Written by Jodi Wasson and Dusty Swehla, Directors of Trauma Supports
This is the 3rd post in a 3-part blog series.
For Post 1, click here.
For Post 2, click here.
A Trauma-Sensitive Approach to Teaching Kids & Teens
As promised, here is part 3 of A Trauma-Sensitive Approach to Teaching Kids & Teens. Previously, we gave an overview of our Yoga for Resiliency curriculum and a little information to help understand what trauma is and how to notice possible signs. In this blog post, we will focus more on how you can support students who experienced trauma as well as yourself.
Without further ado, part 3...
How does Trauma Informed Yoga help a student who experienced trauma?
Trauma-Informed Yoga may support a child’s healing by offering a safe and controlled environment where individuals can release traumatic stress. Yoga helps to support self-regulation skills, strengthens mind-body connection, provides an opportunity to build resiliency, offers nervous-system regulation through breath practices and can help to support other therapies.
It is important to know there are additional yoga teacher trainings which may be required to become a Trauma-Informed Yoga Teacher; however, we have compiled this information to support teachers in offering a safe and inclusive environment for children and teens. Your primary responsibility as a children’s and teen’s yoga teacher is to stay within your scope of practice as a yoga teacher and maintain healthy boundaries with your students. There are ways we can offer a safe environment for students to practice yoga by becoming mindful about our presentation, language and approach in order to avoid triggering traumatic emotional or physical responses.
When considering support for students who have experienced trauma, it is important to know there are many small things that can make a big difference. These supports fall under the environment, language and cueing, yoga postures, assists and adjustments, music, observing/managing triggers, and lesson autonomy.
Creating a Safe Environment
You can support a student who experienced trauma by creating a safe environment for them. This means offering students a clear idea on what to expect during the offered yoga class, and trying to eliminate any surprises, giving predictability. With younger students, consider establishing safe “yoga spots” for children to practice. Allow students visibility of the exit or door where possible, announce your movement in the space, and name any unexpected noises or distractions that may occur during class. As the yoga teacher, consider modest teaching attire while limiting distracting makeup, jewelry or strong scents.
Trauma Informed Yoga Cues
Trauma survivors may not consider their physical bodies a safe place anymore, but we can support strengthening the mind-body connection by offering language that encourages students to explore or recognize physical responses during yoga poses, offering body scans, creating awareness and connection to one’s breath and reminding students to observe their practice without judgement.
• Remind children that their yoga practice is unique to them, and their practice may look different than their peers’ practice.
• Remind students that they are the expert of their body.
• Use language that invites children to participate, but recognize that some may not participate the way you expect and honor that choice.
• Avoid language like “I want you to”.
• Avoid language like “If it feels good...” and instead use “If it feels safe...”.
• Remind students that they are safe
• Always demonstrate the most accessible version of a pose to help students feel most successful. (Example: Tree Pose with both feet on the ground for stability and balance)
• Demonstrate from the front of the room.
• Avoid holding postures for an unknown period of time.
• Consider using a countdown with challenging postures.
• Avoid language that may have a violent undertone.
• Encourage students to be curious about their body and own experiences by using language like “notice” or “be curious”.
• Allow options for closed eyes, “soften your gaze” or “find a focal point”.
Trauma Informed Yoga Postures
Certain yoga postures may feel unsafe or triggering to trauma survivors. Be mindful of what poses you offer while also providing alternatives.
• Offer poses where students can feel successful.
• Be mindful of any postures where hips may be elevated or knees wide and offer alternatives.
• Downward Facing Dog, Forward Fold, Wide Leg Forward Fold, Butterfly Pose, Cat/Cow
• If you choose to offer these postures, offer alternatives and choices.
• Avoid postures or variations that may be triggering in some circumstances.
• Cactus Arms, Hands Behind Back, Prayer Hands
• During guided relaxation be mindful that some children may not feel safe laying on their backs or having their feet fan open.
• Demonstrate various options, but allow students to find a shape where they feel most safe to experience relaxation.
ASSISTING OR ADJUSTING STUDENTS
Avoid offering physical adjustments to assist students in postures to avoid retriggering. Instead, demonstrate and offer verbal cues talking to students through self-adjustments to help them feel successful. If choosing to offer physical adjustments or assists, it is recommended to do so when rapport has been built with the student. In addition, always ask students for explicit permission before helping them.
Music can be a fun and creative way to enhance a yoga class; however, there are some things to consider as we do not know what may trigger individuals who have experienced trauma.
• Select inclusive music that offers representation.
• You may want to consider using non-lyrical music, especially if you do know your students.
• Use non-dogmatic songs, avoiding chanting, devotional lyrics, prayers, etc.
• Always listen to the language in the entire song or Guided Mindfulness practice before using it in practice.
• Be aware of the volume of music.
• Use non-dogmatic songs, avoiding chanting, devotional lyrics, prayers, etc.
• Always listen to the language in the entire song or guided meditation before using in practice.
OBSERVING AND MANAGING TRIGGERS
While we can work to create an environment to minimize the risk of triggering students, it’s important to recognize that we do not know what postures, sounds, smells or language may overwhelm a student. A student having symptoms of a triggering event may experience some of the same physical and emotional responses that occurred at the time of the traumatic event including experiencing partial or full fight/flight/freeze response, rapid breathing or heartbeat, sweating, panic attacks, disassociation or crying. It may be important to allow students to work through a trigger on their own to practice self-regulation. However, as the yoga instructor, if you notice a student experiencing these responses, or who stops participating abruptly consider the following:
• Attend to the child discreetly helping them to bring awareness to their breath and letting them know they are safe.
• Recommend breathing techniques to anyone taking a “rest”.
• Depending on the setting, inform their classroom teacher, staff member and/or parent/guardian.
• If possible, discreetly check in with that student after class to see if they have someone safe to talk to such as a counselor, social worker, or staff member.
AUTONOMY OVER LESSONS
As a yoga teacher working with students with high ACE scores, you are responsible for taking autonomy over your lessons. It is important to remember to meet students where they are at. These lessons are written and created for the flexibility of you as the teacher and to best serve the demographic of students you are working with. Remember to “vibe check” the room you are walking into, feel out the energy of the students, and modify the lesson as you see fit.
Managing Compassion Fatigue
Finally, we all know the phrase ”you can’t pour from an empty cup”, and supporting children who have experienced trauma is not an easy task to complete and return to. With that in mind, we would now like to share considerations for your own care.
As a yoga teacher, it is your responsibility to develop your own personal self-care routines in order to hold a safe space for others and avoid symptoms of burn-out, compassion fatigue, vicarious or secondary trauma. Create healthy routines with good nutrition and exercise, get sufficient sleep, set boundaries, incorporate mindfulness and relaxation techniques, carve out quality time with friends and family and make time for activities that help you to feel joy. It is important to recognize that you may need support from others. Define what “holding space” means to you and identify those who can fulfill those needs for you.
As always, if you have any questions, you can always contact the Trauma Supports Directors at at firstname.lastname@example.org. Dusty Swehla or myself, Jodi Wasson, are happy to assist you.