What is trauma informed yoga?
And to how to integrate in classes...
The word Trauma carries with it some heavy connotations of accidents, incidents, abuse or assaults. The very definition of trauma - ‘a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.’ However in today's society we are beginning to understand ‘trauma’ in a much broader sense. If we look at the greek origins of the word, trauma is defined as a ‘psychic wound, or unpleasant experience which causes abnormal stress.’
So trauma can be collected in a myriad of ways, from a very young age. Any time we’re made to feel small, if certain feelings aren’t validated, even a dog bite or any unpleasant experience - these situations all leave a mark in our unconscious, waiting to re-appear when triggered. Statistically now around 80% of the population has some form of trauma, meaning you can expect at least few traumatised students in any general yoga class - making it more important than ever to be aware and confident in trauma sensitive techniques.
“Trauma is anything that overwhelms our capacity to cope and respond, and leaves us feeling helpless, hopeless and out of control.” Hala Khouri
Trauma can be categorised into three different types:
Shock Trauma - Any single, contained event that is negative in some way. Eg Car crash, parental divorce, assault etc.
Developmental Trauma - Is trauma that occurs ongoing from a young age, when one is not fully independent. Eg separation from a parent, abuse or physical violence, restrictions to emotional expression.
Systemic/Institutional Trauma - Unequal access to resources due to race, gender, religion etc.
Triggering occurs when stored trauma is brought to the surface by external environmental factors. It can manifest in reactive, irrational behaviour brought about by the recall of past events (which may be conscious or unconscious).
Trauma in a class setting
It is important as teachers to integrate elements of trauma sensitive yoga in all our classes. There are many ways that students can be triggered during a yoga class, and we need to be conscious of these. Simple things like obstruction of vision, loud noises, being touched or cues that invite comparison can be triggering for a variety of reasons.
As a teacher there are a number of simple techniques to create a safe and nurturing space for those dealing with trauma -
Ensure you as a teacher are first grounded and centred in your energy.
Refrain from hands on adjustments - even if a student indicates they are happy to be adjusted
Refrain from offering levels when giving cues - this invites comparison.
Use invitational language, rather than directive.
Always encourage students to listen to what they need.
Stay at the front of the class where you can be seen, and use demonstration.
Give alternatives to child's pose, this can be a vulnerable position for some.
Yoga is fantastic tool for releasing and dealing with trauma, but it needs to be facilitated and approached properly. Otherwise it can easily provoke ongoing trauma symptoms.
Wild Self Yoga covers Trauma Sensitive Yoga on all 200hr Teacher Trainings. Find out more here!
Resources for more information -
The Connected Yoga Teacher Podcast