An Open Letter from a Trauma Survivor to a Yoga Teacher: What I need you to Know about my Pain.

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Dearest yoga teacher, if you see me in one of your group classes it means that I am in a place of pain and suffering, and I need help.

I have been practicing yoga for seven years and teaching going on two years. On good days, I feel skilled and motivated enough to sustain a home practice. However, on bad days, when I have been home crying all day or struggling with my eating disorder or traversing the rugged terrain of adrenal fatigue, you will see me in your class. Why? Because I cherish my practice, even when I am in pain and unable to animate myself on my own, I know where I can go to seek support and have space held for me.

I am not asking that you change or fix my pain. I am not even asking that you comfort me. I am certainly not asking you to be my therapist. I am, however, asking that you keep a few things in mind while you hold space for me to be in pain.

It has taken everything I have to show up. I have had to exert a great deal of energy just to get dressed, get out of bed, drive to the studio and enter the room. My thinking mind and inner-judge have been hurdling reason after reason to keep me away. I may already be exhausted when I arrive. I may be feeling guarded and/or tired, so it is likely that I won’t want to have a long chat with you. However, it is helpful to feel seen and acknowledged with a greeting or smile. You may be the only person I interact with all day.

When I forgo your instructions to do my own thing, it is not a reflection on you as a person or a teacher but how you respond may well be. Keep your ego out of my practice, please. Not everything I do is a statement about you and your capacities.

When I follow my own movement impulses in class it is not arrogance, rebellion or a critique of your teaching. I am practicing embodiment and advocating for myself. In these moments, I might be exhausted and choose to hold a down regulating pose to rebalance my adrenals. I might be feeling embodiment for the first time in days, weeks or months and want to give that experience time and space to marinate.

I don’t need to be fixed, corrected, adjusted or modified. I appreciate when I am given permission and space to explore my inner world both within and outside the boundaries of your instructions. If this makes you uncomfortable, please speak with me after class and you will be sure I won’t return.

It takes a great deal of courage to come to your class for the first time. When I show up to class I likely feel guarded and vulnerable. If I don’t know you, you can be sure that I have googled you extensively. My pre-class research is an (sometimes useless) attempt to predict our compatibility: what yoga means to you, why you practice, what kind of yoga you teach and whether or not it is trauma-sensitive.

Also know that if I feel unsafe, I may leave as an act of self-preservation. My choice to leave is not a reflection on you as a person or teacher, but when I am in pain and feeling unsafe for any reason, I may choose to leave the class as a way of asserting agency and reassuring myself.  If you are concerned, please find another time to talk with me about this. I am not in a secure, stable or grounded enough place to discuss it at the moment.

There is a difference between giving instructions and holding space. There are two points I would like to share with you:

1. When you speak to me in a repetitive, flat and robotic tone of voice and/or talk too much without offering pause, it makes me feel like I am being asked to follow instructions rather than being invited into my own somatic experience.

I don’t want to feel like I showed up to do what you say and please you. I am here to mend disconnection from my body. You may not see that from the outside, but I certainly feel it.

It is helpful when you speak to me as one person to another while pausing to provide an opportunity for integration.

2. When you become overly technical and anatomical, it makes me feel like you are addressing me as a collection of parts rather than a whole person. This feels dehumanizing and can bring up some difficult feelings from past traumatic experiences where I was treated as less than human and robbed of my personhood.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy learning about anatomy and sometimes it is helpful to bring this up in class, but not when I am being bombarded with a constant barrage of technical terms for meaty and bony parts.

It is helpful when you are selective about the anatomical concepts you discuss in class. Prioritizing one or two concepts will help me better process what you are saying, not only on a cognitive but also a somatic level.

What my soul craves more than anything is for you to hold space for me to be in pain. I need you to understand where I am coming from and what I am going through without pitying me.

I need you to reserve judgment, be thoughtful about your language and keep your ego out of my practice.

As my yoga teacher, you play an important role in my life and my healing. It means the world to me when you genuinely care about my experience. Hopefully, this letter will help you understand.
~

Author: Leticia Garcia Tiwari

Editor: Katarina Tavčar

Photo: C-C-C-C-C-C-Cary/Flickr

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Leticia Garcia Tiwari

Leticia Garcia Tiwari is the founder of Embody Play Yoga, a mobile studio specializing in mindfulness-based therapeutics for all ages with a trauma-informed approach. She is a survivor of academia who escaped a PhD program to pursue a growing love of movement as well as a passion for working with children and youth through creative play. Her training in various schools of yoga, somatics and therapeutic arts influence her unique approach to mindfulness as playful, dynamic, and expressive. As a yoga teacher she does not teach be-quiet-and-calm yoga, rather she facilitates expressive movement, collective creativity and encourages students to step into their practice with a sense of wonder and joy. On a personal level, she uses writing as a form of self-reflection to process her experience as a trauma survivor.

Comments

6 Responses to “An Open Letter from a Trauma Survivor to a Yoga Teacher: What I need you to Know about my Pain.”

  1. Gary says:

    I liked your article…hit home for me…thank you for sharing…

  2. Very well explained. May this be the beginning of a dialogue that many teacher trainings need. Thank you.

  3. Kate Fuller says:

    Thank you so much!! I wish all yoga teachers would read this. I have Fibromyalgia which causes chronic & sometimes severe pain & stiffness. There have been times I have lain on my mat in tears from the pain & it's taken every ounce of strength & determination I have just to show up at class. I have to do quite a bit of modification and most teachers are open to that but those who have never taught a gentle class & show up to sub just don't get it. I love my "laughing" yoga teacher who makes yoga fun & continues with an open dialog throughout the practice. She's also the only teacher who has taken the time to educate herself on Fibro & other health challenges we face. Yoga is not just an exercise for me, it's treatment for my pain & stiffness. 4 years ago I was walking with a cane from hip pain. Today, at age 65 I take 4 gentle yoga classes a week.

    • Thanks for sharing, Kate. I am so happy that you are enjoying your laughter yoga! I teach a playful style of yoga to both children and adults. As a yoga teacher myself, I have found that fun, laughter and connection is the best trauma healing! Of course, there is not a one-size-fits-all trauma-informed approach to yoga, but for me these qualities are key!

  4. I like how you wrote this in the first person and really owned it, Leticia. It is very sweet and vulnerable.

    These are great awarenesses for any yoga teacher, whether or not the student has a condition.

    Most yoga teachers, myself included, have a tendency to take what's going for the student too personally. This is such a great reminder.

    Thank you!

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