Hi Yogis! Today’s post is from the lovely Stephani Kolevarl! Stephani subs all kinds of classes at Allay and teaches a variety of workshops, including Yoga For Teens and Partner Yoga! Find out More about Stephani here.
I recently attended a workshop that addressed using yoga to help heal trauma in our students’ lives. I was in awe at the many stories that were shared by a group of yoga teachers, also strangers who had just met: childhood abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), medical trauma. And I realized that trauma has touched most of our lives in one way or another. Some of us have experienced it directly, while others of us have been exposed to trauma indirectly through the experiences of friends or loved ones. But one thing was clear, we were all there to help ourselves, or to help others, get through these hard times by using yoga.
Clinicians have begun to realize that traditional psychotherapy addresses the cognitive elements of trauma, but lacks the techniques that work directly with the physiological elements. This is despite the fact that trauma profoundly affects the body in many ways: heart rate, breath, muscle tone, to name a few. It has also been proven that emotional pain and traumatic memories can be “stored” in the body long after exposure to a traumatic situation had ended. Therefore, the treatment of trauma must be thorough – considering the person as a whole, mind and body, and addressing the broad-ranging effects of trauma on an individual. This is where trauma-sensitive yoga classes can be a helpful tool in a therapist’s toolbox.
Trauma-sensitive yoga classes are designed with four main themes in mind that are particularly important for trauma survivors: experiencing the present moment, making choices, taking effective action, and creating rhythms. As I listened to these themes being discussed in my workshop, I kept thinking about all the times I have said these words to my students, but not fully realizing what these words mean to a trauma survivor. “Being in the present moment” means shifting the orientation from the trauma to the now, possibly experiencing one’s breath for the first time. “Making choices” about their arm or leg position in a pose, when many trauma survivors did not have a choice when it came to their trauma-causing incident. “Taking effective action” by simply coming to a yoga class when it could have been so easy to not come. The latter point reinforcing the idea of no escape for some trauma victims. And “creating rhythms” through breath that can reconnect a trauma survivor back with their body, instead of dissociating themselves from their bodies or the world around them.
I do not know if I have ever had a person come to one of my yoga classes who was currently undergoing a physical or emotional trauma, but now I feel that I have a better mindset to handle the situation if someone does share that fact with me one day. There are so many “triggers” that can arise during a yoga class (lighting, music, straps), but I do believe that being more aware of these triggers can help me be a better teacher not only for trauma-survivors, but for the general population as well. Partnering yoga with traditional therapy makes perfect sense for reclaiming the “whole person”, not just a part of the whole.