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| By Wellvyl Media Editorial

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending a continuing education workshop for yoga instructors at Asheville Yoga Center in Asheville, North Carolina.  Our course focused on how to support students who have survived and combat trauma in their everyday lives. It was game-changing. Not only did I leave the retreat with more confidence to hold proper space for people to heal but I was able to make meaning of how to heal myself.


Walk in My Shoes

The seminar was centered in a simple question; what are people going through that you can’t see?  Although a seemingly easy question, it actually can have a complicated answer.  As we have found out later in the tragic loss of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain people can assemble beautiful smiles to the world but be secretly struggling with depression and grief.  We live in a culture that is just now starting to acknowledge depression and mental disability (especially among people of color).  With so much taboo to remove from this topic, we have to be inventive about how we create a space that allows people to feel safe to explore and heal from their trauma.  


I’m your Yogi, not your Doctor

At this point, it feels like it is the responsible thing to say although we are yoga instructors and healers we are not social workers or psychologist. (Or maybe some of us are both if that’s the case- I see you, friend! Go live your best life!) As we create mindful spaces for our students we cannot fully support all cases of trauma.  It is our responsibility to learn about the mechanics of trauma, specifically on the neurological level but we should always feel comfortable directing our students to seek more professional help if need be.

That being said, take a look at the following tips and suggestions as you plan your next yoga class or workshop.  This could be a class to specifically support people who are in a traumatic situation or anyone in general. (Because let’s be real, we all are exposed to trauma daily and could use this practice)


Tips for Creating a Yoga Class that is Mindful of Trauma survivors

  1. Don’t use the word “visualize”.  It creates space for a person to allow their minds to wander and we are unaware of the specific triggers that might be attached to certain words or scenarios we ask them to explore
  2. Choice making is extremely empowering.  Keep personal choice by giving an option to students as well as reminding them a restful pose (such as child’s pose) is always welcome. A great phrase to us is “ You can move towards or away from the sensation.  It’s your choice.”
  3. THEY decide how it feels.  Ask them to note how things feel in their bodies. Giving suggestion to how something feels in another’s body might be invasive
  4. Mirror motions so they don’t feel alone or take a seat.  Power dynamics are real for trauma survivors. Do the poses with them to emphasize comradery or sit down to square any story of power dynamics the student might be making.
  5. Understand Triggers Happen.  No matter how mindful we are there is that inevitable time when something will be said or done that could cause someone to be triggered.  Handle these situations with grace for yourself and the other person. (That’s what yoga’s all about anyway, right.) What a great opportunity to have a deeper discussion with your student to learn the words and atmosphere they feel safe in.

Try This!

Lead students through a body scan being mindful of a moderate pace to allow space for exploration. Follow by a self-shoring exercise. Guide students to lie on their backs and cross their arms as if they are hugging themselves.  Then lead them to tap their arms up and down with their fingertips. Follow this by wiping hands over their face and ending with one hand over their navel and the other over their heart. (This helps calm and ground the nervous system, which is where trauma lives.)  Finally, remember to check your own nervous system before class. If the teacher is dysregulated the room will be too. You don’t have to expect perfection but do your best.

So as we continue to explore the different ways to empower people in their yoga practice (such as studying the benefits of naked yoga ) remember the small everyday adjustments we can make to class to support our students, specifically the ones who are secretly struggling.   Also, check out our article on how to use art to heal from trauma.