Fitness Magazine

Trauma Resurfacing in the Body, Part 3

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Nina

Trauma Resurfacing in the Body, Part 3

Meditating Together by Melina Meza

Three years ago when Baxter, Brad, and I started this blog, I was hoping that it would not only be a place where we could share some of our own knowledge about yoga, aging, and yoga for healthy aging, but that we would be able to engage in some interesting discussions with our readers as well. After all, we all have so much to learn from each other. In a way, perhaps because many of readers weren’t that comfortable using the comments section—or perhaps we just didn’t have enough readers in the early days—that “discussion” part of our blog never really took off. However, I’m very pleased that recently we have been getting some really interesting comments (see Friday Q&A: Trauma Resurfacing, Crying in Class, Part 2 ) and that some very stimulating exchanges have been taking place. And one particular topic, trauma resurfacing in the body, has triggered a lot of interesting discussion. Just the other day a reader wrote to me privately with some very interesting comments and suggestions related to the two posts Friday Q&A: Trauma Resurfacing, Crying in Class and Friday Q&A: Trauma Resurfacing, Crying in Class, Part 2. I found the comments so important, that I asked the reader for (and received) permission to post the email on our blog. So today, our main post will be written by this reader, who prefers to remain anonymous. (All of you should know that if you write to me privately or leave an anonymous comment, I will do everything possible to protect your anonymity if that is what you prefer.)
After this reader’s comments, I will provide an additional note from myself to clarify something that I believe the reader misunderstood. We corresponded about this misunderstanding and the reader also approved the content of my note. I’m only including the note because I believe that this clarification would be helpful for all our readers.
Email from Our Reader 
First, thanks to you and Baxter for addressing these concerns so thoroughly and providing resources. Having seasoned teachers like you take this seriously is very meaningful and reassuring.
I have only one qualm with what the two of you pulled together. I think you may run the risk of over-pathologizing emotional issues. They are really no different from physical ones, especially if they begin in the physical. Here is what I think is appropriate, from a student’s perspective (which I know is different than yours and you are free to disagree with me):
1. First, we all acknowledge yoga can kick up difficult emotions for people. So ideally teachers should get a tiny bit of training in this area. For example, Mental Health First Aid is a program that gives people tools to be helpful, while also setting boundaries. The training is not intensive and is designed for non-professionals. The result for yoga teachers would be something close to an intervention in class like Baxter described. But an explicit focus as part of teacher training would offer new teachers some scientifically grounded information, a couple concrete tools, and would de-stigmatize the emotional aspects of the practice—which is very empowering for both teachers and students.  
2. Second, if a student approaches you after class, here is what would have helped me (I am lucky to have gotten some of this). Please recall I was a beginning student at the time. More seasoned students might not need this. 
3. A bit of sympathy and an acknowledgement that it took courage to trust you with this information (the amount of shame associated with certain kinds of trauma cannot be overstated). 
4. Validation that, yes, yoga can surface strong emotions and memories. The student is not crazy. This happens, a lot and for different reasons.   
5. Empowerment —Reiterate that :  
  • the student is welcome in your class 
  • class is a safe place
  • the student can retreat to child's pose (or whatever helps) whenever he or she likes during future classes 
  • as the student learns his or her triggers (which can take time), the student should feel free to modify or ask for help with modifications from you. For me, I learned it was using a strap in bridge and other poses that was triggering me. So it was no straps for a long time.
6. Offer more resources if the student asks or you think they would be helpful. It is preferred that these recommendations are specific, not 'find a therapist,' but 'this is the name of a yoga teacher who specializes in things like this.'
In reflecting on this aspect of my yoga practice, it occurs to me that we spend a lot of time talking about our edges in class. And for me—after a lot of confusion and ups and downs—these memories simply turn out to be an unconventional kind of edge. Holding it in that space has allowed yoga to do its good work. And I am profoundly grateful for that.
Thanks again for all your thoughtful responses and for being willing to dig deeper into this topic.
Note from Nina
So many of those suggestions are excellent, don’t you think? And I love what the reader said about how the memories “simply turn out to be an unconventional kind of edge” and that “Holding it in that space has allowed yoga to do its good work.”
I would say, however, that I don't feel Baxter and I “over-pathologized” emotions that arise during yoga. What we meant was a person could be crying for ANY reason. For example, though some kind of trauma could be resurfacing, crying could also be the result of something more mundane, such as the person broke up with their lover, their cat is sick, the teacher read a poem that was so beautiful it brought tears to their eyes, or even they just feel relieved to be at yoga class after a stressful day—whatever. That's why the teacher shouldn't make assumptions about the reason for crying and try to comfort the person with words (which would also disturb the class in general and draw attention to the person in question). And, of course, if the student approaches the teacher before or after or before class to explain why there will be or was crying, it is completely appropriate to express sympathy and compassion in general, and for the teacher to reassure the student that it is not uncommon and that the class is a safe space. And if the student’s situation is serious, such as depression, anxiety, trauma resurfacing, and so on, it might be kinder to ask gently, “Are you seeing a professional about this?” because if the answer is yes, than you could just let them know this is a good idea and that yoga can be an excellent supplement to therapy. And if the answer is no, you could gently suggest, “Perhaps you should consider doing so. If you like, I can find some recommendations for you.”

I would also like to say that I hope this blog is a safe space where we can respectfully discuss controversial topics. So speak up, everyone! You can do this either in the comments section of our blog (see How to Comment) or on our Facebook page.  I moderate all the comments but I always publish anything legitimate, even if the reader disagrees with our postings. The only comments that I delete are those I believe to be spam. And you can always write any of us privately via the Contact Us page. 
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