Thrive).

To cap it all off I got to participate in Module One of this experiential training with a really lovely group of other yogis and teachers.

As someone who has dealt with a lot of food and body image issues, this was an interesting experience.  The interactive portions were both fascinating and hard for me. In some respects, I’ve come a long way. I wear yoga clothes to teach every day; I don’t spend hours a day focused on my size or engage in extreme strategies to lose weight.  Still, I found it challenging to talk openly about my past and current experience with these issues, even in this incredibly supportive environment. Many of us have work to do in this space.

I’ve participated in other yoga service trainings, albeit some a long time ago. Here’s what stood out to me about Eat Breathe Thrive’s training:


I felt a strong connection to the other participants was strong, and that surprised me. We did community-building activities and, for lack of a better word, GAMES, that were just plain fun! Trauma, eating disorders and yoga service are serious topics and while lots of the training obviously spoke to that, part of Eat Breathe Thrive’s philosophy is that community plays a role in healing. Taking part in group activities allowed me to experience this connection first hand. Talking about disordered eating and body image all weekend could easily get overwhelming – getting to know the others through fun, collaborative activities helped strike a balance.

Additional, more specific training and support as an option in Module Two to set up your own community program:  Continue reading “Training: Eat Breathe Thrive / Module One: Yoga, Food & Body Image Intensive”