Yoga teachers have an incredible opportunity to offer what therapists call a “corrective emotional experience” to their students. I assume that most people tend to be hard on themselves, worry about belonging, or have a harsh inner critic. If I can, as a teacher, not empower these voices but rather offer the opposite, I will.
A student of mine shared with me that she had been very intimidated to try yoga or any group exercise class for that matter. She always felt like she had to keep up but was falling behind. This was connected to several childhood memories, one where her father literally left her behind on a hike and she was left alone in the woods. In her first yoga class, she heard me tell the students that they could go at their own pace, and then when I stayed consistent with that, she said it was the first time she ever felt comfortable in a group class without fear of doing it wrong and being punished. Through coming to class and being consistently met with compassion, she is healing the part of her that assumes that she will always be left behind.
We are all impacted by stress and trauma. in fact, we are shaped by life’s challenges, and the impact of these challenges.
I think of being trauma informed as being “people informed.” A framework that asks us to consider the impact of trauma and stress on our actions and words asks us to be cognizant of people’s humanity while engaging with them, and values safety and respect as the most important qualities of a teacher.
Here are some guidelines for teachers wanting to be trauma informed in a general class:
- Assume people are doing the best they can. Approach them with curiosity and kindness.
- Take responsibility for your own triggers and reactions. Don’t come at a student if you are having a big reaction to them.
- Remember that it is not your job to fix anyone. Your job is to do your best to create a safe environment for students to move through what they need to at their own pace.
- Let go of your agenda. Some people may find peace through their practice, but others may connect with sadness, grief or anger. Don’t make them feel wrong for feeling bad. Rather invite them to be compassionate.
- Know your scope of practice. If someone is in severe distress, refer them to a good therapist for help.