1. Make Your Classes Trauma Sensitive
Trauma makes us vulnerable to triggers that re-activate old pain and the accompanying emotions and thought patterns, making us react overly emotional in what for others may seem unimportant situations. It also keeps the nervous system dysregulated, either in a constant fight-or-flight mode or shut down in a freeze state. Trauma also disconnects us from the body. It can keep us stuck in the mind, resulting in a lack of physical well-being.
Make your classes more trauma-sensitive by creating an atmosphere of absolute safety with your words, suggestions, and in the way that you lead your class. Choose exercises that help students regulate their nervous system. And finally, help students to reconnect with their body and trust their own intuition, within their practice as well as in their daily lives.
2. Understand The Difference Between Overstimulation and Understimulation
In Yoga Therapy, we look at patterns of ill-health through the lens of overstimulation and understimulation. Some symptoms, like stress, anxiety, racing thoughts, restlessness, and anger are symptoms of overstimulation. In Yoga Therapy this is called Rajas. When students are overstimulated, we need to lead and sequence our class in a way that helps them to unwind and relax. Sometimes this actually means to start your class with more active practices so that students can release some of their built-up energy. On the other side of the spectrum, we find students who are understimulated, or Tamasic. This can be due to energy stagnation or because their nervous system shut down into freeze due to a frightening or painful experience. It’s how the nervous system protects itself from extreme overstimulation. Understimulated students need to learn how to gently mobilize again. In the case of shutdown, we need to approach movement in a very gentle and trauma-safe way.
3. Bring Students into Their Hearts
All suffering comes from a feeling of lack of love and disconnection. Whether that’s because we’ve experienced a lack of love in our lives or are struggling to find a source of love within ourselves. But often, these two come together. That’s why a heart-centered approach to yoga is so important.
There are many practices that help students connect to their hearts, both in a psychological and emotional way, and in a spiritual way. Think of a guided relaxation practice for the heart, a compassion meditation, or an inner child journey.
Offering safe and deeply healing spaces requires education, personal practice, teaching experience, and a big dose of compassion.
Deniz Aydoslu, MSc, E-RYT, is a criminologist and Yoga for Mental Health Teacher and teacher trainer. She researches and teaches on the intersection of embodied movement and mental health, including yoga, somatics, dance, mindfulness, and relaxation therapy. She creates soft yet powerful healing spaces where people can reconnect to their bodies, feelings, and heart so that they can live with more resilience, authenticity, and joy.
Deniz is the founder of Somatic Yoga for Mental Health and runs teacher training programs for yoga teachers and (mental) health professionals. She is a Yoga Alliance Certified Continuing Education Provider.