July 9, 2014

Make Any Yoga Class Trauma Sensitive. ~ Christine Cissy White

Photo: Paul Imperius via Pixoto

More and more is written about the healing benefits of yoga but it is still difficult to find a good trauma-sensitive class.

When I saw that there’s an organization called Transcending Sexual Violence through Yoga, I contacted the founder to see what her classes are like.

Unfortunately, Zahabiyah Khorakiwala (Zabie) teaches on the West coast and I’m on the East coast. There’s no amount of flexibility in my practice that will allow me to stretch that far.

It wasn’t possible for me to meet with Zabie in person but I was able to speak with her on the phone. She is a fierce and gentle spokeswoman who is not only an advocate and healer but a survivor of sexual assault herself. She knows how powerful and healing yoga can be.

I selfishly asked how any yoga teacher could make a class more trauma-sensitive, in the hopes of finding more and better classes closer to home.

Please consider taking some or all of her suggestions and know that students such as myself are searching for these classes and waiting.

1. Use invitational language.

“Students can’t hear enough they have choices with their bodies,” she said. “Instead of saying, ‘Raise your arms over head,’ say, ‘I invite you to raise arms over head,’ or ‘When you are ready, raise your arms over your heard,'” Zabie suggested.

2. Remind students that yoga is for everyone.

Encourage students to let go of their stereotypes and fears. Zabie has heard people worry that you have to be rich, thin or wearing Lululemon to benefit from yoga. Not so.

3. Let students decide where they are comfortable setting up mats.

Don’t put mats too close together. Allow students to have personal space.

4. Never touch someone without asking and receiving permission.

If you are going to do an adjustment to keep someone safe (from injury), ask if you may touch them, not just once, but “each and every time” you want to do a hands-on assist or adjustment. In general, try to use verbal guidance instead.

5. Choose empowering play lists in song selection.

Zabie is mindful about the song selection and quotes she chooses to share. She believes that these are opportunities to make a class more nurturing and enriching. Choose wisely.

6. Ask about lighting or smells.

Ask students for feedback. But don’t just ask. Honor their feedback by incorporating it into the class.

7. Give yourself adequate time to prepare.

This benefits you, as the yoga teacher, as well as the students. Check your own energy so you aren’t bringing scattered energy to the yoga space.

8. Remind students the class is for them.

Tell them they can leave class if they wish, adjust poses or even sleep on their mat. Zabie has had students who said they had their best sleep of the week during a class.

9. Get educated about sexual violence.

Zabie believes part of her job, as a yoga teacher and sexual assault survivor, activist and advocate is combined. “I work to dispel stigma and stereotypes to make society a more welcoming space to heal,” she said.  “If people don’t believe survivors,” said Zabie, “there’s not going to be a lot of healing. A lot of our work is starting with basics, understanding how often it happens.”

10. Get trauma-specific yoga training and education.

Places such as Kripalu, Omega and the Breathe Network offer training and information about trauma-sensitive yoga and practices.

As a yoga teacher, you have the opportunity and ability to assist in a survivor’s profound healing, and if you choose to do this work, let me tell you how grateful I am for your effort and interest.


Love elephant and want to go steady?

Sign up for our (curated) daily and weekly newsletters!

Apprentice Editor: Kim Haas / Editor: Catherine Monkman

Image: Paul Imperius via Pixoto

Leave a Thoughtful Comment

Read 0 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Christine "Cissy" White  |  Contribution: 7,600