I’m often suspicious of clinical or academic terminology that becomes popularized.
Pop psychology usually starts rooted in science, then as it makes its rounds through celebrities, talk shows, and wellness communities, it loses focus and becomes a ghost of its clinical self.
Take narcissism, for example. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a diagnosable disorder, outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). There is a laundry list of symptoms that can be used by a healthcare professional to diagnose and treat a patient with this disorder. However, the term “narcissist” has made the rounds and is now often used casually to mean someone who is full of themselves, a poor listener, one with selfish tendencies, or an emotionally stunted person.
Similarly, “trauma-informed yoga” (or trauma-sensitive yoga) is a very specific way of approaching yoga and trauma, and one that is misused frequently. Let’s discuss what trauma-informed yoga is and isn’t, from the lens of someone who has studied trauma and yoga for over a decade.
What trauma-informed yoga is:
- Kind and compassionate.
- Yoga taught by someone who has been trained to understand the effects of trauma on a person’s mind and body.
- An understanding that ALL humans experience trauma in a wide variety of ways, that our systems process trauma differently, that there is no right or wrong way to process it, and it is possible to move through trauma at any stage or age.
- Individual or group classes held in a well-defined container. Classes might include movement, breathing practices, mudra (hand gestures), mantra, lifestyle change suggestions, journaling, guided relaxation, and meditation.
- Developing an understanding of how the brain, nervous system, and body are working together in a highly intelligent, albeit often unhelpful, way of processing trauma. Knowing that these systems are on your side and trying to help you out can help to develop some compassion for yourself.
What trauma-informed yoga isn’t:
- Judgemental or startling.
- One-size-fits-all classes for generic “trauma” – every human has trauma in their systems, it’s part of the deal! How we relate to and process trauma is what individuates us, and trauma-informed teachers need to understand this.
- Classes that only use one yogic tool (e.g. yoga asana / movement).
- Yoga taught by someone who has experienced trauma and not processed it with the help of a professional. This can be dangerous – having an experience makes you an expert in your experience, but not an expert in the experiences of others.
- Yoga taught by someone who has no formal education in yoga or trauma.