Yoga and the Trauma Layer

Yoga and the Trauma Layer

Namaste. Was just reading a Facebook post this morning called “Trauma training should be mandatory for Yoga Teachers”, which I wrote a long reply to and which I have decided to share with you in blog format. So I said yes, some sort of trauma training should be included in TTCS. I have included some of this work on some of my trainings and now feel inspired to continue to do more.

This is my response to the article:
I am teaching 19 years. Most of my work is training yoga teachers. I would not be able to continue my work, without having explored trauma and trained in coping mechanisms. I am not a trauma therapist, but I have done extensive self development work and trained in a couple of methods which work with trauma. I started this work when a grief stricken student pretty much attacked me in class one day on a TTC. Since then, I have had a couple of more episodes of students attacking me, in a traumatized state, not many thankfully; I could count them on one hand. But now, thanks to my training, I can see it coming, I can sense when students are projecting onto me in an unhealthy way. I can see when they are “acting out” their unhealed inner child’s needs or even just in cope mode emotionally. I can see when people fall into “victim” consciousness easily and its inherent “avidya” where our perceptions are clouded by unhealed traumas and are more likely to blame and attack, or simply just break down, or leave. When I sense the trauma is on some level projected onto me, I create clearer boundaries, I take a step back, until I feel safe. And if a student does fall apart, I can use tools like “empathetic listening”, where I can listen to a student without taking on their load. Ask the right questions. Communicate in ways where I am not projecting and therefore hold a clear space for my students. Also other peoples trauma doesn’t trigger my own anymore, as I have since dealt with mine. So I hold a greater capacity to see things clearer without being frightened or take things personally. I know through empathic listening skills, when not to push, when not to talk about my own stuff, or compare stories to make the other person feel better (as if someone is in trauma, they cannot even hear you and don’t want to hear your stuff). I also know to direct communication to the present needs of my student.

As teachers, we are not responsible for our students trauma. But it can help create safety for our selves and our students if we have some tools to help us when it arises. One of those tools is referring the student to someone who is professionally trained to deal with these issues. But as teachers, we must also know how to hold space for students with trauma, or even learn not to play into the projections which can be a part of the trauma,  and not make matters worse, even through we may be “trying to help”.
In the classroom, we can use asana to help release the fight or flight muscles in the body. We can use breath to help students back into the parasympathetic nervous system and relax. This is huge ! The main trauma/fight or flight muscle is the Psoas and sometimes people are in chronic back pain, as the muscle freezes in a trauma response. Asana and breath can help take the Psoas out of freeze and help students to restore and integrate the trauma slowly over time. It is my belief this is more possible, when a student can acknowledge the trauma consciously as it heals. Because the back pain is only one layer of the trauma. Its the body way of asking for closure, for grieving time, for support, for release etc. In this healing phase, it is likely a student may need more guidance and support than a friendly smile or a 5 minute chat from a yoga teacher at the end of class.

While asana can help heal trauma in the body and the nervous system, it is my belief that if the trauma is related to unhealed inner-child wounds,  abuse, abandonment issues or dysfunctional family patterns, or any trauma relating to the heart or social interaction, we are merely shifting the trauma layer out of the body patterning into our karmic layer, where it acts out in our relationships.
AND, where is the student during this time if they are not receiving support? Lost in their trauma layer and spiritualising it, glamoring it with words like “detachment” etc? (there is a time to detatch, but not before the trauma has been grieved, expressed and integrated) Students can confuse “higher states” with numbing out on things they need to address, and build a little spiritual hole for themselves to live in, in a space where they can cope, and live off the endorphins of a 2 hrs practice daily for their sense of self worth. If the asana is good, the person feels “worth”. If the asana was bad, they feel worthless and numb. This is ok for a while, a few years maybe, but we can go deeper…..The asana is only the outer layer. To base one’s worth on it is really really sad. To perform a shape to feel loved and lovable is a form of Avidya, spiritual ignorance, because we are not our traumas, they are not our core, we are BEAUTIFUL BEINGS. Our practice can go deeper. That does not necessarily mean taking your foot further behind your head, (although this is one of my personal favourites…. ) but using your asana practice to create stability and opening, for health, fun, mental clarity and well-being AND ultimately as a tool for spiritual grounding, deepening your relationship with the divine, through letting go and surrender of obstacles that lead us away from our authentic self. This is a tool we can bring with us, wherever our body is in space, to help us cope with our life and our death and our weakness on the way.

Asana and breathwork can help heal the layers of trauma in the body, but they do not heal trauma on a social level. In our relationships. We have Yamas and Niyamas to help us deal with our relationship with self and others, but in my experience, there are additional tools people can learn to help people find stability in themselves, to create the capacity to maintain healthy boundaries before they feel overwhelmed by other people’s behaviour, to love themselves for what they are and not for what they perform, to communicate their needs peacefully without expectation, to really learn to look after themselves and their lives properly, in more than body and mind, to develop heart without loosing ground, roots and wings, to create awareness of our “Samskaras”, the unconscious karmic tendencies that have us running around in circles making the same mistakes over and over again, to develop spiritual grounding with the divine through surrender and letting go, to use the energy of our will for great wonderful Sattvic endeavors, to take full responsibility for our lives and integrate our spirituality with community, family and friends. Otherwise people can use the mat as an escapism, reinforcing negative boundary patterning with trauma at its base. This is ok, it sustains, for a while, but treats the symptom not the cause, before your deeper core, your authentic self, cries out for attention and your masks shatter. <3


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