For centuries, Yoga has been practiced by bringing body and mind into harmony and, in recent years, interest in Yoga and mindfulness has grown considerably. Regular Yoga practice strengthens muscles and flexibility and contributes also to healing emotional wounds and traumata. Rabea König knows this, she is Yoga instructor for trauma-sensitive Yoga in Lüneburg. Her classes are attended by individuals with mental impairments and women affected by violence.
Dear Rabea, how is trauma-sensitive Yoga to be understood?
Trauma-sensitive Yoga, above all, is to be understood as a sensitive form of Yoga. Traumatized persons often relate of no longer sensing their body “properly”, they feel physically dull or numb. So-called flashbacks may occur, i.e. situations in which the traumatized individual is reminded of the traumatizing experience by a trigger and relives it emotionally. Yoga lessons should be focused on guiding participants to feel their own body in a space that is as trigger-free as possible. Hereby, detailed instructions are given by the teacher about what will be happening or is occurring just now – for example, whether it will be a quiet or physically demanding session or, if the instructor wishes to close a window during the final relaxation, this action should be mentioned beforehand and justified: "I will now getup again and close the window to create a more cozy atmosphere”. Such small framing actions help participants to orientate themselves, whereby trust can grow and support conveyed.
In what way does trauma-sensitive Yoga differ from other forms of Yoga?
Gentle exercises are ideally suited for TSY, in practicing them the participantcan feel inwardly how her body is reacting. In the process, I avoid positions thatlay the lap area bare, such as the standing tackle – Prasarita Padottanasana- or the plow – Halasana.
Should it be necessary to correct a position and the participant doesn’t resonate verbally or visually, I make her aware of it by asking her, if I may adjust her position and that it would involve touching her with my hands. Here a trusting relationship is required, since the participant could also reply to my question out of politeness or fear of rejection. This must always be taken into consideration and weighed individually.
Furthermore, TSY should be unbiased, as in other forms of Yoga (!). Mentioning external appearances doesn’t belong in Yoga class, nor do utterances that either reduce one’s self-esteem or push up the ego. Each Yoga class should be held neutrally, omitting personal comments as much as possible.
How did you come to TSY?
After completing my Yoga Instructor Training in 2015, I asked myself howI can bring Yoga across to those persons who do not simply walk into a Yogastudio - be it, they can't afford the monthly membership dues or they think they are not as slim and flexible as the rest of the participants. So, I came across the online association of Yoga for All, and became a supporting member. There, I discovered a further TSY training course and I registered. Sometime later, I started teaching in a refuge shelter for women, a psychosocial contact point for individuals with personal crisis experiences. Just as I had hoped, I am now working in both places with participants who have not yet had contact with Yoga by carefully introducing them to this new world of self-awareness. I am very grateful for that.
For whom is trauma-sensitive Yoga suitable?
Since TSY is gentle form of practice fitting for all persons who enjoy doing the motions of Yoga slowly and in silence. However, instructors should make sure that a safe and separate space is always at disposal for those who require it! For example, it could be quite problematic for a woman having experienced sexual violence by a man if there are men in the course.
How does this form of practicing Yoga benefit people?
Primarily, it is the experience of a “Safe Haven” that traumatized individuals get to know at TSY and a sincere and respectful instructor can create such a framework. In a room filled with the atmosphere of trust, the participants are able to concentrate better on feeling themselves as human beings. This feeling of oneself promotes body awareness, thus also strengthening confidence in one's own physical form.
In order to teach TSY, is it required to have a therapeutic background?
In the ideal case, instructors should have a therapeutic background in order to function adequately in situations demanding it. As I do not have the therapeutic background and should the need arise, I have the choice of discussing traumatic cases with social workers of the relevant institution, in order to better process or handle the problem of someone entrusted to me. This I have also been able to learn as a Yoga teacher on site.
Is it important for you to know the personal history of your students in order to avoid trigger situations?
You cannot have a trigger-free Yoga class, just as there is no trigger-free life. I try to establish a trusting relationship with the participants during the lesson, and in the moments before and after, as sensitively as possible.
How do you manage to build up a relationship of trust with your students?
Through a sincere, friendly and respectful contact. I state the facts of an “Is”-situation by also showing my “weak” side, e. g. when I'm feeling tired or react somewhat agitated when I am preoccupied with a problem. I think it is important to also show this side (of myself), not to be forced all the time to uphold the outer appearance of a perfect Yoga teacher for whom life runs completely smoothly.
In what way does teaching TSY appeal to you?
Most people hardly ever feel themselves in their daily life. Even traumatized individuals or persons often are not able to feel themselves, thus, they rarely experience a positive relationship with their body. Yet in Yoga class, they can perceive what certain parts of their body are sensing, how their shoulder, their neck are reacting. It is rewarding to see participants feeling so much better after class when they have taken time only for themselves again.
What has been your most gratifying Yoga experience so far?
Seeing each week how eagerly the participants are looking forward to the session and how they would miss it, if it wouldn’t take place! That alone is satisfaction for me!