The other night I was one of the speakers on this panel discussion in Chicago. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and I was invited to be on this panel by The Breathe Network. The Breathe Network is an excellent online resource for trauma survivors looking for practitioners of holistic modalities and I am proud to be a member.
It was a great event with a big turnout. The other three presenters spoke about their modalities, Biofeedback, Holistic Psychotherapy, and Reiki. I learned from all three presenters and what was interesting was that we all had a single thing in common, as noted by the moderator: the BREATH and HOW WE BREATHE can change things for us mentally, emotionally, and physically.
Many of you know that I am a long time student (10+ years) in the Krishnamacharya Yoga tradition and that the Yoga I teach is all about the breath, a breath centered practice. I have seen how conscious breathwork can change lives. Yes, literally, such as with trauma survivors and people with anxiety attacks and major stress. They learn to self-regulate just as the ancient yogis, the sramanas, discovered that asana and breath can regulate their internal systems.
“Trauma sensitive” and “trauma informed” Yoga are buzzwords in modern Yoga but when I did my four day Trauma Sensitive Yoga training at The Trauma Institute, I realized how the training was a retooling of what I learned at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram insofar as therapeutic yoga. It was nothing new to me. The only thing new was the information about the physiology of trauma, the parts of the brain that are affected, and some languaging, the “technical” stuff.
Before I did that training in 2011 I had already been teaching for 6 years to survivors at a domestic violence shelter starting in 2005. I intuitively knew that what I had learned in India and from my own insight meditation practice would help them. And it did, tremendously — because it was a breath centered Yoga practice. The survivors learned how to be in charge of their own physiological systems.
After our 90 minute discussion we had breakout groups where attendees could ask us questions. I had handouts of articles (one that I wrote) about how Yoga helps with PTSD. More than a few young people (“young” meaning college age students) took my handouts and then it got interesting — they started telling me about their experiences in Yoga studios. Note that this was in Chicago so they were talking to me about studios there.
I preface what comes next by saying that I no longer attend public Yoga classes so I don’t know what people are teaching nowadays. If I do go to a studio it will be to my teacher’s class at the studio where I certified as a teacher 15 years ago (one of the first studios to open in Chicago.)
I take that back — I DID go to a class just last week. It was a gong meditation plus Yoga class and one of my students came with me. I know that every teacher is trained differently, has his/her own style, and I am 200% sure there are many who would hate my classes and probably with a vengeance. But I was stunned at the practice. Shocked even.
The teacher was also a “woman of a certain age” and whom I know has been teaching longer than me. There was absolutely no attention paid to the breath. In fact, I could not even catch my breath because the sun salutation was so fast. I decided (of course!) to move at my pace with my own breath ratio.
My long time student was incredulous and instead of a calming, grounding practice to go into an hour long gong session (by the way, I was NOT expecting a gentle or restorative practice, just a more mindful one) I felt completely agitated. This is the reason why I no longer attend public classes taught by teachers whose teaching styles I don’t know.
Each person at my table at DePaul asked me “where do I find a class as you describe?” Because EACH student told me “I take Yoga but …” It’s “competitive.” A “work out.” “No one talks about the breath.” “I feel intimidated.” “How should I breathe?” “They don’t teach meditation.” If I lived in Chicago instead of 40 miles away I’d probably have a dozen new students now.
Finally, what made me sad was a trauma survivor who told me she went through a teacher training program at a corporate Yoga studio chain. I won’t say which one but they are all over Chicago and other big cities. Many times they open down the street from independent studios.
She told me that she went there looking for a more meditative, what she called “spiritual,” YTT. Instead, she told me the training triggered her PTSD, so much so that she completely stopped her own Yoga practice. What was worse, she told me, that when she tried to tell her trainers what was happening with her, no one knew how to help her.
She finished the training but no longer practices. She told me that in order to teach she knows she has to work on herself. She asked me how to get back on the Yoga horse. I said slowly and recommended Sarah Powers’ book, Insight Yoga, and her DVDs. I gave her my card, it was all I could do, and told her to contact me if she got stuck.
After listening to the questions and comments, I was re-inspired to create a teacher training so I had better get my ASSana in gear before I go to India in November. But I am SO STUCK, I don’t know where to start. Mainly because I don’t know where to begin in writing a manual. You can’t charge $3,000 for a training and not have a manual, people expect one after dishing out the dough. But I only know how to teach OLD SCHOOL, the way I am taught in India. You sit down, listen, and take notes. In all my years at KYM the only handouts I have are from asana and meditation classes. Ten plus years of notes will make a kick ass YTT. I’ve already decided that this book will be the class text.
But when the day comes when I have a Metta Yoga: Mind-Body Education training you can bet your ASSana that I will have sliding scale payment for survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and vets with PTSD.
What the hell are they teaching out there?