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Trauma Informed Yoga

For many, yoga means stretching and stillness with a focus on breathing. While it is certainly all of those things, yoga is also a great way to relieve stress from the body. Yoga postures allow opportunities for you to strengthen muscles that often carry the most tension. Balance and coordination can improve and your cholesterol can decrease. A recent review in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology showed how yoga can even reduce the risk of heart disease just as well as conventional exercise.

Along with the physical benefits, yoga also aids in mindfulness. In this world, we have so many distractions and rush from one thing to the next with no time to process our thoughts. When it’s time for yoga, all interruptions are left at the door. We can consciously breathe and get in touch with our emotions, some of which may have been stifled by our distractions or too uncomfortable to think about in the moment. For people who have experienced trauma in their life may find discomfort in focusing on the mind and painful thoughts that may be overwhelming or even re-traumatizing.

To better cater to their student’s needs, many yoga instructors are going through trauma-informed trainings. Yogis, or yoga students, can come from all backgrounds and experiences. Instructors may never know the extent of trauma experienced by those in class, yet they need to be aware of this possibility to conduct a productive class for all. Margaret Howard, writer of the article Why Trauma Training Should be Mandatory for All Yoga Teachers, argues that all types of trauma-stricken people take yoga such as those who have experienced major trauma, as well as “People who have been in car accidents, witnessed violence, been affected by national tragedy, or served or treated traumatized persons in helper roles such as medical and social workers, psychotherapists, crisis line workers, juvenile court personnel, victim advocates, police and EMS, and even parents whose children have been through traumatic events. Indeed, even the loss of a loved one can cause traumatic grief, which is different than ordinary grief.”

Trauma-informed trainings for yoga instructors involve extensive workshops over the course of a few days or months. Here, I have listed a few of the applications yogis might see in trauma-informed classes:

  • Use of language that is invitational and empowers the student to explore the yoga position safely within their own body and mind.
  • Careful use of imagery is used during class. Some instructors, even therapists, bring up some variations of “calm place” or “happy place.” This can trigger emotions that some students may not be ready to deal with. Instead, the focus will be on the here and now.
  • Students may be directed to breathe in whatever way feels most comfortable as opposed to the instructor telling them to breathe a certain way, which can elicit panic or other feelings of anxiety. The student will become aware of their own breath and be directed to follow patterns of breathing when they are ready.
  • Use of verbal assistance during poses instead of manual help. Trauma victims may not be ready to be distracted while practicing nor might they want the physical attention.
  • Mentioning that the space they are in is safe and reiteration throughout the class to make all inhabitants feel at home while practicing.
  • Consistent flow during all classes to build trust with the students.
  • Despite their best intentions, instructors may trigger a student. The student will be allowed to experience the trigger, regain control, and be guided back to the present moment. The instructor will not attend to each emotion, but will remind the student that they are safe in their body and mind in the present moment.
  • The space used for practice will be well lit and free of mirrors. Windows should be covered to emphasis the safeness of the space.
  • Instructors will be available after each class to talk with students that have questions. Even if no one takes advantage of this offer, the notion will put students at ease.

More yoga instructors are going through the trauma-informed trainings, not just for those who have experienced major trauma, but with all who encounter their class. This does not mean that all instructors assume everyone is broken; they are erring on the side of caution. Yogis are similar to the patients who are in a hospital – not all have a blood-borne illness, yet we take universal precautions in the healthcare setting to prevent transmission because there is enough risk.

If you are looking for a trauma-informed yoga instructor in the Omaha area, check out these resources:

Janae Shillito, Project Coordinator, The Kim Foundation

Janae Shillito is the newest edition to The Kim Foundation and serves as Project Coordinator. She holds two science degrees with her alma maters including the University of Nebraska at Omaha and the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Janae’s love of volunteering and helping those without a voice created a strong desire to become a part of the non-profit world. She enjoys instructing kickboxing classes, reading a good book, and being outside with her husband, Cory, and Rottweiler, Hank.