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What is Trauma Informed Yoga Teaching?

Updated: Aug 23, 2021


Trigger warning: discussion of trauma.


In today’s podcast episode I got into the subject of trauma informed yoga - inspired by my lecture in this week’s heart chakra module of the 200 hour yoga teacher training.


Before I attended a workshop on trauma informed yoga teaching, I imagined it was something that was super hard to do, or super different from what I was already doing as a “regular” yoga teacher.


What I’ve learned is that trauma informed yoga is teaching in a way that promotes psychological and emotional safety. And trauma informed teaching is good for everyone - not just trauma survivors. All yoga teachers should be learning trauma sensitive approaches to teaching in order to be inclusive, create safe spaces, and avoid retraumatizing people in our words and actions without realizing it.


We will never know who is a trauma survivor in our yoga class - the reality is that in every yoga class, 1/4 participants is likely to have experienced trauma. And the reality is that whether or not we have experienced trauma, all human beings hold pain, suffering, and grief. We’ve all been through hard things in our lives that we’re working on processing. And trauma sensitive approaches to yoga Can benefit everyone. ❤️


Tune into my episode to get a brief overview into what a trauma sensitive approach to yoga teaching is. I go more in depth into this in the a heart chakra module of my 200 Hour YTT. My next YTT starts next week, and if you’re interested in learning more about this, this is your sign! Sign ups end tomorrow! 🙏🏻❤️


Listen here!


If you enjoyed this episode please don’t forget to subscribe, rate and share the podcast so it can reach more people that it will serve and benefit.


Follow me on Instagram @alexmcrobs and check out my offerings in yoga, meditation and coaching at http://themindfullifepractice.com/live-schedule.


Full episode


TRANSCRIPT


Intro

Welcome to the Sober Yoga Girl podcast with Alex McRobs, international yoga teacher and sober coach. I broke up with booze for good in 2019 and now I'm here to help others do the same. You're not alone and a sober life can be fun and fulfilling. Let me show you how.


Hi, everyone, welcome back to another episode of "Sober Yoga Girl". You know, I began recording this episode and I realized that I didn't say something really important at the beginning, which is that this episode is about trauma informed yoga. And as a result, we are going to be talking about trauma. At any point, if this is triggering for you, if this is overwhelming, if you don't want to hear it anymore, please feel free to turn off the podcast episode or don't listen to it. But I just want to give that warning before I jump straight into trauma informed teaching, as I think it's really important for you to know what you're getting into. So with that warning in mind, let's dive into the episode.


Hi yogis, welcome back to another episode of "Sober Yoga Girl". It's Sunday, July 4th. It is my very first week as not a school teacher. It's kind of overwhelming. It's kind of scary. I have been working my bum off to get to this point where I can quit my job and go full time into my business and go full steam ahead. And yet at the same time, I'm terrified. I have so much amount of time now. And all my life I've been juggling so many responsibilities and I'm kind of overwhelmed by how much time I have, but I'm super excited about it. We have our summer season in full swing. We have tons of new people joining for our classes. We have restructured The Mindful Life Practice. I don't know if I've talked about this in any podcast episodes, but I just want to share with you, we've restructured the entire Mindful Life Practice and we're moving away from a drop in system to more of a course based system where people sign up for one yoga class for the entire season for eight weeks. And it's okay if you miss an episode here, there, commit to eight weeks completely. But the idea is that you are committing to this community and you're getting to know people and you're connecting. And every single week you will see the same people in the same yoga class. We also have these amazing forums on The Mindful Life Practice website. Kind of operates a little bit like a Facebook group. It's private just for the people in your class. And you can connect with the group. You can share what's going on with you, you know, especially for the sober people can share how they're doing on their journey, share what's going on. And it seems just private to your group. And our administrative assistant, Emily, has done an amazing job in setting all that up. So check it out. I want to say thank you to everyone who supported us, signed up for the summer season. It really, really, really means a lot. As you guys know, this is my bread and butter. This is my full time gig. And so every single person who supports The Mindful Life Practice really makes a difference for me. And I do a little happy dance. So thank you. All right. So what is coming up next? I am planning a day retreat. I'm planning a weekend retreat for all of my U.A.E local yogis. So if you would like to join me, if you missed the last retreat in Al Ain, I have another one coming up at the end of the month. I'm going to be getting some info about that this week. I am also doing a day retreat in Abu Dhabi city. So it's going to be an afternoon. It's midmonth. Check that out as well. I would absolutely love to have you join me. And the last thing that I want to talk about is my yoga teacher training. So I have also restructured the way I'm running my yoga teacher training. It's a 200-hour training. This training in particular is going to have to our live sessions five days a week. Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday from 9:00 a.m. until 11:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, which is 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. British Standard Time. And it's 5:00 PM to 7:00 pm Abu Dhabi time. So it's a live check in, live discussion, live Asana workshop. And then you're going to receive on demand videos with information, with lectures, with Asana posture workshops. So you're going to have to do some on demand video watching and then you will do some live interaction with me. I am super excited about it. Someone just snagged a spot yesterday who's going to be joining us from the States and then also throughout the summer, I have different trainers, teacher trainers, from the spring that are going to be popping on and completing a module here and there because I provide lots of flexibility with my training. So I say if you can't make a certain training, you can do one from another. Like you can do them spaced out over time. You can do them condensed throughout the summer. So I'm super, super pumped about that. There's only a couple spots left. So if you do want to join, please DM me, please email me, reach out. I have a payment plan available with it. You got a membership to The Mindful Life Practice and Sober Curious Yoga, which is amazing. All right. The last thing I want to share is that we finally launched the online store. So we have yoga blocks, yoga mats, we have sweaters, sweatshirts, t-shirts, tank tops, crop tops, we have milestone pins, we have notebooks, we have masks. So head on over to the online store. Make sure you buy your MLPC swag. We are doing a limited edition sale this week so that we can preorder all of the clothing, so make sure that you check it out and place your order. I'm going to be doing online orders for clothing and mats and blocks based on what we receive in that order. So it's a pre order, so make sure you get those in. Now, today's episode, I want to do an episode on trauma informed yoga. And I have chosen this topic because it was actually the lecture topic of this week's yoga teacher training lecture that I did with my students in Module four. And I think it's a super interesting topic. And I also think it's a topic that is a little bit misunderstood. So I, back in the day used to hear yoga teachers describing themselves as a trauma informed yoga teacher. And I thought it sounded like a really big, really official word that I didn't think that I was someone who identified as trauma informed. I didn't think I knew anything about trauma informed yoga. I had never done a teacher training on it. So I was like, you know, am I a trauma informed yoga teacher? What is a trauma informed yoga teacher? And I ended up doing a lesson yesterday for my students on trauma informed yoga. And I think trauma informed yoga is really, really important. And we need to be trauma aware as yoga teachers. And I thought it was something interesting that I could do a podcast episode about today. So what is trauma informed yoga? What is it? Sometimes people think that trauma informed yoga is only for people with major trauma. And I think it's really important that it's definitely really important that we do this with people who are experiencing trauma symptoms. But the reality is that all human beings hold and carry a lot in our bodies, our minds and our hearts. Right? We've all been through pain. We've all been through suffering. We've all had hard things happen in our lives. And so I think that trauma informed yoga teaching is for everyone. And all teachers should be teaching with some awareness of what trauma informed teaching is. So what is trauma informed teaching? Trauma informed teaching is teaching yoga in a way that promotes psychological and emotional safety, which is really important. And this is a mind boggling statistic. One in four yoga students in any class is likely to have trauma in their history. And trauma survivors might not be reactive to it, but we'll never know unless we trigger a reaction in someone. Someone might experience an anxiety flashback and we might not even be aware of triggering it because students are often not going to tell us. But if we as yoga teachers do not teach in a trauma sensitive or trauma informed way, then some people might never come back to yoga because it is such a negative experience for them. I think becoming informed about trauma is also really important as a yoga teacher, because it can help you if you're in a moment of crisis, you know, like if you're teaching yoga in a time when your community has suffered a really big environmental disaster, for example, or even, you know, like the Covid, the Covid lockdown, when we were going into the first Covid lockdown, everyone was in crisis. We're having a global pandemic. Our lives were changing. We were experiencing collective grief. And in that circumstance, you have to teach in a way that's informed of the fact that everyone is on a different journey. Everyone's going through different pain, everyone's going through different stuff. And when we become aware about trauma informed teaching, it helps us to provide more skillful yoga classes to our community. So something that's important to be aware of about trauma is that there's no one way that trauma survivors look. Trauma survivors can be anything. Trauma survivors can be any gender. Trauma survivors can come from any background, socioeconomic background. Trauma survivors can be living in all places around the world. And so I think it's really important to know that even if you meet someone who is like confident and loud and outgoing and silly and funny, they could be a trauma survivor as well. Right? And you'll never know any one of your yoga students could have experienced a trauma. And how would you recognize that? They could have experienced sexual assault. They could have experienced domestic abuse. They could have experienced neglect as a child. They could have had complex trauma like narcissistic abuse. And there's no single way that a trauma survivor could look, could act or could talk. Right? Any one of these people might be someone with a history of painful experiences. And we need to be aware of our words and our gestures. The chances are that every single yoga teacher is going to have at least one or more trauma survivor in their class. And so as we are yoga teachers, we need to be able to teach the body, mind, connection and teach yoga in a way that is healing and helpful for trauma survivors and not harmful. Trauma aware teaching helps us to prevent re-traumatization in our yoga students, it helps us support people on a trauma healing journey. It helps us provide an emotionally and psychological safe space for students. And so different things that we should know about teaching for trauma informed yoga. The heart of this is just letting people be in charge of what they do with their body and how they interpret their feelings and experiences. So we treat people in a compassionate way, being aware that some people might be carrying trauma and stress. We try to avoid the appearance of judging. We try to be cautious with our space and our touch. We try to speak reflectively, giving autonomy to students, let them have their own experience, and try to avoid things that you know might be a trigger and respond to any triggers with care. So let's start with the first one, behaving in a way that acknowledges students might be carrying trauma and stress. I think the way that we invite people into the space, we make them feel welcome. We have to understand that the whole idea of showing up at a yoga class can be terrifying for some people. Right? It's a huge barrier. They might have tremendous fear. They might have have gigantic resistance to simply show up at yoga class. And moving in a public space can be terrifying. So I think welcoming everyone with a smile, with a calm demeanor, making sure that students have the space that they need, making sure that, you know, if it can be helpful, if you're setting up a room to just have people facing the door so that they can see all areas of the studio. If they're not facing the door, maybe there's a mirror that shows the view to the door so that you can just kind of see who's coming in and out. And then also as a yoga teacher, we need to kind of celebrate and acknowledge the fact that people have shown up because that can be super hard. You know, one thing we talked about yesterday in my lecture was something we should say to new yoga students is that they can have their camera off on Zoom because I think there is sometimes a fear about having your camera on and everyone looking at your body and being close up in different angles. So as a Zoom yoga teacher, I always say that people can have their camera off. That is totally, totally okay. The second thing that we want to do as a yoga teacher is avoid making people feel like we're judging them. When I first started yoga, I remember and I'll never forget this, I had pretty serious mental health issues, so I had really high anxiety. It was before I was medicated. And so my palms were always sweaty and I needed a towel to do any yoga pose. Even by the time I went on yoga teacher training, I still needed a towel or I would slip right off the mat because my hands were so sweaty. And one of my yoga teachers in the very one of the very first classes, she said, you know, anyone using a towel doesn't know how to grip their hands properly. And it was so upsetting for me because it wasn't that I wasn't grabbing my hands properly. It was that I had such severe anxiety that my hands were constantly slippery and I needed that towel. And so I think as a yoga teacher, I always have this approach of like everyone has in place, whatever they need to have in place. Right? You technically should not be wearing socks because your feet might be slippery, but there might be people who have a foot phobia and that's why they're wearing socks. Right? You have no idea why certain people have made certain choices. And so to say to someone that, you know, they need to remove their socks for yoga is not appropriate because they might be wearing them for a reason. Same thing goes with like having your camera off on Zoom. I teach yoga in the Middle East. And so I have people in my class who, you know, I have women who don't want their hair to be shown on the camera. And so being a trauma informed teacher is just being aware of like, okay, that is where they come from. They keep their hair covered in hijab all the time. So of course, they're not going to want to have their camera open with men in a Zoom class. Right? And so as yoga teachers, we have to just have an awareness that everyone comes from a different perspective and they are the way they are for a different reason. Right? And so try not to judge people, but try to go through this authentic experience with them. The third important thing about being a trauma informed teacher is just being aware about touching people. Right? We don't want to touch people without their permission. And I think this is a really big problem when I first became a yoga student 10 years ago, I think the world's getting better and better. But people used to just come up to me and touch me. Yoga teachers would just touch me in class. Yoga teachers would tell us that we had to do a partner pose and we have to touch partners. And when yoga teachers touch me in class, I had such strong mental health problems that I got really, really upset. I would think that teachers touching me meant that I was doing the pose wrong. And now years into it, as a yoga teacher, I understand that teachers are often touching you to provide comfort or to guide you into a different shape. But if we go around and start touching people without their permission, it can be really upsetting for people, especially if someone has been a sexual assault survivor. Right? And we are never going to know what people have been through. And so I think being aware of touch is really, really important. And also, if you are going to touch people, I have these little cards. They say, I want to be touched or I don't want to be touched. I think as yoga teachers, we can just flip the card, face up, flip it down, and then people have the autonomy to choose whether people touch them or not. And I think this is really important. We need to respect people's space, like in no other exercise class or group environment have I been in where teachers just come and touch you without your permission. And so I think the rule should be the same for yoga. I think another important thing about being a trauma informed teacher is think about the words that we use and we want to make sure that trauma sensitive teaching is aware of the fact that trauma survivors, it's important for them to be totally and completely in charge of themselves. Right? You want to give people autonomy over their own bodies, over their own experience, even if there's one person that's new in the class, you should restate the permission that students have the choice to do whatever they want to do. Nothing is mandatory. Nothing is preferred. Nothing is a hierarchy. Nothing is better. And you want people listening to their own body. So you never want to put someone in a pose that is uncomfortable. If someone looks uncomfortable, you can offer them a variation. You know, they could do a pose on their spine that's less revealing like we gave the example of cat cow where your butt is kind of sticking up that can make people feel uncomfortable and you can do a backbend seated as well. Right? You don't need to do that pose necessarily to get the poses benefits. So speak mindfully, give adaptations for people, try to communicate in a way that is really empathetic to people. I think different words that you could remove are different words about different body parts like instead of chest, you might use the word heart. Instead of pelvis, you might choose a different word like the base of the spine. Just choosing words that feel inclusive to people. And I think it's really important that we're not just saying that we're creating a safe space. We're actually creating one. Right? We don't need to just talk the talk. We need to walk the walk as well. The last thing that I think is important about being trauma informed teachers is that we just need to learn about some of the triggers. And some of these things when I did my first trauma informed yoga workshop, I was like, wow, I never even thought of that. Like turning the lights off for example. I turn the lights off in Shavasana all the time. I would just do it without telling people. And I learned in the trauma informed workshop I went to, my colleague was like, you know, just warn people when you're turning off the lights. Just say, hey, I'm starting to turn off the lights now or I'm dimming the lights. And then people are not all of a sudden shocked when the lights go off, giving things as options like yoga straps. You know, I've heard that a lot of kidnaping survivors have been tied up in ropes. Right? And so yoga straps can be triggering and traumatic for them. So giving it as an option, saying you can use this strap if you want to, you don't have to. In terms of the Zoom environment, some people can be triggered by a Zoom bomber, showing something inappropriate like porn or triggered by nudity or something that they didn't want to see all of a sudden in the Zoom class. So as yoga teachers facilitating a zoom space, it's our responsibility to make sure that that space is safe for people and nothing happens that is inappropriate. So how we handle that at The Mindful Life Practice is that we have people book in advance. We have a sign up sheet, we have everyone's name, we have their log in. And then that way we're not letting people into the class who have not booked it. So we're not getting strangers who are going to do something inappropriate. And that being said, it is always my endeavor to create a safe space in The Mindful Life Practice. So if you ever feel uncomfortable with someone in the class, if someone is sending inappropriate messages, if something weird is happening, please always just let me know, because it's really important that everyone is in our community is a safe person. Right? And so as our-- it's our role as yoga teachers to make sure that safe space is there for people. Closing the eyes, that can be really triggering for some people. So I think we need to, as yoga teachers, give instructions in a way that makes it okay for people to keep your eyes open. Right? Giving a choice. It just makes people feel more comfortable about giving it a try. And if people do want to keep their eyes open, you can say just soften the gaze, just choose something to gaze at. Talking about people's bodies, I remember I had a yoga teacher commenting on my weight loss and it was really self-- it made me really self-conscious that she'd come in my class and compliment me on my weight. And, you know, I was recently sober. I wasn't really going around telling people about it. And her comment on my skinniness made me feel really uncomfortable. So I think we should never compliment anyone's bodies. If you do want to give someone a compliment, you could say you're glowing, your skin is glowing. But we're not really commenting on people's weight. I think also being mindful about Shavasana. So if you're going to remove the lighting, warn people, say we're turning off the lights now. It's great if you're working in a studio with like a dimmer so you can dim the lights. The nice thing about Zoom yoga is that people get to set their own environments. So some people like the lights off, some people have the lights on, and that's totally up to you. You're in control of your own environment. I think inviting people to inquire into their experience and giving words like loosen, soften, ease or rest, rather than just directing people to relax. I think if we tell people to relax, it can often have the opposite effect. People like, I am relaxed. And so just try to guide people to experience relaxation without kind of insisting people to relax. So I think just being aware of different triggers and how we can respond to different triggers. I think at the end of the day, trauma informed teaching is more of the importance of how to teach and not about what we teach. Right? And I have always had this opinion. You could be an amazing yoga teacher. You could be incredible Asanas. You could be really, really smart. And really you could have a lot of wisdom. But if you do not walk the walk, if you do not make people feel safe, if you do not make people feel welcome, if you do not make people feel included, then The Mindful Life Practice might not be the right community for you because we are all about uplifting people, we're all about inspiring people, we're all about supporting people, we're all about, you know, teaching love. My teacher Ralph, he says, a course in miracles says to teach is to demonstrate. And as far as I'm concerned, the only thing worth demonstrating is love. Right? And so it's less about what we teach and it's more important how we teach, how we include people, how we invite people to make choices, how we set up the space for yoga, how we encourage people to explore their own bodies. It's so much more important than completing a pose, doing a certain pose, doing headstand, doing a handstand, being able to touch your toes. That's what it's all about. So if this interested you learning more about trauma informed teaching, about how to be a trauma informed yoga teacher, I have good news for you. I'm starting my next yoga teacher training next week and we will be covering this in the heart chakra module. So my yoga teacher training is based on the seven chakras. We have the root chakra, the sacral chakra, the core chakra, the heart chakra, the throat chakra, the third eye and the crown of the heads. We have seven chakras. It is going to be fantastic learning all about different kinds of yoga teaching. All about different kinds of yoga postures, philosophy, anatomy, Asana. I am so, so, so excited. And I'm actually starting to prerecord all of the content that's going to be delivered later today. So drop me a message. You have my email, you have my Instagram. If you have any questions, if you need anything at all, I am here for you and I cannot wait to meet you, get to know you at The Mindful Life Practice community soon. Have a wonderful week, yogis. I will see you soon. Much love. Bye.


Outro

Thank you so much for tuning into this episode of Sober Yoga Girl with Alex McRobs. I am so, so grateful for every one of you. Don't forget to subscribe so you don't miss the next one and leave a review before you go. See you soon. Bye.




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