How do new and seasoned yoga teachers even begin to understand the complexity and sensitive issue of trauma?

My search for this answer led me to David Emerson, director of the Center for Trauma and Embodiment at the Justice Resource Institute in Massachusetts.

Source: David Emerson

When we started to hear the word ‘trauma’

Traditionally the association of trauma was segmented to male combat veterans. And getting the diagnosis of trauma or post-traumatic stress syndrome was difficult.

“It was a very mechanistic diagnosis based on a very narrow window of symptoms: flashbacks, nightmare, hyper-vigilance, startle response. If you had these symptoms as determined by a gatekeeper (a licensed clinician who can score you on a test) you could get the diagnosis and get treated for it,” Emerson explained.

But trauma goes beyond a formal diagnosis or those who have been in the war.

“It could have been a car accident, earthquake or interpersonal violence…adult women trapped in abusive relationships, incest survivors,” he said.

Source: Pixabay


Trauma in your classroom

How trauma will show up in a class is impossible to say. And it’s likely there will be people who have suffered from trauma without you even knowing it.

So how can teachers be mindful of having students who have experienced trauma?

Emerson shared some simple ways in which yoga teachers can start to bring in trauma-informed practices into their classes.

No assists

If possible, offer classes in which students know there will be no hands-on assists. Another way to make students more comfortable is to stay on your mat and to have the practice be something shared, with both student and teacher participating in the class together as opposed to walking around while giving direction.

Explore language that is invitational

Instead of, “Put your left foot here, twist to the right,” provide invitational language that leaves the participant in control and aware of options.

Ex. “If you like, maybe step with your right foot here, maybe extending your arm up.”

The end goal is not to be perfectly aligned in accordance with the teacher’s standards, but instead, the focus is on giving the student choice. This reinforces that the power lies with the person practicing, not the teacher.

Understand that teaching yoga is authoritative in nature

“Yoga can be a very top down. We are taught to be very command-oriented,” explained Emerson.

This may not sit well with those who have experienced trauma. This is why no assists and using invitational language is key. Again, it’s about giving the power back to the student.

“For this period we’re together, you’re in charge.”

Do your own research and find trauma-informed training

TCTSY offers both in person and online training. Find trusted experts that resonate with you and become educated.

Originally published at