As part of our series of posts on teaching trauma-sensitive yoga, teacher Daniel Sernicola offers tips for establishing trust and a sense of safety in your yoga classes to help trauma survivors feel welcome.
For some students, coming to yoga class can be a scary experience. David Emerson, author of Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga, encourages yoga teachers to “pause and recognize how brave it is for your students to just show up in the room.” He encourages teachers to create a safe place for them to begin to befriend their bodies through the yoga practice free of judgment. “The focus is not on the external expression of the form but rather on the internal experience of the practitioner,” he says. Use these 5 strategies to help trauma survivors feel more comfortable.
1. Begin and end class on time.
Donna Farhi, author of Teaching Yoga: Exploring the Teacher-Student Relationship, encourages teachers to “provide a container for the student’s process—beginning and ending class on time,” as well as keeping healthy boundaries. “We start class on time out of respect for the teacher and end class on time out of respect for the student,” adds yoga teacher Sage Rountree.
2. Start gentle and encourage self-awareness.
Try incorporating Child’s Pose or other gentle poses at the beginning of class and letting students know they may use them as resting poses whenever needed without judgment.
3. Encourage students to make the practice their own.
Teach Cat-Cow movements linked with breath at the beginning of class to provide an opportunity for students to find and honor their own rhythm, Emerson says. Letting students know that everyone in the class may have different movement and breath patterns eliminates judgment.
4. Provide hands-on adjustments only with permission.
Emerson says there are the three types of touch in a yoga class: visual assists (when a teacher demonstrates or models the pose), verbal assists, and physical assists.
“For the yoga teacher to put her or his hands on a student is a serious decision that requires thoughtful deliberation,” he says, reminding teachers that many forms of trauma involve some sort of physical violence. Yoga teacher Michele Vinbury suggests giving students the opportunity to decide if they want to receive hands-on adjustments at the beginning of class. “Teachers can empower students by simply asking or by providing double-sided cards that the students can change throughout a class indicating whether they would like to receive touch or not,” she says.
5. Establish consistency in your classes.
Emerson emphasizes keeping the format of classes similar since our duty as teachers is to “cultivate a safe, stable, predictable environment in which our students can have their own experience and then to do our best to support that.”
About Our Expert
Daniel Sernicola, teaches yoga in Columbus, Ohio, with his partner, Jake Hays. They are committed to the empowerment of their students and specialize in creating compassionate, safe, and inclusive yoga environments. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram @danjayoga.