Over the past two years, more than 200 wellness professionals have completed our Yoga for Trauma trainings and workshops throughout North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee. The feedback we’ve received is that therapists use the techniques we present in clinical settings with their clients, and yoga teachers apply the skills they learn when creating trauma-sensitive classes. While many components go into the formulation of a trauma-sensitive yoga class, in this blog post we’d like to offer five tips that can start the class-creation process (1).
5. Learn the language of trauma.
Certain words, phrases, metaphors, and the like that may be commonly used in a ‘typical’ yoga class, may be trigger-inducing in a trauma-focused yoga class. Suggestions of ‘pushing further’ or ‘coming out of one’s comfort zone,’ which are meant to inspire students to be open to the practice, can actually have the opposite effect in a trauma-sensitive yoga class. An article published in the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, suggests using ‘Invitatory Language,’ or language that is exploratory, invitational, undemanding in a trauma-sensitive yoga class (2). Adding some simple cues along with instructions will help to create a safe, non-judgemental environment for your students.
Our Tip: Discover some new ways to invite students to participate in class using phrases such as, ‘when you are ready,’ ‘at your own pace,’ ‘I invite you to,’ and ‘if you’d like.’ Practice using these cues as much as possible so that they become second nature.
4. Prepare the environment.
Providing a safe, inviting environment for yoga practice is of utmost importance. Limiting external noises, minimizing distractions, and giving ample, designated space to each student are some considerations in preparing the setting for a trauma-focused class.
Our Tip: Our suggestions are aligned with our friends over at The Breathe Network. Consider things such as the positioning of windows, doors and mirrors relative to the practice space. If at all possible, do not have people facing mirrors or with their backs to a door or window. Place a ‘do not disturb’ sign on the outside of the door. Lay out mats and suggested props for people ahead of time to orient people in the same direction and minimize potential distraction (3).
3. Give choice in EVERYTHING
Jenn Turner, the Coordinator of Yoga Services at the Trauma Center at JRI, says, “We know that complex trauma damages our ability to feel our bodies in the present moment, to practice interoception, and to feel empowered in our bodies; Trauma-Sensitive Yoga focuses on both. (4)” Giving choice to trauma survivors in a yoga setting allows each person to explore what is right for him or herself on a moment-to-moment basis, and empowers each person to make appropriate decisions.
Our Tip: Remind students often throughout class that everything is an invitation or suggestion, and that each student has the opportunity to make empowered decisions about how/when/if they join in the practice.
2. Ask before assisting or don’t assist at all.
In a ‘standard’ yoga class, assists may be given to direct, deepen, or awaken a student’s pose. In a trauma-sensitive class, where the students are making empowered decisions about what is right for themselves, assists are oftentimes not necessary and can even become triggers.
Our Tip: Decide ahead of time if you are going to offer assists to your students. Communicate this decision clearly at the beginning of class. Before touching anyone, ask. Provide clear suggestions and consider demonstrating poses rather than physically assisting. Consider using “Flip-Chips” that each student can display on his or her mat. One side of the chip invites assists, while the other side of the chip alerts the teacher to not assist. The Flip-Chip gives the student choice throughout the entire class because it can be changed by the student at any time (5).
1. Let compassion be your guide.
Trauma can have enduring physical, mental, and emotional effects on people. Many times, these effects may not be communicated or noticeable among your students. While you may not know the extent to which your students may be dealing with trauma, you can relate to each person on a human level- in a kind, and supportive way.
Our Tip: Practice compassion by taking time to be present with your students, and meeting them where they are in their journey. Remember this quote from the Dalai Lama, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion. (6)”
For more tips and techniques in creating a trauma-sensitive yoga class, we invite you to attend one of our trainings. Check our website for more information, upcoming dates, and details of registration.
About the Author: Melanie Trivette has received over 500 hours of formalized yoga teacher training, including trauma-focused modules. She enjoys working with Yoga for Trauma, and shares the passion to invite healing through ancient practices and modern neuroscience.
Please note that these suggestions and tips are based on our opinions, and should not be considered medical advice. If you are seeking to treat a traumatic experience, please consult a licensed mental health professional before engaging in these tips. You can find a practitioner in your area at the National Association of Social Workers web site: www.helpstartshere.org
(1) Odom, Becca. Top 10 Thoughts on a Trauma-Sensitive Yoga Classroom. Comp. Anna Ferguson. Print.
(2) Emerson, David, Ritu Sharma, Serena Chaudhry, and Jenn Turner. “Trauma-Sensitive Yoga: Principles, Practice and Research.” Yoga Therapy in Practice. International Journal of Yoga Therapy, 2009. Web. 22 Sept. 2015.
(3) “The Journey to Heal: Understanding Trauma-Sensitive Yoga.” The Breathe Network. 4 Jan. 2013. Web. 22 Sept. 2015.
(4) “Question Answer with Jenn Turner: Trauma-Sensitive Yoga | ISHTA Yoga.” ISHTA Yoga. Web. 22 Sept. 2015.
(5) “What Is the Flip-Chip?” Q+A. Flip Chip, n.d. Web. 02 Oct. 2015. The Flip-Chip picture is a representation of the product being sold at www.yogaflipchip.com, and is being used for informative/educational purposes only.
(6) Smyth, Tracy. “Can You Teach Compassion?” Can You Teach Compassion? Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education, 8 Dec. 2103. Web. 01 Oct. 2015.