image of Kari Kwinn with her head in her hands

So You Want to Teach Trauma Informed Yoga?

“Trauma is all around me – I’d love to know how to better support my students, without taking on their grief.”

I hear you.

Maybe there is an increased awareness of trauma in the yoga world, or maybe there is more trauma, or maybe there is some expert marketing and advertising out there, but people come to me with this sort of query many times a week.

My answer depends on the person asking, but I’ll give you the more universal parts.

First, I recommend reading a couple of books. Not youtube videos or podcasts, but actual, legitimate books written by people with the sorts of training and experience you’d like to learn from. There are occasionally video or audio recordings that are appropriate, but in my experience, these are the sound bites that are out of context and often unrefined. So start with books.

Here are some great ones:

In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, Gabor Maté
Waking the Tiger, Peter Levine
The Body Keeps Score, Bessel van der Kolk

Second, if you are a 200 RYT or a 500 RYT and possess no clinical credentials, look for trainings aimed at your professional expertise (aka trainings for yoga teachers). Don’t jump feet-first into a training for counselors, therapists, or other clinicians, as you don’t have the appropriate background training and might start to swim outside of your lane, causing damage to you and your students. Practicing medicine without a license is a felony, and more importantly, it’s psychologically dangerous. You can google these, and see who is guiding the training and who the training is aimed towards.

Third, talk to the trainers. Do not register for a multi-day training without having an actual voice conversation with the people offering the training or their representatives. Ask to speak to someone who graduated from the training. Legitimate programs that offer excellent training are more than happy to make this effort to connect you with a successful alumn of their program.

Every (single) thing we do is selfishly motivated. Yep. Even serving in a self-less way is still selfish, so get clear about what is motivating you become familiar with people who have experienced trauma.

Perhaps you are on a healing path from trauma, grief, or loss. You were victimized, abusive, or neglectful to others, and under the guidance and with the full support of your therapist and/or sponsor, you’d like to offer a living amends. 

Perhaps there has been an expressed need in the community (the local treatment facility is in search of additional teachers for their existing yoga program), and you have entered a chapter of your life where you have some extra time on your hands, and are interested in giving back in a meaningful way.

Perhaps you are on a healing path from trauma, grief, or loss and would like to better understand the multifaceted ways in which trauma expresses itself, and instead of working one-on-one towards your healing, you are compelled to heal others.

Perhaps you have seen a need in the community (how is it that the local treatment center doesn’t even offer yoga??), and you have a tiny bit of time that you could probably carve out to offer them something better than what they have, which is currently nothing. 

Perhaps you are unaware that you have some trauma, grief, or loss, and are trying to distract yourself from the personal work and would instead prefer to focus on absolutely anything else.

Perhaps you have noticed that there is a group of people who spend a lot of time living on the street, and you imagine that if they could just find the same transcendent peace experience you have by sun saluting or meditating, or sitting on a mat or cushion, that it would likely spontaneously rehabilitate and rejoin the work force.

Tongue in cheek, I know.

(you get that the top two answers are the GREEN LIGHT answers, right?)

But seriously ask yourself this. Working with trauma is like fighting a wildfire. It is tricky, unpredictable, and requires specific training and gear. 

It takes casualties. 

I would love for all yoga teachers to receive some cursory training on trauma-informed practices, so that if someone in their gym, studio, or private classes has an experience, they know how to best support them (think of this like learning to use a fire extinguisher, call 911, stop, drop, and roll).

I would love for really aware, well-resourced, and abundantly available people to become skilled at joining trauma care teams.

I would love for more people to have access to better teachers, who understand what to do. How to refer and resource. How to best support until help arrives.

Gabor Maté says, “Trauma isn’t what happened to us, it’s what happens inside of us,” which resonates with me so well. It isn’t always gun violence, war, or natural disaster. Sometimes it is intimate partner abuse, coercive and insidious and absent of physical violence. Often it is psychological or emotional, and can be triggered by sirens or yoga music, loud bangs or palo santo. For this reason, I think it is more important to understand the process of trauma rather than memorizing a list of poses or “thou shalt and thou shalt nots” as it refers to trauma. Because it depends.

It always.


Want more? Read Take the Headwind to unpack more about teaching and responsibility.

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