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Trauma-Conscious Yoga: A Journey Towards an Embodied Self

And the end of all our exploring.

Will be to arrive where we started.

And know the place for the first time.” -T.S. Eliot

One of the introductory questions I like to ask other students is how their yoga practice began. Our origin stories can reveal a lot about our deepest, wishes, intentions, and values. If you’re new, I invite you to take this moment to reflect on what brings you here. Are you looking for stress release, movement, stillness or perhaps something beyond that?

I will share with you a little about my journey, and it would be a privilege, that I may be a part of yours.

When I entered the world of yoga, I was in search of deeper healing. Every week, I would walk to this small meditation center I discovered a few blocks from my apartment in Chicago. It was my safe haven away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and especially my own busy mind. While that practice of meditation was not necessarily aimed at trauma survivors, I found solace in such a peaceful setting and within the practice of deep listening. Through that experience I gained a compassionate understanding of my story and a deeper appreciation for stillness in my mind and body. These healing elements in the practice of meditation and in yoga have been scientifically studied in a trauma-sensitive yoga class. It’s benefits are not only for trauma survivors, but anyone who is looking for a safe space to explore themselves.

They say everyone experiences trauma--big and little--it’s a part of the human condition. No human being is immune from loss, heart-break, grief, and suffering from existence. So where do we go from here? How might we approach healing in a way that honors our internal experience and past traumas?

Trauma-conscious yoga identifies five dimensions of yoga with the trauma survivor’s experience in mind. These core dimensions give life to the practice, which make it unique from other yoga practices. This is effective through the physical setting, the language used, and the distinct style. Typical yoga classes may be beneficial in some respects, and in other ways be re-traumatizing for a trauma survivor. In summary, trauma-conscious yoga teaches safety and attunement, freedom of choice, and experience of embodiment.

To begin, this class will be set up in such a way that it is safe and predictable. The yoga teacher remains at the front of the class at all times. At the beginning of each class, the teacher provides a foundation of structure and stability by pointing out the entrance, exits, and by providing clear instructions. Likewise, the teaching style is always invitational rather than giving orders or commands. Adjustments and physical assists are seen as unnecessary for guidance. Teachers will cue with an array of alternative options to promote choice. Students are guided towards being curious and open to their internal experience as opposed to just copying others in the class. That said there is no right and wrong. Creating safety in poses are essential, but the focus for students is to “notice” sensations over alignment, and to move at their own pace. Language-wise, the exercises and poses are referred to as “shapes.” The language promotes inquiry, and we avoid metaphorical language and trigger words. The shapes are lower in intensity and focus on breath awareness and cuing for interoception (our capacity as sentient beings to sense our visceral and felt experiences). Overall, the sequence targets body and breath awareness and balance in the nervous system.

Trauma-conscious yoga invites students to reintegrate mind and body, in such a way that is empowering and truly freeing. So I invite you, if you are interested in trying it out for yourself. You are welcome to explore.

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