If you’ve thought about teaching yoga in a jail, domestic violence shelter, or youth group home, you’ve probably wondered how trauma informed yoga is different from “regular” yoga. Now, how do you get training … and do you really need it if you’re already a 200-hour or 500-hour yoga teacher?
Experiencing trauma can be life changing; in some cases survivors even develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s wise for yoga teachers to learn about the aspects of a yoga class that could be triggering – as well as those that can be healing.
Even a 15-hour training over a long weekend can better orient yoga teachers to how to approach yoga in a trauma-informed way. Comments that may seem innocuous in a yoga studio (“you choose your thoughts”, a simplistic description of karma as “getting back what you put out”) may come across as hurtful in settings where people struggle with trauma or its effects (people experiencing major depression, survivors of sexual violence living with PTSD, patients of terminal illnesses). Common practices in yoga classes (hands-on assists, lights all off for savasana) could put some trauma survivors on edge.
What’s involved in an intensive trauma-informed yoga training?
Some well-known 3-5 day trauma informed yoga trainings include Street Yoga, Prison Yoga, Hala Khouri’s trauma informed yoga training, and David Emerson’s Trauma-Sensitive Yoga training. Many trainings are open to anyone with interest; some limit enrollment to yoga teachers or teacher trainees.
Trainings often focus on specific groups – youth, domestic violence survivors, people who are incarcerated. Often trainings offer insight into the broader context of that issue: What are the causes of homelessness? What are the daily and long-term challenges facing people experiencing homelessness?
Most provide information on the physiology of trauma, and how yoga can help people heal. Some may include discussion on setting appropriate boundaries, reacting to unexpected challenges (students who are triggered, distractions during the class, vicarious trauma the teacher may experience) and interacting with staff members. As a participant I’ve attended trainings that included practice teaching and role plays.
Many trainings can also offer participants Yoga Allicance CEUs – continuing education units – or in some cases, continuing education units in other fields such as social work.
How do you choose a training?
One way to choose a training is to select whichever one is available locally! In larger cities there may be a few different ones per year. Following organizations that overlap with your interests on social media may help stay up to date on which training is coming and when, as will following My Area Yoga.
What if you are interested in teaching adult survivors of sexual violence but the only training in your area focuses on prisoners or youth? Often there are commonalities with trauma between these groups, but of course a training focused on incarceration will have some portions focused specifically on that. You may come away from your training not only with a new interest, but also contacts with others who are inspired by this work or already working in it.
It may be worthwhile to request a syllabus and to ask specific questions. Read more about the topic of trauma informed yoga and determine what interests you the most: the physical practice, meditation, yoga philosophy, or the chakras? Ask about the organization’s views on these and in what, if any, capacity they are covered. If the practical details of setting up a yoga service class are important to you, find out how this topic is addressed – it’s rare for a training to offer specific volunteer opportunities as so much is involved locally. (That said, if a local yoga non-profit offers a training, it may be the first step in volunteering locally in one of their programs. Ask what is involved in this!) If you already have a background in social work or psychology, will this training which teach you how to apply this within yoga – or does it focus most on orienting yoga teachers to trauma (and perhaps encourages teachers to stick to what they are trained in rather than try to offer social work)? If the lead trainer is a social worker, is there an assumption that trauma informed yoga incorporates social work?
What does this all cost?
While many organizations offer yoga services to underserved groups at low cost or no cost, there is almost always a cost affiliated with the training. Most trainings range from $200-500 for an intensive 3-5 day training. How can you reduce the cost of trauma informed yoga training?
At the end of the day
Continuing education in any aspect of yoga can be rewarding – just to broaden your knowledge base.
In my experience, it is rare to meet yoga teachers with experience teaching in homeless shelters, prisons, or public housing facilities. Similarly, while many psychologists and social workers deal with trauma and recovery on a daily basis, it’s rare to meet people who can explain the physiology of trauma and recovery as it related to yoga specifically. The people and organizations offering trauma informed yoga trainings are a rare breed! It is usually an inspiring experience to work with them.
In addition to public classes, Kate teaches two community classes in Chicago neighborhoods where affordable yoga options are rare and teaches yoga at Cook County Jail through Yoga for Recovery. Follow her work at shareyourpractice.org.