What All Yoga Teachers Need to Know About Teaching Trauma Survivors

In honor of Veterans Day, we’re introducing a series of posts with yoga teacher Daniel Sernicola educating yoga teachers on the importance of taking a more trauma-sensitive approach to every class. Start using these 4 strategies today.
Meditation Hands, Hands at center

In honor of Veterans Day, we’re pleased to introduce a four-post blog series with yoga teacher Daniel Sernicola on the importance of taking a more trauma-sensitive approach to every class. Learn how you can make small changes to your yoga classes to better serve trauma survivors.

Trauma is all around us in various forms. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs cites disturbing statistics: Approximately 6 out of 10 men and 5 out of 10 women have experienced at least one trauma in their lives. Those incidents of trauma—including accidents, physical assault, combat, disaster, witnessing death or injury, sexual assault, and child sexual abuse—have left approximately 44.7 million people in this country with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It's safe to conclude then that your chances of teaching students who have experienced trauma in any given yoga class are high.

In his groundbreaking book, The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel van der Kolk, M.D., shows how trauma affects more than just the mind by explaining that people with histories of trauma often experience an extreme disconnection from the body. “We see yoga as one important thing that helps people who’ve been traumatized, because they get back into their bodies,” he said in a 2014 interview. In the Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, Sat Bir Khalsa, PhD, cites studies illustrating that yoga’s benefits are so powerful because it targets “unmanaged stress, a main component of chronic disorders such as anxiety, depression, obesity, diabetes and insomnia.”

David Emerson, author of Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga, stresses the need for teachers to make classes more inclusive, approachable, and trauma-sensitive. “Yoga promises peace of body and mind,” he says, “but there is so much that goes on during a typical yoga class that can be devastating for some trauma survivors.”

As yoga teachers, it is our job to teach yoga in a compassionate and caring environment, holding space for students of all backgrounds, including and perhaps especially trauma survivors, to reap the practice’s benefits. Here, find 4 strategies you can use to make every yoga class more trauma-sensitive.

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.

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