5 Tips for Teaching Trauma Informed Yoga

1. Create Safety

Create a safe space for clients to feel comfortable and at ease. The room should be well lit and accessible. Because predictability is important in trauma recovery, you may want to teach a similar sequence each time you meet. Do not move around the room too much. Stay in front of your clients. Never approach a client from behind. Keep your eyes open – be warm and friendly but maintain healthy physical and relational boundaries. Because some people have been tied up or bound in traumatic situations, straps may be triggering. Learn how to teach without them.

2. Use Healing Words

Use simple, invitational language. For example, “I invite you to come to standing,” or “Move at your own pace,” or “You are welcome to take a deep breath here.” Do not suggest that harder yoga is better yoga or the goal of practice. When teaching trauma informed yoga, offer the goal of increasing inner awareness and capacity to tolerate the feelings in your body.

3. Use Healing Actions

Be conservative about hands-on adjustments. Use verbal or demonstrative assists whenever possible. Always ask permission before you touch a student – every time with every student. If you do touch, do it with utmost care, only on the extremities and the back. Ask students to move toward your hand rather than pushing the student.

4. Encourage Making Choices

Offer options. For example, “You may choose to keep your eyes open, or to gently close them,” or “You may choose to take your arms up over your head, or out to the sides,” Or “You may decide to lie down for s’avanasana or to sit up on your mat or in a chair.”

5. Offer the Present Moment

Encourage students to feel the movement of breath in their bodies. Also, as they practice asanas, encourage students to feel any sensations in their body from a place of self-compassion and curiosity. Encourage students to back off if the experience begins to become overwhelming. And return to simply following their movement or their breath. Help students normalize their yoga experience. It’s okay to feel whatever you are feeling. It’s okay to do something different than what others are doing. It’s okay to rest if you feel overwhelmed.

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With gratitude to David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper. Suggested Further Reading: Emerson, D. & Hopper, E. (2011). Overcoming trauma through yoga: reclaiming your body. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

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