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Yoga for Emotional Trauma

It may seem daunting to teach students who suffer from emotional trauma, but thankfully, it's mostly a question of creating a safe space.

By Rachel Brahinsky

For a new yoga teacher, taking students through the rough waters of past traumas can seem daunting. But Forrest insists that it's not necessary (or even desirable) for the teacher to act as a therapist to aid the healing process. "If you can give them permission to empty the fear and the grief that's buried in their cell tissue, you can help. You don't have to go into the big story [of where their pain comes from]." She suggests that students who tap into really tough challenges also find therapists who can help them through whatever emerges during practice.

People who are looking for more one-on-one attention as they begin to open up may also be interested in individualized yoga therapy, so it's a good idea to have a list of such therapists on hand in order to make referrals. Often defined as yoga that's personalized to accommodate an injury or limitation, yoga therapy can offer the space to deeply explore the physical links to emotional troubles--with guidance. Kepner, who practices as a yoga teacher and yoga therapist out of his home in Little Rock, Arkansas, says his students typically first come to him for help with a physical problem. But then, as they begin to give attention to the breath, they find yoga is a powerful way to explore emotional healing and begin to see the connections between their physical and emotional pain.

Once those links are found, the healing process continues when students let their emotions surface and release and continue to breathe. If tears or screams emerge, they should let them come and, again, deepen their breath. When they're ready, allow them to transition into another pose and feel for changes and movement. At a certain point--and that point is different for each person--it should start to become clear that things are shifting and that whatever suffering was stuck inside is beginning to melt away. Again, working in tandem with a trained therapist is a good option for those students who may need to talk about what comes up.

It can be pretty heavy stuff. So for teachers to facilitate deep healing with integrity, Forrest says, it's good to be prepared to take your own practice to similarly profound levels: "It's important for teachers to be that courageous in their own practice."

The key, both Kepner and Forrest say, is letting the healing unfold at an organic pace. "There's no way you can handle it all today, or even this year," Forrest explains. "It will be your focus for years, so just relax around it. What's the amount you can work on today?"

Plus, she adds, it's important to come to the healing with an understanding that we can't change the past, but we can change our perspective on it. "You can't heal the experience, but you can heal your response to it. You can heal the mark that it left on you."

Rachel Brahinsky is a writer and yoga teacher in San Francisco who is learning to relax into her own healing process, bit by bit.

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I had often wondered why sometimes I would feel so emotional and teary sometimes during class, almost overwhelming emotion. This article is very eye opening. Thanks

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