What's the purpose of the yoga?

Both my public classes and my trauma-informed classes mainly focus on movement and breath. Power vinyasa is the branch of yoga that initially spoke the most to me, and while most of my trauma-informed yoga classes are considerably slower and gentler than a typical power vinyasa class, this is still the style that has been healing and invigorating to me.

As someone who is active almost every day, a vigorous yoga practice feels good to my body, and offers a tool to keep my mind engaged in the present moment. People who can benefit from yoga, including but not limited to trauma survivors, come in all different physical ability and experience levels, and some are no doubt turned off by a slow-paced or meditation-based yoga practice - perhaps even more so those dealing with trauma as introspection can be scary (for anyone, but all the more so if you've been through some bad times).

This doesn't mean I think those practices have no value, just that some people who can benefit from yoga more broadly will simply never do them. Plenty of instructors offer classes with little movement or primarily seated poses - there is room for all different modalities, including the ones that speak to me.

So if I'm teaching a largely physical practice, do I think achieving yoga postures is the goal of this practice? No! And this is true both in public classes and in trauma informed classes.

My view is that yoga postures provide a context for:

a) taking care of the physical body and mental health.

b) bringing our awareness to the present moment, at least in part through some attention to where our body is in space and alignment, and

c) improving our own body-mind connection, noticing where our body in space, how moving one part might affect something else, linking breath and movement.

In a public yoga class at a studio, it can be fun and empowering to realize you can move your body into a "peak posture" that you didn't know you could...but even in a mainly physical practice where I may offer a peak pose, I don't believe this is the PURPOSE of the practice.

So are the yoga poses the tool for "releasing" trauma? Personally I do believe "even" emotional trauma has an impact on the body; how we hold our bodies impacts our mindset (see Amy Cuddy's talk on "power poses" which is not specific to yoga, for an overview of this idea, which I would argue has been a part of yoga for a long time pre-TED talks). If we hold tension in our muscles following a traumatic experience, it can continue to affect our mindset if those muscles aren't un-tensed ... and offers a very literal explanation of why stretching and un-tensing may feel like a mental release.

I do not believe that movement alone, at least in the sense of doing a specific yoga pose with a specific alignment, will "release trauma" from an area where it is "held". And, accordingly, I don't believe people NEED to move their body in a super-specific way to draw benefits, again even in a practice that is largely physical in nature.  I've written my views on how yoga can help us heal-and (spoiler alert) it is not getting really deeply into half pigeon.

There are forms of therapeutic treatment such as Somatic Experiencing, for instance, which incorporates movement alongside other techniques to help survivors heal from trauma.  SE and other treatment techniques have bodies of work explaining and supporting them, and my impression - as a yoga teacher and informed reader - is also that they make a lot of sense. That said, I would never claim I could implement this sort of thing based on my 200-hour yoga teacher training, even with a handful of additional 25-hour workshops under my yoga belt. I don't think most yoga teachers, myself included, even have the language to summarize the scientific framework for how SE works (but there IS a scientific framework for it!).

This still leaves a question, though - if you teach yoga in the sense of postures and breath, but achieving postures isn't the ultimate goal, how do you teach alignment in trauma-informed classes?