5 Tips to Teach Yoga from a Mindful and Trauma Sensitive Perspective

Yoga keeps him young

Creating a safe space for students should be the number one priority of any yoga teacher. As a teacher who is moving into the world of yoga therapy, I understand that the idea of what’s ‘safe’ varies. Getting properly trained in trauma sensitive yoga has been an invaluable tool when it comes to teaching in a wide variety of non-tradtional settings. The more I’ve learned, the more I have been encouraged to share my experiences and tips for creating a meaningful class.

1. Do your homework

I’m constantly reading about new approaches to teaching in this ever evolving field. In addition, I spend time talking to my former teachers who are experts in yoga therapy, trauma-senstive yoga and doctors. There isn’t an end to the learning process. Spending time learning about where you are going to teach a new class can provide assurance that your first class will be provide the best experience possible for your students.

2. Be prepared and flexible

Having a clear plan is always the way to walk into a studio and this is certainly the case when teaching in non-traditional environments. But when class starts and how people are moving doesn’t fit the plan- I must adapt. The same holds true when I teach a trauma-senstive/therapeutic yoga class. A few weeks ago I had planned a class for a group of students at Riker’s Island Correctional Facility. When I walked into the dorm there was a lot of talk about a search that had been conducted overnight, as a result the group was very stressed. Rather than work through the more powerful flow I had mapped out, it made sense to cut that part of class short so I could teach a few poses that released stress. In addition, I took the class through a longer guided meditation. The more tools you have in your toolbox the easier it is to adapt on the fly.

3. Know your audience

When you are teaching in a space with people who have suffered trauma it’s vital to understand their backgrounds and potential triggers. When I am working with women who have suffered sexual abuse, I’m careful not to do poses that could be deemed sensual. Cat/cow provides a good example of this. It’s a fairly innocuous pose in a traditional yoga setting, it’s great for warming up the spine but with women who have had a history of abuse it’s potentially a huge trigger.

4. Listen. Listen more. Listen again.

Active listening skills are required in trauma sensitive teaching. It’s vital to be able to listen to verbal and non-verbal cues. Are students comfortable? Are you talking too much? Or not enough? In a traditional setting with experienced yogis, silence is golden and allows for exploration. But when working with women who have been abused or PTSD patients silence can be scary. Listen with your eyes, ears and EQ (Emotional Intelligence).

5. Know your limits and have a network

As yoga teachers it’s easy to get connected to your students especially when you work with folks who suffer from PTSD, have physical illnesses or are in challenging situations like prison or rehab. I stay true to what I know to do with the body as a yoga teacher. I stay honest with myself about my skills and training. I am a certified therapeutic yoga teacher who has done trainings to work with folks who have chronic illness, addictions, are in prison and who suffer from PTSD. I’m not a therapist, a physical therapist, nutritionist or doctor. But I have built and continue to build a strong network of these folks who understand the value of yoga. Having a rolodex of names allows me to refer a student to the right person when they ask something out of my depth.

One last critical component to teaching trauma sensitive yoga is self-care. Providing a space for healing is rewarding but can be draining physically and emotionally. Knowing how and when to recharge is a part of my routine. I make sure that there is one day of the week when I am not teaching- at all. That is my day to take my own classes and relax. My daily meditation practice is also a way that I stay  emotionally fit. As a Therapeutic yoga teacher I’ve also reaped the benefits of the TY practice. My bolsters, blankets and blocks are never far from me. Practicing what I preach has become a necessary part of my practice.

Yoga is now being widely recognized as a was to compliment many traditional treatment plans. The more that I’m educated, the larger impact I can have.

Namaste y’all.

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Adventures in Teaching Yoga- A Small Class Was a Blast

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August has been a lil funny. With no real dog days I think that most folks in Dirty Jerz have been hanging outside- enjoying the weather. I’ve been doing longer rides on my bike and have enjoyed taking Dakota on leisurely walks when typically in August, I’m keeping her inside to stay cool. Class attendance at the studios where I teach has been hit and miss. But rather than worry about small class sizes, I took the opportunity to play with my teaching style and make deeper connections with my students.

Small classes can create a mini-workshop atmosphere. Without breaking the pace or flow of a class, I’m able to make specific adjustments allowing students to have real aha moments in their body or mind. Last week during small hot class I found that one student asked a few questions about a few poses. It was a great moment for her and the other student who had the same question. But because it was just us- the conversation didn’t take long and we were able to get back to the meditative aspect of the asana practice.

After class both students thanked me profusely and said it was a treat to be able to get one-on-one time with a teacher.

It was a treat for me too.

Namaste y’all.

Adventures in Teaching Yoga – Who Are My Students?

You know what? There’s something that isn’t discussed that I didn’t really hear until after I started teaching. 

It’s been my biggest lesson so far. I’m sorry that I haven’t talked about it earlier.

As a new teacher you teach people who are new to yoga.

Yeah, and you say?

Check it.

I practiced yoga off and on for more than a decade before I did YTT. In the year and a half before I was brave enough to do it, I was practicing several days a week. Then I spent YTT with women who had advanced practices. I started practice at least once a day. Progress in my practice was exponential. I don’t just mean on my mat either. My approach the the entire world was underlined with a broader sense of compassion.

To say that I was livin’ the dream is a gross understatement.

Cool right? I know. I had managed to cultivate a pretty bad ass existence.

Throughout the process our primary teacher told us that we’d be teaching new students and that would mean that we would have to focus on the basics. I heard her, but didn’t listen.

Isn’t always the damn case?

Most of the people I teach have new or newish practices.

It’s my job to help them find the best expression of a pose.

My job break down the connection of body and breath in a way that is accessible, challenging, peaceful and hopefully lots of fun.

Many people I see are just getting started or coming back to their mats after a hiatus. It can be intimidating and scary.

It’s critical that I remember that not everyone has a keen sense of body awareness.

Not everyone knows what the quadricep is or where it’s located.

When you say connect with your breath- you have to explain what that means.

It’s the reality of teaching new folks. And that’s cool. When I’m ready to headstand I will. Right now, I’m learning how to be a beginning teacher who has students who love learning about yoga.

The Answer Man is a fun little film about a curmudgeon self-help guru who learns to love the people he inspired. The woman he begins to date gives him (and me) sage advice:

  1. Don’t take advice from people you wouldn’t trade places with.
  2. Try not to say things that you can’t take back.
  3. Something is what it is, so it can’t be something else.

Number 3 is my mantra.

Modifications, encouragement, space to breathe and a soft place to fall is my job for my students.

I let them know that their best pose in a moment is the very best that there is.

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Not comparing today to yesterday. Not worrying about tomorrow.

I show them how to feel from the inside out and outside in. And it all takes place in the now.

I smile at the thought.

It’s a blessing that this is my new career.

As my own practice grows my students will grow and my style will evolve.

It’s what is. It’s pretty incredible. You can set the tone for someone deciding whether or not to continue with yoga.

It’s a big responsibility. One I do not take lightly.

I keep my sequences simple but interesting, I give lots of modifications. I celebrate. And I make adjustments to my class if it seems too challenging or if a class seems ready for something more.

Life. Is. Good.

This is yoga and it’s for everyone.

Namaste y’all.

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Livin’ on the Edge

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There’s one teacher at my hot studio that I love and hate (in the nicest way possible) because she she pushes me so I ride the edge.

You know the edge- it’s the place where you break down to break through. One time it was a backbend adjustment. By moving the hips forward and drawing the tailbone down, I was able to lift higher from my upper back. In turn this allowed my head to fall back more and really open the heart chakra.

Covered in sweat, heart racing a feeling shot through my throat like someone did a tracheotomy (I watch too much Grey’s Anatomy- way. Too. Much).

I digress. Backbend. Throat chakra. Right.

Anyway , I’m getting these micro adjustments feeling really present with the pose and then….

Like a poltergeist I feel the thought zooming through my body to find an exit out of my throat ( or was it my heart).

Boy I sure miss, ______. Wonder if I should call? Hmmm…
Woah- hey now where did that come from?

The moment passed and I had to move on to the next pose.

Breakthroughs don’t happen when you’re comfy. But it’s a fine line. The other side of the edge is pain or exhaustion or strain. I love this teacher because she knows me and can see where I am today. You can’t always push, push push. There must be time for breathing. There must be time to let the changes sink in to become a part of your skin and soul.

The edge is a great place to be. This is a different edge than looking for trouble- not that I know anything about that. Just a guess.

Knowing your edge on the mat can inspire great changes off of it.

Break down to break through.

Wonder if I should make that call. Maybe it was just the back bend talking.

This is yoga, on the edge. Namaste y’all

No Yogi Left Behind – Celebrate Modifications

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Have you ever liked someone you never met? I feel that way about Dianne Bondy. She’s a yogi who is active in her community and is just an inspiration.  Skype classess, YTT her own studio, Eastside Yoga, Dianne is doin’ the damn thing.

Even her facebook updates have nuggets of wisdom….last week she wrote:

My motto is ‘No Yogi left behind’. 

Pow.

How often do I tell people about the joys of yoga for them to tell me they aren’t contortionists. Or they they say chanting ‘aum’ isn’t for them. Or it doesn’t seem fun. Or it seems intimidating.

Modifications baby. Modifications. We talk about them, but I need to remember to celebrate them. I taught a class on Sunday and really focused on holding the modified pose.

That devilish ego. It can tempt us to go places we shouldn’t. This if course can lead to injury and a bruised ego. Ironic isn’t it? Pushing ourselves too far because we thought that’s what we wanted.

Find your fullest expression of a pose for your body and spirit, today. Not based on yesterday’s body. But based on where your body is in the now.

This is another reminder I plan to give throughout class. I make a point of mentioning honoring your body when setting an intention, but throughout class I need to celebrate and not just demonstrate the modifications.

Yoga is a journey that everyone should take. It would be a shame if people didn’t take it because they didn’t think they were invited.

This is yoga. And everyone is welcome. No yogis left behind.

Thanks for the reminder Dianne.

Namaste y’all.