‘Trauma-sensitive yoga’ has become quite catchy in recent years, but is there substance behind the trend? Here are the top reasons to try trauma-sensitive yoga today. Yoga is a supposed prescription for all kinds of ailments, but it might not feel like it’s for you. What, exactly, makes some yoga ‘trauma-sensitive,’ and why does that matter anyway?
Based on formal study of yoga, mindfulness, and trauma and over 15 years of yoga and trauma recovery experience, here are key things to consider if you’re interested in yoga and (about) 30 reasons why trauma-sensitive yoga might be a good fit for you:
First, why are you interested in yoga?
Maybe you feel stiff or have chronic pain. Maybe you want to build strength, improve your balance, or avoid injuries. Perhaps you want to improve your posture, or maybe you want to improve your physical or mental health generally.
If any of these are true for you, yoga, generally, might be right for you! The science of yoga is designed to help:
- strengthen the immune system,
- improve skeletal alignment,
- increase flexibility,
- strengthen muscles,
- improve nervous system regulation.
All of this aids in balance, injury-prevention, stress resiliency, and overall health.
Let’s go one level deeper. How does it feel to be you, living in your body?
- Do you have chronic pain, or are you often ill?
- Do you feel disconnected from all or parts of your body?
- Does your chest feel tight or heavy?
- Do you avoid caring for your body or do things that you know cause your body harm?
- Do you want to feel safer, more at ease, and more in control in your own body?
If any of these are true, consider a trauma-sensitive class! You will get many of the same benefits as a regular class and will likely have a more positive and healing experience.
Regular commercialized classes are usually designed with a one-size-fits-all approach.
They often only work for people who are comfortable with a certain level of physical rigor. They often encourage you to ‘play you edge,’ push harder, hold longer, and keep going when what you really need is to listen to your body and make choices based on what feels best for you. Even ‘basics’ or ‘beginner’ classes are designed to manipulate your body into certain shapes, rather than to help you develop a better relationship with your body.
Consequently, many classes can easily become another form of self-harm instead of healing or growth.
Instead, trauma-sensitive yoga classes are focused on befriending our bodies.
When I teach, I offer options in each shape, and my classes move at a pace that allows us each to listen to our bodies before moving into a new form. You can choose to hold shapes longer or go deeper if that’s best for you, or you can choose a less extreme version of the shape. Both are equally valid choices.
Teaching in this way allows you to get to know your body better and to experiment with small, manageable acts of self-care, whether that looks like gentleness or strength.
Trauma-sensitive classes might be more accessible to a wide range of physical ability. Because they are about how we teach the class more than which shapes we teach, priorities are different.
- I have more freedom to tailor sequences to the specific people in the room.
- I will exclude shapes that I know are inaccessible or triggering.
- I am consciously rejecting social norms that faster, stronger, or elite is better and the ultimate goal.
- If you’re not sure about a class, ask! If your teacher isn’t receptive and available to talk with you about access and safety, they aren’t trauma-sensitive.
Okay, so trauma-sensitive classes approach our bodies differently that other classes. But we’re more than just bodies; we’re also minds and spirits and emotions, and it’s all interconnected.
- So, how does it feel, mentally and emotionally, to be you?
- What does it feel like to navigate this society?
- What things from your past or present call for your care or interrupt your joy today?
Maybe you live with anxiety, depression, or PTSD. Maybe you don’t identify with clinical diagnoses, but you often feel anxious, on-guard, lonely, disengaged, sad, angry, afraid, overwhelmed, empty, or disconnected. Maybe you have been harmed by people who were supposed to care for you, are coping with the effects of serious accident or illness, or you carry the weight of systemic oppression.
If any of these are true for you, please consider a trauma-sensitive class.
Teachers in studio classes often walk through the room examining students’ bodies and postures, giving instructions to change, and sometimes touching students’ bodies. They have an intended outcome in mind and try to direct everyone toward the same destination.
Consequently, regular, commercialized yoga classes can mirror violence in our society. They can reinforce messages that:
- We are not enough,
- Our experiences aren’t valid or real,
- We should be smaller, thinner, quiet, and under control
- We don’t have the knowledge or wisdom to choose for ourselves
- There is a ‘perfect’ or ‘ideal’ type of person whom we should all try to be like
Rather than helping us to reclaim our bodies, to take up space, and to feel empowered in our authentic selves, regular yoga classes can inadvertently replicate harm.
When I teach trauma-sensitive classes, you are the expert in your experience. It is my role to offer options and to hold space for you to do the sometimes difficult, sometimes joyful work of being a whole person in your body in this moment. I use my training and yoga experience to facilitate movement, breathwork, and stillness that is designed with whole-person wellness and the effects of trauma in mind.
Like other classes, the sequences are built based on an understanding of anatomy and yoga forms. However, I use language, pacing, sequencing, and my presence as a facilitator to create opportunities for resiliency and healing.
- Each movement is an invitation to explore, not a test of your ability.
- The focus is on your present-moment experience, not ideology or escape.
- You are welcome, however you are.
- There is no expectation that you ‘relax,’ have some kind of transcendent experience, or leave transformed.
In truly trauma-sensitive classes, you are already enough. I don’t need to change or impact you. You are your own person with autonomy and boundaries. We’re just here, each having our own authentic experience, together. Maybe we’ll encounter sadness, joy, peace, fear, anger, or boredom; and maybe we’ll get to know ourselves a little deeper or practice little more friendliness to ourselves along the way. That’s where the healing is.
Plus, there’s tons of research (see here and here) into how and why trauma-sensitive yoga helps our brains and bodies recover from the effects of trauma. See what I’ve written about that here and check back for more in a future post 🙂
What’s holding you back from taking the next steps in your healing today? How can I help?
Heather is a highly sought after trauma-sensitive yoga instructor in the Fox Valley. CLICK HERE to contact her today