I teach Trauma-Informed Yoga because I want to facilitate classes that are accessible and inclusive for all people.
Perhaps that sounds straightforward. I have found that it’s complex and requires ongoing learning, unlearning, and reflection. Because even with our best intentions we can do harm, I know I have. The flipside is that we can also offer incredible support and be a guide as people (re)connect with their innate ability to experience well-being and wholeness.
Over the years, “what” I offer people has become much less important than “how”. How I am inviting people to make choices, how we are setting up the space, how I am encouraging people to explore sensations, how we balance predictability with curiosity—it’s all much more important than achieving a certain shape or completing a meditation exercise. For me, that shift from doing to sensing and experiencing is a relief.
Trauma-informed yoga is for everyone, no exceptions.
Sometimes people think that a trauma-informed approach is only for people with major trauma. And yes, it is absolutely critical to teach with a trauma-sensitive lens when working with people experiencing acute trauma symptoms. But the truth is that we all hold and carry a lot in our bodies-minds-hearts. Trauma-informed yoga is for everyone, no exceptions.
The tools and experiences trauma-informed yoga seeks to facilitate can be used for the rest of our lives. They don’t require anything outside of ourselves, nothing fancy. When I see people in my classes realize that they can soothe and calm themselves, that they are capable and have the capacity to heal, that they deserve to feel at home in their bodies—it fills my heart with joy.
We Are Enough
Many first-time students in my classes behind bars express how apprehensive they are to come to class. They worry that they “can’t do yoga” because they are “not ……….. (insert descriptor of choice) enough”. A student recently wrote in response to a request to list one thing they learned in class: “That yoga is for me.” In fact, this is one of the most common realizations people share with us. Our culture engulfs us with messages of not enoughness. Trauma-informed yoga can be an antidote to all the ways we are told we need to be someone other than ourselves.
That includes me. Because of Trauma-Informed Yoga, my own practice has shifted dramatically. I used to come to the mat with a pretty intense list of demands on my body. Rather than being with myself as I was, I attempted to use meditation and yoga postures as a way to be something different, better, improved. There is of course nothing wrong with wanting to work on our stuff on the mat. But I think my approach was to use force and self-criticism, rather than kindness and support. As is everyone, I am perpetually evolving. Trauma-informed yoga continues to help me practice self-compassion as well as cope with minor and major stressors, pain, and grief.
Resilience is Everywhere
And finally, full disclosure: I prefer to call what I teach Yoga for Resilience. In our Trauma-Informed Yoga trainings we often talk about how “trauma is everywhere”. Lately I have been adding that “resilience is also everywhere”. I believe it is important to tap into the possibility and our ability to grow and transform, rather than focus solely on treating symptoms of trauma.
An article by Shawn Ginwright earlier this year about Healing Centered Engagement, gave me a lot of delicious food for thought. He says: “A healing centered approach to addressing trauma requires a different question that moves beyond “what happened to you” to “what’s right with you” and views those exposed to trauma as agents in the creation of their own well-being rather than victims of traumatic events.”
I like that. Here’s to a world where well-being and healing spaces are welcoming and available to all.
In mid-March, we decided to pause all our volunteer-led programs to protect or students and volunteers. Ever since we have been working tirelessly to find alternative solutions to reach our students and we are confident that what comes out of this will be a stronger, more connected organization.
Check out these yoga cards for youth from a YBB community member – 50% of proceeds go to YBB!
The Vagus Nerve – read about yoga for anxiety.