Updated: Sep 10
There are many different styles of yoga from which to choose. It can be difficult to know what is okay and what is inappropriate in a class. I want to talk about how to find a safe yoga class, whatever style you choose.
I am a big fan of yoga, because it offers so many benefits for the mind and body. Yoga is very grounding and helpful for anxiety. If you are a beginner, I highly recommend finding an alignment based studio that offers props. Many Western bodies need props to practice correctly and prevent injuries. The Triad Yoga Institute is known for their alignment based classes and yoga wall, which is great for back traction. My favorite class there is the Healthy Back and Spine class. All of the instructors are very well trained.
Trauma and Yoga
I took a yoga class this morning that had an unexpected focus. I did not know until the class started that it was about processing trauma through the body. Sounds interesting, right? Well, I had a full blown anxiety attack and had to leave the room. I felt like the walls were closing in on me. Given this experience, I wanted to clarify a few things about yoga classes.
There are certified yoga therapists who work with trauma victims. This can be very helpful when done correctly, because our bodies and minds are absolutely connected. It is appropriate to expect trauma related material in a class with a yoga therapist. However, this type of activity should NOT be taking place in your average yoga class, because the average instructor is not trained to deal with the possible outcomes. For example, if a student has an anxiety attack, will the instructor know what to do?
I see a lot of well meaning yoga teachers thinking that it’s okay to spring these types of classes on unsuspecting students, and it’s just not. Students should be allowed to decide if they want to attend a class of this nature. Yoga teachers need to realize that trauma victims can be easily triggered. What may be a completely benign pose or class for one person can be a huge trigger for someone else. Therefore, students can actually be re-traumatized. I know that isn’t the intent of the instructor, but the results can be unfortunate.
Lets talk about some red flags in yoga classes. If you come across any of the following situations, you have a right to be concerned. In other words, you have a right to bail on a class or instructor who does any of the following in class.
If a class starts with an instructor announcing a theme you are uncomfortable with, you have the right to leave. Trust your gut and leave at the beginning.
My number two red flag (and personal pet peeve) is the “body part of the day” class. This is the class where the instructor announces, “Today we are going to work on X.” I hate these type of classes, because they create and magnify body imbalances. You have a whole body.
Let’s talk about touch. If an instructor touches you at any point, they should ask first. Touch should be about helping to adjust you in a pose. You have the right to say no, and you have the right to say stop if it becomes uncomfortable.
It is okay to decline props or poses that make you uncomfortable physically or emotionally. Some props, such as straps can be huge triggers for trauma victims.
It is okay to need props to accommodate the needs of your body, for example a strap, block, or bolster.
An instructor should never force you to go too far into a position, because you risk injury. You know your body’s limits best.
A Safe Space
Yoga should be a challenging, but enjoyable experience. It is unacceptable for a class to make you uncomfortable or leave you in pain. You may experience an emotional release in a class, but you should never be pushed into a full blown anxiety attack.
I think it’s tempting to believe that whatever an instructor does is okay. Please know that this is not always the case. Follow your gut. Modify poses, or leave if you feel uncomfortable.
Take time to find a safe yoga class. You deserve a safe space. Namaste!