Yoga for Trauma
By: Linda Cuyler, C-IAYT, TIYT, ERYT500
Initially, the general population predominantly encounters yoga as a physical exercise. To most this is what it remains. For those that choose to explore it further many unearth the subtler benefits of the practice. For the individuals that are in need of healing in some way far fewer wander into a general yoga class in search of that healing. The trauma survivor is even less likely to step into a yoga class as a place of healing.
Studies show that a significant percentage of mental health patients have experienced trauma. As a Certified Yoga Therapist with Trauma Informed Yoga training in a clinical setting I have the unique opportunity to introduce yoga to a large number of people who have never attended a yoga class. My intention in providing yoga in this setting is not only to provide a physical movement practice for the clients but to provide it in a manner that promotes healing on all levels. Training in recognizing and handling the possible reactions that might present themselves in a trauma survivor during a yoga session helps prepare the Yoga Therapist to create a safe space, select the appropriate tools and present them in a way that encourages the client on their healing journey.
Ideally for a Trauma Informed Yoga session the setting is a key factor but this ideal is not always attainable in a clinical setting using a general purpose room with a mixed population. Creating the best possible environment sets the stage for a positive experience for the largest number of clients. Reducing harsh overhead lighting and providing soothing higher pitched instrumental music can have a calming effect. Providing ample space between mats and also the option to sit in chairs gives clients the ability to have choices that feel safe for them. These are just a few tools that can be used in any setting when other factors are not controllable.
It is vital to have a substantial knowledge of the appropriate tools and when and how to present them in this setting. The tools presented for a particular class will vary based on the students that show up in a clinical class setting on that particular day and the energetic level presented by the majority of the class. Meeting the clients where they are at is essential. Body awareness and breath awareness practices usually allow the clients to center themselves and connect with the body on a deeper level. This is an important starting point to begin to create mindfulness. Pranayama practices are selected based on the energy level of the class, either calming or energizing. Asanas are selected based on the students in class and their experience and possible injuries. Guided relaxation, Yoga Nidra or meditations are a very powerful tools as well and the appropriate selection is critical for these tools.
Presentation style during a class in this type of setting is possibly the most critical factor. Your ability to be centered and calm in your presentation in an unpredictable setting can have an important impact. While the environment will not be predictable, we can add an element of predictability to the class by consistency in the way that we present to add an element of safety. Using a soothing tone, thoughtful wording and using non-directive language adds to the sense of being in a safe space. Offering as many modifications as you are able is ideal. Understanding the range of ability and finding a way for everyone to participate can seem daunting at first and may not always be completely attainable, but it is still the goal.
Even with all of the best efforts in all of these areas not everyone will have a positive experience in every class you present. In some instances, what you perceive as a negative experience for someone you may find later was a powerfully positive experience for them. It is crucial to practice non-attachment to the outcome in this setting. You may never know the impact that you have. Dedication to education and training, showing up with the appropriate intention and releasing attachment to the outcome is a path that will allow the practice of yoga to contribute to trauma healing.
Linda Cuyler, C-IAYT, TIYT, ERYT500
Dallas Yoga Therapy