Living Yoga's programs = "trauma informed intervention"
By Suzanne Bigelow
I loved hearing Michael Faith’s(Executive Director of Living Yoga) message at the2014 Gala because it was the first time I’d heard Living Yoga’s programs identified, outright and out loud, as a form of “trauma-informed intervention”. Wow! My enthusiasm was purely personal, as I have used yoga as a personal form of trauma recovery for the past 30 years. I felt like my secret super power was coming out of the closet at last! The details of my healing aren’t as important as the understanding that “trauma” is a normal part of human existence that shows up along a continuum from mild to severe. What slides everyday stress into the trauma zone is a heightened combination of intensity and duration. This means that trauma can result from either a sudden, tragic car accident, or years of painful upbringing in a drug addicted, dysfunctional family.
We all deal with some level of trauma during the course of our lives. That was news to me. When I attended Dr. Sarina Saturn’s teacher training on Trauma Resiliency last May, I realized just how much I had in common with my ladies at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility. In fact, my brain had been traumatized just like theirs. The only difference was the specific circumstance. After learning more about trauma-informed yoga, I discovered that much of what I experience as nourishing about my own decades of alignment based asana was exactly what made trauma informed yoga such a powerful healing tool:
• Slow, simple instruction with adequate time to connect with the body
• Mindful awareness of physical sensation and mental rumination
• Managing the breath to steady the mind and ground the nervous system
• Intimately “owning” my body, learning to feel safe and then empowered in it
• Predictability in class format and plenty of opportunity to succeed •
Teaching has always been reflective of my own practice, but I’ve recently made some changes to specifically support my Living Yoga students:
Invitational Language: I was taught that command language is easier for the brain to grasp, but for traumatized students to feel safe, they need a gentler invitation into the practice. I now aim for softer language with more options, both in ways to participate and specific modifications. Inviting participation that feels right to that individual in the moment is key to feeling safe and successful.
Normalizing Experiences: I was trained to instruct students to search for specific body sensations with cues like “feel your toes”. Now I realize that people who experience trauma can feel unsafe or disconnected from their bodies and may not be able to feel anything at all! I’ve since changed my instruction to ask “Can you feel?” or “Where do you feel?” and let students know that it’s perfectly normal if they can’t feel anything at all. In fact, it’s the search for connection that’s important - the time in compassionate internal dialogue with the body is more important than the connection itself. This seasoned teacher continues to improve her teaching, thanks to Living Yoga and a new understanding of effective healing for our particular student population.