If you have been teaching group fitness or Yoga classes to the public there is no doubt that you have been teaching people with trauma and or PTSD. Trauma is a human experience and we will all be touched by varying degrees in our lifetime, some (generally those who’ve experienced severe and/or multiple traumas) will also develop PTSD. Many people are drawn to the healing benefits of Yoga, or the stress release often associated with a high intensity workout. It’s also important to understand that those suffering can easily be triggered, forcing them to re-experience their trauma through flashbacks, or more commonly completely shut down and either leave the class or stay only to go through the motions while stuck in a turmoil of anxiety.
Those suffering trauma and or PTSD struggle to feel safe and often feel disconnected from their bodies. What Dr. Stephen Porges has discovered through his polyvagal theory is that their social nervous system has gone off-line. The social nervous system is our newest nervous system through evolution and ensures the survival of our species through our connection to each other. The ability to look into another’s eyes for re-assurance or the nurturing of our children.
Yoga itself means union, shown through the connection of mind and body. It’s hard to know if we have people in our classes suffering from deep trauma or not, so always easiest to err on the side of caution with these three easy steps:
The following tips promote a trauma-informed environment:
- Be cognizant of the space: Do the doors shut with a bang, can people see in the windows, is it loud outside the room or subject for sudden noise? For many of these situations we can’t do much about them, however what we can do is provide a warning such as “the weight room is above us and from time to time people can be a little over zealous with the weights they are using.” If possible, place a note on the door to remind people to shut quietly or close the blinds on the windows if on the ground floor. For our students to relax they need to feel safe.
- Use inclusive and positive language: The words we use and how we communicate with our students is important to convey a sense of safety and trust. YogaFit’s Transformational language also includes cues that are awareness oriented, action oriented and process oriented.
- Be careful with touch and adjustments: We generally advise not to touch for those suffering trauma, however, it is important to ask your class so they can decide. Give them the option of adjustments in every class and respect their decision.
- Include ujjayi breath: Also known as whisper breath. Ujjayi breath tones the vagus nerve which eases tension and welcomes a sense of safety.
- Keep lights low: In Yoga we tend to jump up to turn off all the lights for relaxation, however if you know your room will suddenly be plunged in total darkness try leaving the lights a bit low instead. If it’s one or the other, be sure to ask the class for their preference, or perhaps bring in a string of tiny plug-in lights to provide low lighting.
The main thing to remember is that for people to feel safe they need to feel in control. If your students are asking you to keep the lights on, or to keep the door open they are asking for a reason. Teach from your heart and teach with compassion, at the end of the day those are the two most important things your students are looking for.
I am leading a 2hour workshop on Teaching Trauma-Informed at the Yoga Conference and Show in Toronto. Saturday, April 14that 8am.