I recently took a weekend-long educational course to become informed of how severe trauma impacts individuals and how symptoms of that trauma can show up in my yoga classes.
During the course, we dove deep into dissecting what trauma is, how it can show up, and what, as a yoga instructor, I can do to provide a safe space during my classes.
The instructor of the course was one of the most genuine and sincere people I’ve ever crossed paths with. She is a certified yoga therapist and earned a 1,000-hour credit from studying and practicing yoga as a form of therapy. Yoga as therapy has sincerely intrigued me, but that’s another post for another time.
We started out the weekend by defining trauma since it can be such a vague and ambiguous term. The official definition that we concluded was:
“Trauma is when our system responds to an event(s) in a way that prevents us from being out most centered self.”
But what exactly is our most centered self? The answer to that varies on the individual. During the course, we did an exercise where we defined our most centered self and what that person showed up as.
I discovered that my most centered self:
Is connected to the now and is present,
Feels at peace and at ease,
Is unattached to the outcome, but more is trusting of the process,
Is safely attached to myself,
Is able to think of others and give to them,
Has a clarity around what is a “yes” and what is a “no”, and
Spends frequent time submerged in nature.
Your definition of your most centered self might be different and that’s a really beautiful thing. We’re meant to be unique creatures.
Since your most centered self is so individual, that means your trauma is also distinctive to you. This uniqueness of everyone’s trauma makes it very difficult to identify when someone has severe trauma and how that shows up for them in day-to-day life.
So, while it can be very challenging to spot someone living with deep trauma as a yoga teacher, I learned that, in my classes, it’s better to assume that everyone is dealing with their own trauma rather than make the mistake of assuming that no one is dealing with deep trauma. As a yoga teacher, I believe there’s no such thing as being too gentle.
So, what does a trauma-informed yoga class look like?
Presenting students a map of our time together.
Providing support and a sense of trust that I am there for them.
Prioritizing a safe environment.
Not taking anything personally.
Being open and receptive.
As soon as I walk into the room, I set the stage for my students by introducing myself and the style of the class we will be doing. I ask everyone if they have what they need: water, block, towel, etc. I then inform students that this is their practice and that they are the only person who has access to how their body feels. I encourage students to spend the entire class connecting with their breath and resting whenever they’d like. I am simply a guide, not an authority figure As the class progresses, I make sure to provide modifications for every posture I can, letting students know that they should meet themselves where they’re at. Yes, challenging yourself is good, and pushing yourself is encouraged, but it’s a yoga practice, not a yoga perfect, and meeting yourself wherever you are is ideal.
As I was learning how to provide a trauma-informed yoga class, I realized that I already implemented a lot of these techniques into my classes, such as providing modifications and encouraging students to connect to their inner teacher. Throughout the entire weekend-long course I felt an overwhelming sense of peace that ensured me I was on the right path.
Digging into trauma is never a light subject and a couple individuals in the training had some deep emotions surface as their own personal trauma inevitably had a light shone on it. While we were doing activities and exercises that pointed to our own traumas, I felt a deep sense of gratitude. In those moments, I truly understand that as a child I never experienced serious trauma. My parents took incredible lengths to make sure of that; it was no accident that they protected me so well. I felt my body swell with gratitude at how fortunate I am. I realized what a gift and blessing I have been presented with. I felt called, more than ever, to use this good fortune to show up for others that have experienced profound trauma.
I think one of my biggest takeaways from the weekend was that my primary role as a yoga teacher is to provide a safe and welcoming environment and let the yoga do the healing.
If you or someone you love are searching for a healing modality, I can’t recommend yoga enough. Whether it’s group classes, one on one sessions, or finding a specialized yoga therapist, the healing that yoga encourages is boundless.