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Finding our trauma-sensitive voice in current yoga pop-culture

“I raise up my voice - not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard.”

– Malala Yousafzai

How to find our stand as trauma-sensitive yoga teachers or TCTSY facilitators and how to develop our voice in the contemporary yoga scene? When cultivating and deepening our sensitivity for the relational power dynamics, it is sometimes challenging to see ourselves on the same boat with yoga teachers wielding their power in an authoritative manner, who are very much focused on the external manifestation of physical yoga poses, to observe residues of the guru culture, the belief that someone knows your body and understands your body better than you do, the belief that you should push yourself beyond your limits, the prescription to look and to be dressed in specific way. We might see that due to such a setting in some yoga classes it is not easy for the students to be interoceptive, therefore many people practicing yoga stay externally focused. The trauma survivors possibly coming to try yoga in such ambiance might not benefit from the practice at all, maybe even the opposite. One of the TCTSY facilitators interviewed in frame of the recent qualitative research, eloquently points out the difference of trauma-sensitive teaching from the phenomena which are part of current pop-yoga culture: “We’re not concerned about what clothes you’re wearing. We’re not concerned about you making the perfect crow pose. Trauma-sensitive yoga takes you inside and it’s all about the insides. Very, very different than burn off a brownie with a hundred sun salutations.” (Bodine, 2017).

But will be our trauma-sensitive voice and our gentle interoceptive cues heard in current expressive and clamorous world of yoga? I am sure it will. There is a need for it. Growing research is showing that this way of transmitting yoga makes sense and bring results for people who are on the path to recovery from trauma. And sometimes is the best to let speak the participants of our classes. “My healing experience has been amazing due to this practice. I could feel trauma melting out of my body, week to week – feeling less stress and more personal power and strength to make happy and healthy life decisions, as well as take positive dream centered chances on myself and live move at ease in the now.“ reflects one trauma-sensitive yoga student[1] her experience with eight weeks TCTSY course.

And also we can feel encouraged in going our direction, when we look back at the roots of yoga origins. TCTSY aligns perfectly with the basic core of yoga discipline and respects the principles in the yoga sutras. The most visibly in relation to the ahimsa or nonviolence - consistency of always giving people an invitation and a choice and letting everyone to have their own experience without predefining anything. In the words of Patanjali: “In the presence of one firmly established in non-violence, all hostilities cease” (Sutra II.35 in Bryant, 2009). Non-violence is a fertile soil where healing can happen and empowerment of our students can grow and flourish.

Back to ourselves

“Where there is great power, there is great responsibility.”

– Winston Churchill

To conclude I would paraphrase Proctor (2017): “the more ‘solid’ a yoga teacher's own sense of personal power is, the less likely they are to control or use power-over the student.” Therefore being firm in our ethics, aware of our power and the way we are using it, staying grounded, open to the feedback and self-reflective is the way how we can serve our students the best and keep healthy relationships not only with our students, but also with other people in our lives. I would encourage us, the yoga teachers, to become really aware of power dynamics within the teacher-student relationship with special sensitivity to those coming from different cultures than our own. As Traci Childress (2007) says “yoga teachers and therapists should be accountable for their behaviors that concern relational power and privilege, as for example psychotherapists do”. As I discussed earlier, in my opinion all the basic yoga teachers´ trainings should cover thoroughly the topic of teacher-student relationship, ethics and trauma-sensitivity and the related issues which are arising as the life goes on, should be dealt with care by the yoga community.

And although we discussed in the blog post series mostly the power relations in the dyad of yoga teacher - yoga student, there are also power relations in organizations and in institutions such as training organizations and professional bodies that affect these relationships on larger scale. The conscious works with power goes far beyond the interpersonal yoga teacher - student relationships and connects with the much wider political and social environment. But everything starts with the daily interactions - how we treat ourselves and the people around us.

[1] student of Nicla Mosley, TCTSY-F:

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