What Makes a Yoga Class “Trauma-Sensitive?”

This is great question to consider. Chances are there is a person contemplating a visit to your class or studio because he or she was recommended to try yoga by his or her therapist or doctor. What potential clients and even some therapists or doctors don’t know is that there are so many different yoga styles out there and not all yoga is good for a trauma-sensitive person. This is often what your doctor or therapists says…”Go to Yoga.”

So in keeping with doctor’s orders you seek out yoga.

I say again… NOT ALL YOGA STYLES ARE GOOD FOR THE TRAUMATIZED PERSON! In fact, some yoga experiences can cause more harm than good.

As a co-owner and instructor at Eighteenth Element Yoga in Colorado Springs, I am extremely sensitive towards this topic. I also realize that yoga is or can be scary and just considering yoga is a huge step!

To set any potential client’s mind at ease, below is a list of what we at Eighteenth Element Yoga define as a trauma-sensitive yoga class.

1. (Rapport) First of all, just setting foot in a yoga studio especially if you have never ever have done yoga can be an anxiety provoking experience. We understand this at Eighteenth Element Yoga. To lessen anxiety, any client who would like to come in and talk and scope out the studio can. We will listen to your story and answer any questions you might have. You can meet the instructor in advance of the clas if you would like. We will make that happen. All and all, we will accommodate meetings, give tours, and explore any questions a person might have. We understand the importance of you feeling comfortable and safe in your yoga classes. We will make sure you have a “Safety Plan” and/or “Coping Cards.” We have assembled a great team of instructors who have empathy, compassion, and a true concern for every single one of our clients. You won’t find diva or rock star instructors with big egos who don’t have the time of day for you at Eighteenth Element Yoga. Additionally, all of our instructors have bios on our website. Potential clients can check out our instructors before they ever step in our door! Also, another thing that is just as important. Our instructors are available after class in the event you have more questions.

2. (No surprises). There is predictability with our instructors and our classes. No surprises! All can take comfort in the safety and security of this. Instructors will always inform of what is coming before it happens. We understand there is fear in the unknown and by telling you what will happen next, anxiety is lessened.

3. (No searching for the instructor). Instructors stay on their mats in our “Mindful Yoga Resilience class” which is especially geared towards those who struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). During this class, our clients will always know where the instructor is at all times. Instructors will never approach a person from behind or catch someone off guard which isn’t comforting for those who with hypervigilance.

4. (Choices). Our classes and studio always promotes choices. We understand that you didn’t have a choice concerning the trauma that happened to you. Take comfort that no one will be forced to do anything. You don’t want to close your eyes, you don’t have to. If a pose isn’t working for you, you have the freedom to come out of it, explore another variation, or to not do it at all. You have the freedom to set up your mat anywhere in the room and we aren’t going to play the shifting game of having to slide your mat over every time someone joins the class. If you and your friend came together, we won’t separate you. (We won’t ever fill our trauma-sensitive classes to the point of feeling crowded). However, if all you do is show up and breath that is totally fine with us. You will always have choices offered.

5. (Grounding). Our classes always have grounding practices. It is our goal to make this practice feel second nature to you. It is important for you to feel centered and anchored, as opposed to spacey and floating around. Grounding practices help provide a sense of support which will give you the courage to move into the yoga poses with a sense of balance and safety. In yoga, our body is supported by the earth (yoga mat) and our Bandhas (body). We take a lot of time in our Mindful Yoga Resilience classes to gain this awareness and to learn that this can be a “coping strategy” in the event your PTSD is triggered. Lastly, grounding can also be the community of the yoga class who have empathy and you’ll find quite the support system at Eighteenth Element Yoga as trauma-sensitive yoga is our mission and we are very community oriented.

6. (Breathing Exercises). Breathing is a huge part of yoga and the same applies in our trauma-sensitive yoga classes. We spend a significant portion of our class on deep and awareness breathing exercises. The techniques will be redundant so you can be sure to master the technique and use it to avoid a trigger or to self-sooth in the event you are in a situation where you are triggered.

7. (Know what’s coming next). Our Mindful Yoga Resilience classes have a structure. You will always know what comes after what. For instance, we will always have a breathing exercise at the beginning of class so you can count on that. We will also tell you what we are doing next. Also, in our Mindful Yoga Resilience classes, our instructors teach from a standardized lesson plan so if you come to multiple sessions with different instructors, you can rest assure class is on target no matter who teaches.  As you progress through our program, we’ll encourage you to explore our other trauma-sensitive classes that are offered at our studio. The recommendations will reinforce concepts and approaches you’ve been exploring in the Mindful Yoga Resilience class. They are perfect follow on class stepping stones. These classes  will feel familiar; however, practices will vary because exploring different approaches encourage new neuropathway connections which then manifests as Post Tramatic Growth; a good thing!

8. (Touching). Touching is a NO GO! We will never touch anyone or physically assist without permission. This goes without saying in a trauma-sensitive class. Also, take comfort that even when you are in any of our classes (even if they aren’t identified as a trauma-sensitive class) that we won’t touch you without your permission. Once again, you have a choice! For the rest of our classes, the studio has flip chips that students have total control of. Don’t want to be touched, flip the chip to indicate as such. There is no need to draw attention to yourself by having to say anything in front of the class. Additionally, we will help all our clients feel their body in space and discover their own adjustments as physical adjustments create dependency when you are working towards your own empowerment.

9. (Present Moment). All of our trauma-sensitive classes encourage “present moment” practices and mindsets. Trauma is a “past event” that likes to keep you in the past with things like flashbacks and nightmares. The future which isn’t even here yet can be stressful to think about. The present moment is a stress free zone and that is where we encourage you to explore. One of the ways we do this is with breathing exercises. Just being aware of the breath makes you be present.

10. (Effective Action). Our trauma-sensitive classes encourage and allow “effective action” practices. These are choices we encourage our clients to make that might make them feel better. For instance, being set up in a certain part of the room, to use or not use blocks, to ask for the lights to stay on verses off, to have extra padding… Things like that.

11. (Limbic-centric practices). Our classes have rhythms. Our trauma-sensitive classes move at a slower and limbic-centric pace. Class won’t be to slow or to fast but at the pace where one can feel the body move, allow sensation, relieve tension, and still feel connected to your breath. Additionally, we remind our students to continuously check in with their bodies. Opportunities are given to allow all to notice or experiment with pose variations or approaches to get into a pose. We feel there is more than one way to discover and explore.

12. (Mindfulness). Our trauma-sensitive classes reinforce “Mindfulness.” This is knowing what happens and feeling when you move your body a certain way. This is listening to your bodies and hearing the whispers it says and honoring those whispers so the body doesn’t scream at you later. Learning to concentrate on what your are doing for instance in a pose. Using breathing practices to energize and fuel your yoga practice, keep you present, and also to sooth and calm whenever you need. You can take your breath where ever you go and let it channel anger and anxiety as you are out and about in your world. All and all, mindfulness will fortify the body-brain connection and rebuild one’s sense of control and safety!

13. (Quiet Practices). In addition to yoga, we introduce various meditation and yoga Nidra practices. These are embedded in our Mindful Yoga Resilience classes. Additionally, we offer classes where all you do is rest and renew (Restorative Yoga), mediation, and Yoga Nidra (Yoga zzz’s). We realize that those with trauma often suffer from racing thoughts, insomnia, and restless legs as they attempt to sleep. Restorative Yoga, Meditation and yoga Nidra practices can help our clients calm themselves, relax, and maybe actually fall asleep. Snoring is a good thing! 

14. (Environment). Environment is critical! We took a lot of care in finding the perfect studio and team. You won’t be startled by loud exterior noises like booming car stereos or people walking by and looking at you through the window. There aren’t excessive mirrors, doors, or windows. Our trauma-sensitive class are room temperature verses extreme heat that reminds you of Vietnam, Afghanistan, or Iraq. We don’t burn weird incense or have weird exotic foreign music. We get that “bells and smells” can be trauma triggers. If music is played, it will be soft and soothing. If any scents are offered offered will be in the form of certified pure therapeutic grade essential oils and rational of use goes beyond scent. (Of course, remember effective action, if you don’t want it, then we won’t use it). Finally, our studio is decorated with a soothing nature theme verses a bunch of subtle hints towards any particular religion.

15. (Language). Like all things, yoga has its own unique vocabulary. To put all at ease, at our studio, we speak everyday language. You won’t hear that weird language that is often commonly heard in other studios and then feel lost because you don’t know what the heck the instructor just said. Additionally, our Mindful Yoga Resilience cues are different. We won’t use commanding language or “out of body” expressions. Instead, we use an invitatory and positive language throughout our therapeutic class; one that emphasizes choice and processes. Our language is transformational. It is inclusive, reinforcing that we are in this together. It keeps you in the present moment vs. the past where your trauma likes you to stay. Finally, our cues are awareness-oriented. 

16. (Appropriate Yoga Poses). Not all yoga poses are right for everyone and that is especially true in a trauma-sensitive yoga class! Our therapeutic classes will never have loaded poses such as Happy Baby and extreme hip and chest openers. And when we do introduce new poses, we will always show several options, and bookend them with a familiar pose. However; in the event that you or someone is triggered during one of our classes (and we have seen this in other studios’ classes), we will help channel the stress response by reinforcing grounding, focusing on breath, and familiar poses and movements that incorporate the large muscles of the Psoas, gluts, or quads such as warriors poses and wide forward bends. Usually, together we can work through the trigger.

17. (Gratitude).  We teach and explore the practice of gratitude. This simple little gesture can be life changing and all of our classes incorporate this tool.

18. (Yoga is just one tool). We understand that yoga maybe a totally new experience and maybe even overwhelming at times. We highly encourage our clients to work with a therapist so the yoga can be an adjunctive treatment. Additionally, we understand that some instructors can fire hose people with a ton of information that you’ll stress over trying to remember everything. To counter that, we offer redundancy meaning we will repeat the things you learn. Additionally, we reinforce what is taught with support material such as free books, homework practices, and practice journals/logs to reinforce what you are learning. We call everything we do “tools” that you can put in your “toolbox.”

19. (Taking out the guess work). You don’t have to guess which class to go to. All of our trauma-sensitive classes are identified by an * symbol and a course description. When you check us out, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find out actually how many of our classes are trauma-sensitive.

20.  (Private Classes). We have three classes that have a limit as to who can attend. Our Mindful Yoga Resilience classes are only for those who have PTSD and anxiety. Our Yoga for First Responders is only for first responders (firefighters, police, EMTs, ER nurses and doctors, 911 operators, Flight for Life, SWAT, crisis therapists…). Both of these programs are donation based! 

21.  (Educational Workshops). Throughout the year, Eighteenth Element Yoga has trauma-sensitive educational workshops that great learning opportunities geared towards knowledge, art, crafting, mediation techniques, and the power of essential oils. As a person healing from trauma, this is an opportunity to learn more, perfect techniques, or to channel your creative energy.

22. (Something for everyone). In general, our studio classes are for everyone! Trauma doesn’t discriminate and neither do we. Our classes are affordable, donation-based, and some are even free. We keep our costs low and transfer that to you. We are also backed by generous believers/supporters, non-profits, and their supporting organizations.

—–

There are a lot of yoga choices out there and many places or styles may not be appropriate for someone healing from trauma. Please know that many places claim they are trauma-sensitive when in true reality, they are not. All in all, I hope this provides some insight that not all yoga is right for a traumatized or trauma-sensitive person or someone who struggles with PTSD or anxiety. For a trauma survivor, our goal is to help you reclaim your body more than manipulating you into a pose! The above is Eighteenth Element Yoga’s perspective.

If you are or will be in the Colorado Springs, CO area, stop in and visit us. We are just five minutes from Peterson AFB. You can check us out on www.eighteenthelementyoga.com and/or on www.facebook.com/eighteenthelementyoga. You can also email me at kristen@eighteenthelementyoga.com.

We take trauma-sensitive seriously and our staff is constantly learning the latest research and healing approaches available in yoga and other mind-body disciplines. Yoga teachers are welcome to attend our trainings.

Namaste,

Kristen

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This entry was posted in Mindful Yoga Therapy, PTSD Yoga, Tension Relief, trauma-sensitive yoga, Yoga, Yoga for PTSD and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to What Makes a Yoga Class “Trauma-Sensitive?”

  1. Terri Watkins says:

    Very good list, Kristen. I actually think this is good to know for ALL participants, trauma or not. 🙂

    • kwarren1970 says:

      I couldn’t agree more.

    • kwarren1970 says:

      The more I teach trauma-sensitive, the more I am convinced that all yoga classes should be trauma-sensitive. I know that is not going to happen because a lot of work goes into being trauma-sensitive. But I’d like people to truly understand what it means to be trauma-sensitive. There is a lot to it. I’m always learning something new and often something I never thought of.

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