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Trauma Sensitive Yoga

Posted 3/11/2020

All of us at some point have experienced trauma. That may be the loss of a loved one, personal illness, job loss or even something like physical, mental or sexual abuse. Sometimes these traumas can be brought back to the surface through "triggers". Triggers can be something visual, it may be a particular word or phrase, something physical (such as an unexpected, yet innocent touch), sounds, truly varies from person to person. Sometimes we know exactly what our triggers are and sometimes we don't until it happens.


When we go through our Yoga practice, we may be placed into a pose (Asana) that makes us feel vulnerable. At the same time our minds and bodies begin to relax and we may start to think of situations or experiences we have not thought of in a long time. Bursting into tears unexpectedly during a practice is very, very common and that is ok!! It happens to all of us that practice at one time or another.


We are particularly mindful when it comes to our yogis and always make our spaces welcoming and non-judgemental. While we are advised ahead of time that a participant may have physical or medical conditions, this isn't always the case when it comes to trauma. So how do we try and keep things open and offer a safe space during a practice? Below are a few examples.


Wording - We try our best to avoid certain common trigger words such as "Relax". For someone with a history of sexual trauma, as an example, someone may have been told to "relax" during an assault. For this reason, we try our best to use alternate words, such as "Soften".


Choices - Reminding our yogis that "this is your practice and your time" is important to us. Also that the yogi is always in control of their own body. Poses can be taken or modified or even skipped should it not appeal to them or feel good. That they can rest when ever they need to rest and drink when ever they are thirsty. If we revisit someone who may have experienced sexual trauma, a pose such as Happy Baby can be too much for them to handle. For that person, knowing they don't have to try Happy Baby can be very comforting and even empowering since they have been given a choice.


Touch Consent - While there is not a lot of hands on touch between teacher and yogi, occasionally we will offer to do a simple adjustment or alignment to make the pose easier or safer for those who practice. It may be as simple as placing a finger on top of the shoulders to get the yogi to soften their shoulders in a pose such as Warrior 2. Other times it could be a hip press in Child's Pose or even offering a simple massage. Prior to the start of the practice we will ask for consent. Usually this takes place in Savasana so a yogi can give a wave or place a hand on their belly. We completely respect their decision and will often re-ask during a practice and invite yogis to change their minds as they feel necessary.


Being open to everyone - Yoga should be open to everyone. Some yogis are more flexible and quicker during their practice while others may need to take more time moving through the various poses and sequences. Regardless of backgrounds, the classes should always be enjoyable and open. A common phrase you may hear during our classes is "When you are ready..." or "you always have the choice to try...".


Om Shanti!