The more I study about trauma, the more I realize that Yoga can actually be a trigger in trauma victims UNLESS…. it is Trauma Sensitive YOGA. This is because TSY focuses on reconnecting the mind and body, using mindfulness and NOT disassociating from the body. There are so many different types of Yoga classes, and for the student looking to reconnect with their body and themselves, or for coming to trust their bodies and themselves, some classes that coerce one to “push further” or hold longer” and can instill the idea that their body doesn’t know what it needs and therefore once again, to ignore it. This can lead to further injury somatically, mentally, and physically. This yoga can actually traumatize the student further because they aren’t being taught to “listen” to their bodies and process what they are feeling. TSY teaches the student to bring what they have to their practice, and in that offering, dismantle their powerlessness and learn to use their breath to listen to their bodies and to make choices that involve taking care of themselves.( adapted from Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga, Reclaiming The Body : David Emerson)
Even the use of props can be unwise thing for many, especially in recovery yoga. Some people have used “props” all their lives to “avoid” certain emotions and situations, so using props can actually be a detriment to their moving forward and realizing their body can do much for them itself without using a prop unless ABSOLUTELY needed.( 12 Step Recovery Yoga). Straps can be a huge trigger for those who have suffered sexual assaults. Even Power and Vinyasa, ( my FAVORITE) can get the student moving so fast that they can actually “check out” rather than “check in” to their body. This, though they may love it, is actually not a good thing for those students who are trying to get back in touch with themselves. They can rotely push through the practice, without a body, mind, spirit connection, which is the goal of TSY. This can actually keep the body closed to healing because it doesn’t allow the student to experience what’s there underneath the trauma.
Being open to experience the bodily sensations is the beginning to opening the eyes of the heart once again. Once the heart begins to open, healing can begin infiltrating those spaces where trauma has controlled the emotional, physical, and spiritual body.
MUSIC can also be something that triggers past trauma. Certain songs might have been on while the student was experiencing trauma. That “song” or certain types of music can deter that student from progressing, and may even deter them from coming back to yoga. LOUD music, where instructions cannot be heard, or even certain types of acoustics can be a hindrance and be interpreted as chaotic, as the person traumatized has different issues going on in their brains and body than those who have not been traumatized.
Hot Yoga can also be a huge trigger for those who have had traumatic sexual abuse. The sweating and even the structural and strong sounding “commands” can trigger the student back to that place where they are not in charge of their own body but must “submit” to their “leader”. In TSY, it is imperative that “assists” are not incorporated unless they are in a “workshop” model where they have come for that reason and are informed beforehand what they are going to encounter. The “alignment” focus can deter a student or trigger shame because they are “not doing it right” once again in their lives. The “perfection” idea of alignment is fine for regular classes, but in the TS class, that same perfection often is interpreted as “conform or leave.”
These are very sensitive issues the Yoga teacher needs to understand if they are going to reach people with trauma. It’s not for everyone. Each type of Yoga I’ve mentioned is wonderful in and of themselves, but when it comes to trauma, they need to be mindful that TSY is different and the reasons why are documented and tested.
TSY is a RE-LEARNING how to teach Yoga to a specific population that has learned in life to NOT connect, confront, relate, and check IN to their lives. This is not to say that any of these methods I’ve mentioned are not adaptable for the student with trauma. But, many trauma survivors have stated that yoga has been just another condition that set them up for failure, disappointment, and pain. The point of TSY is reconnection, reintegration, healing, and RE- STORING the students ability to live life IN their body, to FEEL their body once again, and to TRUST their bodies and themselves, aligning with THEMSELVES themselves on a deeper level, and LOVING themselves once again. Therefore, Yoga that draws the student to these specific things will enable the student to live life rather than withdraw from it, feel their bodies, rather than numb it, and confront the ego rather than allow it to continue it’s destructive course towards burying the trauma deeper.
Another interesting thing is when TSY is used for those with Religious abuse. Those who have been taught that their body is “evil” or purely “sexual”, have learned to cover it up or hide it and not consider their body sacred. Reaching this type of student is crucial in order to reconnect them to this vital understanding that if the belief is there that God created their body, then God also claimed it was GOOD, and not evil. This is also an important place where teaching the student to THINK and LISTEN to their own hearts rather than a dictator or guru who taught them NOT to trust them, and only trust others to LEAD them. TSY is just that: Trauma SENSITIVE. It’s different. It takes MINDFULNESS TRAINING and a specific type of teacher that is also a STUDENT, willing to learn something outside of what they have learned before in a different model. Yoga can be the vehicle to restore loving your body and appreciating it, regarding it as sacred and worthy.
The TEACHER is always a STUDENT first and foremost. Be a student of others who have been there, done that, not in head knowledge only but in experience.
Some of my teachers below.
All things written here are from different sources: Overcoming Trauma through Yoga: Reclaiming Your Body, (by David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper , PhD) Bessel A. van der Kolk, MD Give Back Yoga : Mindful Yoga Therapy Trauma Sensitive Yoga For Veterans And First Responders with PTSD Yoga For First Responders 12 Step Yoga For Recovery Bootstrap Stress Management Through Yoga and more….
Contact me for upcoming classes and workshops @ 602-460-3987
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