Last updated on November 28th, 2023.
There are so many people walking among us who are suffer in silence from trauma. Active duty military personnel as well as veterans have served their country bravely but may now be in pain from their experiences.
And not just physical pain. The mental pain from trauma can be difficult to overcome. But it’s not only service people and veterans who may be suffering from trauma.
People who have been victims of violent crimes may be finding it hard to get through the day due to the trauma they’ve felt. And, sadly, children and teens may have experienced abuse at the hands of adults, or bullying from their schoolmates, and also are suffering from trauma.
And what are the signs that someone has experienced trauma? People who have faced trauma feel fearful, hyperarousal, and tension. They can be hypervigilant and may not be able to calm themselves. They may also begin to feel numb in response to be hyperaware of stimuli around them.
Does yoga help with Trauma?
Trauma informed yoga can aid a person suffering from trauma in a variety of ways. Students will learn to center their minds. They’ll be able to drown out negative thoughts, thus become calmer, both mentally and also physically.
Students will learn through their practice how to become used to physical sensation again. They’ll learn to again feel safe and secure in their own bodies. And they’ll feel in charge of their lives again. Through breath awareness and gentle movement, students will begin to change their outlook and feel empowered again.
How do you teach trauma informed yoga?
When a yoga teacher embarks upon a path to teach trauma informed yoga, they’ll have spent some time relearning how to guide their students into poses, how to communicate gently and thoughtfully and how to create an empowering space for their students.
Before committing to teaching a trauma informed yoga class, yoga teachers will need to learn this new way of teaching.
There are classes available for the yoga teacher who wants to learn more about trauma informed yoga. After passing a trauma informed yoga teaching program, a yoga teacher could find themselves working for a mental healthcare provider that works with people who have experienced trauma.
They may work with current and former military personnel.
Or, they may work with children or teens. And, learning how to be more understanding will help a yoga teacher as they go through their career, no matter the community they are teaching.
When developing a trauma informed yoga class, a teacher must realize that the focus should be less on the poses and more on the breathing and meditation. And, complicated poses, extreme balances and intense vinyasas may be overwhelming to someone carrying unresolved trauma in their lives. It may turn them off and make them not return to class.
And, the goal is to help those who have seen and felt trauma in their lives feel better and ultimately heal.
Ultimately, a yoga teacher will need to be understanding, open-minded and gentle. If you remember those three things, you’ll be well on your way to successfully learning and teaching trauma informed yoga.
Keep reading as we discuss 5 tips that will show yoga teachers how to teach trauma informed yoga. Interested and devoted teachers will learn about the different approaches they can take to make students feel safe, secure and in control. Our tips will help teachers create a safe environment for students, whether they’ve experienced trauma or not.
Follow these tips and you’ll become a better, more understanding yoga teacher. They will broaden your awareness of the different problems your students may face and make you more empathetic.
5 Thoughtful Tips on How to Teach Trauma Informed Yoga
You’ll learn to be gentler when teaching Trauma Informed Yoga. Teaching yoga is already a gentle vocation. But, with certain communities, you’ll find that your usual teaching language and actions could be problematic. This is not a criticism of your teaching. It’s just that yoga students who have been victims of trauma may require a different approach.
To teach students who have experienced trauma and violence, you may need to reframe your verbal directions. You may also need to rethink adjustments. And, ultimately, you will want to create a safe space for all of your students to feel confident and in charge of their bodies and themselves.
Below, we’ve listed five tips for you to teach yoga to students who’ve experienced trauma.
By adapting your way of teaching, you’ll allow your students to get the most out of their yoga practice and even help them heal from their trauma. They’ll have a chance to think positively, get out of their own mind and gain a clearer perspective. So please take a look at our tips to teach trauma informed yoga. You’ll change your students’ lives for the better, which could change your life as well.
1. Invite your students into their poses
When you’re teaching trauma informed yoga, trying inviting students into their poses instead of directing them. Tell them that if it feels right, go ahead lie down on the mat, etc. By asking instead of telling, you’re allowing your students to be in charge of their own bodies and make their own decisions. You’ll helping your students feel empowered, allowing them to gain strength and confidence. Letting your students make their own decisions is an important tool to help them move past their trauma. It will allow them to feel safe and give them positive experiences.
2. Use verbal adjustments
Yoga students who have experienced violence and trauma may not like to be touched, especially unannounced.
As a yoga teacher, you may be used to approaching your students, sometimes without them seeing you, and adjust them by putting your hands on their shoulders, hips, or other body parts. When you are teaching trauma informed yoga, remember to not touch your students unless they give you permission.
There are different ways you can manage this.
Some teachers pass out tokens before class. If a student put the token on the corner of their mat, it means that they are fine with the teacher touching them for an adjustment.
And, the student has the power to stop displaying the token if half-way during class, they decide they do not want to be touched for an adjustment.
Quick tip: You could also use the token system in your other yoga classes – not just trauma informed yoga. Your students could appreciate the consideration.
Attending a yoga adjustment workshop online might just help you learn how and when it is appropriate to be hands-on with your students, as well as, how to adjust a student’s pose verbally.
You don’t know what they’re going through and perhaps they’ve been too afraid to mention that they don’t want to be physically adjusted.
3. Approach in the line of sight
And, hand in hand with approaching students to adjust them, make sure you are in their line of sight when you get close.
Before the class begins, you could have your students arrange their mats so that when you walk through the class while teaching, you’ll always be at the head of the mats. Your students will be aware of where you are. It could startle or even frighten your student if you approach them from behind.
It’s imperative that you allow your students to have autonomy about their own bodies and their space in the class. Each positive decision you make in a trauma informed yoga class could empower your students and make them stronger and that much closer to healing.
It’s your job to create a safe space for your students. You want them to come to class experience positivity and encouragement.
4. Allow your students to practice non-judgement
People who have experienced trauma may not have high self-esteem. They may blame themselves for the violence and trauma that they’ve undergone. Your students may not be comfortable in their own skin and may judge themselves about how deeply they get into a pose.
They may even compare themselves to the students around them and make think that they are “worse” at yoga than everyone else.
One way to make every student feel good about their practice is to not present difficult poses. Check out this complete guide to yoga poses to help you create a basic yoga class so that no student will feel overwhelmed.
Let your students know that if a pose is too hard or overwhelming to them, that they are free to go into Child’s pose at any time.
Allow your students to understand that they aren’t being judged by anyone. And gently teach them that they shouldn’t judge themselves.
By teaching non-judgement, you’ll invite your students to be kind to themselves. They may have feelings of negativity, but a trauma informed yoga class could reverse these feelings.
We’ve talked a lot about empowerment in this article. And by practicing non-judgement, your students will grow and regain the power that they thought they’ve lost forever.
5. Concentrate on breathing
A yoga class that concentrates on breathing and meditation is great for students who have experienced trauma. You can invite your students to set positive intentions when the class starts. They can concentrate on those intentions at the beginning and end of the class, while you guide your students through meditation. Furthermore, you can ask your students to remember to focus on their breath during the class.
If a student is focusing on their breath, on the feeling of their chest rising and falling and the warmth of their breath as they inhale and exhale, they will be able to clear their mind of everything else. By being aware of and noticing their breath, your students may, at least for a brief instant, forget about their trauma.
Or, they may find themselves able to think about their trauma without judgement.
And, they may be able to start forming memories of positive experiences, which will help them process their trauma and begin to heal.
Learning how to teach yoga to students suffering from trauma will cause you to rethink your whole approach to yoga. A trauma informed yoga class, as we said above, may not focus on athletic poses to their fullest potential but instead the wellness of the practitioner is the most important thing. You will not need to teach intricate sequences. And you won’t have to direct your students into tricky balancing moves.
Yes, there will be emotional break-downs in class. It’s hard to avoid it. But, trauma informed yoga is not about show how far you can stretch, how long you can balance on one leg or how graceful you look in a complicated vinyasa. Instead, breathing, centering and being present will be the focus of a trauma informed yoga class.
Students will be invited to look inwards without judgement. Your students may be uncomfortable in their own skin and they will be looking to you to create a safe environment for them. If you’re new to the idea of facilitating something like this we encourage you to become certified as an instructor by checking one of the courses in our article on the best online yoga teacher training.
You’ll have to be sure you don’t startle your students with uninvited touching while offering adjustments. You’ll also want to organize the practice space, so it won’t seem like you are sneaking up on your students when you approach them.
It will help your students if you speak gently to them and suggest poses instead of directing a student to move into a pose. It’s a different type of yoga but with studying and hard work on your part, you can give your students a sense of wholeness and confidence. They may even leave your class feeling a sense of calmness and ease.
It may be a long process for someone to heal from the effects of trauma, whether the trauma came about from war, abuse, bullying, toxic relationships or any one of a number of ways people become traumatized.
The road to healing is long and it could seem like a person is stuck in a rut and not moving forward. Just encourage your yoga students to keep trying. If they need to spend the class in Child’s Pose, that’s OK. If they can’t close their eyes when you suggest it to them, that is also OK.
Just keep encouraging your students and reminding them that their ability to perform a pose is less important than breathing and mindfulness. Your life will be richer from teaching trauma informed yoga and you’ll be sending positive energy out into the world. So, think about starting your journey today.
For information on how to get a certification in trauma informed yoga, check out that article!