Do Yoga Teachers Need Training in Trauma?

Article by Marilyn Wong

Yoga Teachers and Trauma training? Yes.

I remember when I first started practicing yoga 37 years ago, it was all about the poses and not for everyone. Classes were only offered at the YMCA, and it was a simple practice of Hatha yoga. Practicing students were generally healthy, fit, and often younger.

Today, yoga studios have embraced the needs of all its students and now offer yoga for every experience. Better back classes are currently in demand for the ever growing population who suffer from some sort of lower back and hip pain.

Although it is more common today to have back, neck, and hip issues in your 20s or 30s, many teachers may never have a fragile student of 60+ or a suffering cancer patient in their class.

To extend our knowledge and yoga experience further we now include trauma victims and those who suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), depression, and anxiety.
Trauma is held in our bodies. Trauma release is sometimes followed by involuntary tremors or movements, which is normal. A teacher may notice signs such as twitching movements of the head, spine, flexion and extension, shuddering, and tremors. During class, you may encourage students to go very slowly and at their own pace.

Image by Stròlic Furlàn – Davide Gabino

Yoga teachers can help students if they have the knowledge and are cautious not to trigger any further trauma responses giving them a safe environment which will encourage self-healing.

1. Be cautious about any Physical touch

• Most well-trained yoga teachers are aware of first asking permission from any student to make adjustments with a gentle touch. We do this out of respect as well as caution.
• Teachers need to instruct proper alignment to avoid injury but generally, we can accomplish this most often with verbal cues, if spoken with specific instructions.• Although a student’s choice of a pose modification will continue even after several of the same cues.
• Although a student’s choice of a pose modification will continue even after several of the same cues.
Sometimes we may evaluate a students’ unwillingness to practice the pose after specific instruction as a need for further direction which can be dangerous to a trauma victim. Further alignment may be exposing the student to a possible trigger response.
• It’s our job to let the student follow their own instincts to do the pose their way and not persist in taking them to a place of alignment that may be risky for them today.

2. Voice

• Be wary of using your soft voice asking for touch.
You may notice someone “freezes” and are unable to move when asking permission.
• You may want to be sensitive and aware that often a soft voice asking for touch is a highly re-traumatizing trigger for those who have suffered from sexual abuse or rape.
• Long periods of silence does not generally benefit the traumatized brain.

3. Be thoughtful with the use of props

• Props such as a strap can be alarming or be threatening to a trauma survivor.
Anyone who has experienced any type of bondage may be triggered by the use of straps.
• If a student does not want to work with a strap, leave it at that.

3. Eyes and eye bags

• We often say “close your eyes” during savasana or pranayama, instead, I will simply guide them by saying “allow your eyes to close if this is comfortable for you”.
• Although eye-bags are beneficial in relaxation poses to relax the eyes and calm the mind, a student may choose not to use one and that’s okay.
• Some people may feel less safe with their eyes closed and covered.

Marilyn Wong
Marilyn Wong

Marilyn has been practicing yoga for over 37 years. She has a compassionate and dedicated desire to heal and restore body mind & spirit in all who seek it. Healing together from the inside out. For breath is life, and if you breathe well you will live long on earth” Sanskrit proverb Yoga is the gentle path to self-awareness and self-healing, through pranayama awareness we heal the world one asana at a time, one loving breath at timeMarilyn is a Yoga/Meditation teacher, Ying Yoga Teacher, Yoga Therapist – Regression Hypnosis Therapist – Usui Reiki Master, Karuna Reiki Master, Lighterian Reiki – Medical Qigong teacher/shibashi Qigong/Taoist 5 elements/8 silk brocades – Advanced Regression Hypnosis Therapist.