I recently read an article on Elephant Journal that really resonated with me and I know you guys can read it too. It is called “An Open Letter from a Trauma Therapist to Yoga Teachers: 12 Simple Ways to Make Your Classes More Trauma Informed.” I think all yoga instructors should check it out as the author makes a valid point in that nowadays numerous doctors and therapists are recommending yoga to their patients but new people will come to any yoga not knowing there are a ton of styles.
People come to yoga and each person has their own reasons why they first came and why they continue to practice or why they only come once.
Some of you might know that I have been trained under two different 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training Programs. Both were great schools in their own ways. However, there was one major difference between the two and that was the concept that our students have options! Go figure!
One school taught that our client’s have options. The other relayed that we are the teacher, it is our yoga room, and we will make “adjustments” as we see fit. They even lock the door once class starts so people can’t come in (even if they had to go to the bathroom). Well, I couldn’t disagree more with the latter. When I heard the trainer say that I actually argued against it and made it clear that I didn’t agree. Nevertheless, the teacher still reinforced the concept despite my objections. (So as you can guess, I didn’t adapt my teaching style to fit the latter’s concept of options).
The way that I look at it now, I’m teaching my classes and it is extremely important to me that my clients feel safe and can trust me. So yes, I disagree with the one school on this portion of their training. My students have options and have control of their bodies! You know…my clients like options and it is practiced throughout class!
Regarding the article, there are a couple of things I’d like to point out and put my perspective on.
1. I don’t assume anything about any one. Unless I am told by the client, I don’t know about previous injuries, trauma, or conditions such as pregnancy. (A long, long time ago, I assumed a lady was pregnant and actually said something to her. This was in one of my aerobics classes. She wasn’t pregnant and needless to say it was pretty awkward).
2. At the beginning of class, I will always create a Yoga Essence that relays a safe practice. This includes listening to the body throughout the practice and that there are always options and choices. I also reinforce that there is no judgment or competition during the practice. I have had people come up to me after class and tell me how important it was for me to say that as once they heard me say it, they could relax.
3. I will never lock my studio door (where you can’t come back in). If people need to leave for whatever reason, they have the freedom to do so and they can sneak back in too. My yoga studio isn’t a prison. (I know some of you will have mixed feelings about this. I get it. It can be very disrupting to the others. But, maybe, just maybe, the person leaving is having a bathroom emergency, is feeling light-headed, in a lot of pain, having a panic attack, or a trauma trigger. We don’t know). Then again, I sometimes have people approach me before class telling me they have to leave early. I’m OK with that too. I just tell them to please pack up quietly. They always do and usually wave at me as they leave. (Some practice is better than no practice).
– All and all, I feel it is the front desk’s job to tell late comers that they will have to wait until the next class if class is already in progress.
4. Touch! I don’t touch people without their permission nor do I ever sneak up on them, they know I’m coming. One school encouraged adjustments in the form of verbal cuing or maybe putting your hand in space and having the client move their body towards it that way they have control, but the last resort would be manually moving their bodies into some position. The other school said, don’t ask, just adjust because touch and alignment is important.
– Now, in a studio that I am comfortable in, I personally don’t have a problem with being touched. But that is me. I have a friend who teaches at the place where they encourage adjustments, he puts people in child’s pose and asks about adjustments. People who don’t want to be adjusted simply raise their hand. It works for him! I’ve even adopted it.
– I usually leave people alone unless they will get injured doing whatever they are doing. Mainly, I cue to the whole class often changing the cue up or walking nearby till a certain person gets it.
– If I do touch (with permission) and they are in Savasana or Child’s pose, I will rub my hands together. It makes a gentle warning noise and also warms my hands.
– I know some people don’t like to be touched or that unwelcome and surprise touch may cause a trigger to go off. I always honor someone’s NO.
5. I usually introduce a flow slowly. Often I point out where dristi might be, if you are exhaling or inhaling, some places the pose might stimulate or where one might feel sensation. Additionally, I show various modifications; always showing the easier variation first. You don’t have to do the half series every single time, you can go straight to Downward Facing Dog, or if you need a break you can visit Child’s Pose or do a Watchasana while drinking water. Heck, you can even enter Savasana early. I think you get the point and my students do as well. The last thing I want my clients to think is that they aren’t good enough to take my classes.
6. I don’t force people to close their eyes. I make it an option! Probably the majority of your clients will close their eyes; however, there might be one or two that don’t for their own personal reasons. Let them be.
7. I don’t do guided imagery during Savasana. In fact, I don’t do a lot of talking. I let people enjoy their silence and do whatever they choose to do with their thoughts. However, when I teach Restorative Yoga, I do talk. I have themes, stories, quotes, things to ponder, or I do guided imagery. I am care though with guided imagery because you never know what my cause someone’s trauma to trigger. For instance, talking about water, while you might find it peaceful another can conjure up a memory of drowning. Just choose wisely. Along these same lines, one thing that really resignates with me is Richard Miller’s “Inner Resource” concept that he teaches in his iRest program. It empowers the client to choose what that is and to construct it.
This is just my take on making my classes safe for everyone. I personally have taken an huge interest and as a result sought trainings so I could offer yoga to those afflicted by trauma to include Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). These are trainings outside of my 200 hours.
If you are of a similar mindset or have taken trauma training, I’d love to hear about your training and learning experience, mistakes you’ve made… I’m still learning and studying. One of my teacher friends often says, “the teacher and the taught create the training.”