I receive suggestions to sample classes online. Online yoga classes are great for people who don’t have regular access to a studio, are tired of DVDs, or aren’t ready to go into a yoga class just yet. Recently, I took two free yoga class through Yogisanonymous.com. Like with most things, one was a hit and the other a miss.
In fact, the “miss” is the one I am writing about. I stopped the class 34 minutes in because it so aptly showed the difference between a regular yoga class and a trauma-sensitive yoga class. It boiled down to what’s said, and what’s not said.
The reason? The instructor’s endless chatter. It wasn’t just a matter of wearing a microphone and knowing the camera was on. Like a lot of yoga teachers, she felt obligated to impart some wisdom. But the problem was that her narrative went on and on and on. Her constant editorializing was not only unnecessary, but distracting. Still, knowing this is epidemic in many yoga circles, I was game to let her chatter turn into a distant drone until a delivery of platitudes without thinking about causation or effect distracted me.
“Hips are really an opportunity to bring things out physiologically, emotionally…..” she said.
The class was a regular yoga class, probably fine for the majority of individuals. But here’s where we can illustrate the difference between her class and one centering on trauma patients. Her chatter is what we refer to as a trigger disguised as a platitude. She went on and on about hips, how she didn’t know why so much tension was stored there. Her chatter was a casual aside. But we know from therapists and yoga teachers in the field and at the Trauma Center, many victims of rape, incest and molestation would find this casual editorializing confusing –even painful. Their breathing becomes shallow, their blood pressure shoots up. Some have been known to break down or leave the class. In contrast, the skilled teacher is mindful that even a reference to hips and tension or “letting go” may conjure up a memory in the form of an image or feeling of a heinous crime, and take them back to a place where both physically and emotionally –they were unsafe.
Above everything else, Trauma Sensitive Yoga always offers a safe place for its students. The challenge in Trauma Sensitive Yoga is to help people tap into where they are right then and there. To stop the cycle of disassociation from their bodies and tune into their breath and the sensations of movement controlled by themselves. It’s also about giving people choices. When a teacher is attempting to fill every silence, the student has no choice but listen. “So don’t listen,” someone might say. Sorry, but in a student/teacher relationship, the student will always do so.
“In my classes I tend to keep my rambles to a bare minimum. Instructing them physiologically into the pose and maybe making suggestions here and there, but I leave out the BS.” -Jillian Hunsanger
Perhaps if there is one lesson to be learned: respect the silence of your students. Teachers work so much already, they should never feel the urge to editorialize. Never assume that students haven’t thought about these things themselves, and maybe they’re in your class to steal a moment of time to themselves. Silence isn’t scary, rather it’s a sign that your students are focusing on their breath and feelings. Relax, and honor that.
Read: Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga by David Emerson & Elizabeth Hopper, PhD, pages 36-38.