“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” ― Mahatma Gandhi
by Lauren Taus
As a psychotherapist and a yoga teacher, my life is dedicated to service. I feel immensely grateful for the opportunity to help my clients and students cultivate deeper connection with them selves and others. I see it too as somewhat of a dyadic process where I am constantly spurred towards my own evolution, and I hope to grow for the rest of my life while helping others to do the same.
Recently, I’ve partnered with JUJA Active to offer a unique subset of my training and skills as a clinician and Trauma Sensitive Yoga teacher (TSY) at Sanctuary for Families, a domestic violence shelter, in New York City. TSY has been empirically researched at the Trauma Institute in Boston by trauma scholar Bessel van der Kolk, and its been proven to reduce trauma symptomology.
This service is especially important because most “yogis” in the U.S. are people with privilege and education. Teaching in a shelter or a clinic means that I not only get to debunk ideas around what yoga is and isn’t, who can do it and who can’t, but it also means that the healing benefits of this powerful, ancient practice become part of communities that desperately need it.
I’m not suggesting that domestic violence is strictly an issue in underprivileged communities. It isn’t. But I do know that the clients at Sanctuary are dealing with a number of socio-economic challenges beyond their abusive partners. Teaching them how to peacefully embody their bodies is an incredibly important part of their healing, and what I offer to them looks very different than what I would teach at Pure or Equinox for example, and here’s how.
When I work with trauma survivors, I participate in the entire class in order to mitigate my role as an authority, and to create authentic shared experience. I don’t play music because I realize that it can be distracting for some, and worse, maybe a trigger. I keep the lights on for the same reason.
I focus on CHOICE because, in traumatic circumstances, there isn’t any. I say things like, “Maybe, when you’re ready, you might reach your arms over head.” Not, “Reach your arms over head.” It’s a subtle difference, but it matters. Essentially, I try to precede every motor cue with invitational language to send the message that you are free to move in any way at all. You aren’t trapped.
I also aspire to increase levels of proprioception, of awareness around sensation and one’s ability to control the degree to which they feel. Dissociation, not surprisingly, is a hallmark of trauma. People learn to disconnect from the body and any sensation inside of it as a means to survive. The body becomes an enemy of sorts because of its failure to provide protection. Healing requires a shift, and while learning to feel again can be scary, over time, a gentle homecoming can happen.
The last key difference is NO assists. Adjusting a person’s body can send the message that they’re doing it wrong (shame-inducing), and it can also remove the person’s sense of control. In my regular classes, I sometimes see people stiffen or startle to my touch, and while I have no idea why, I wonder if they too are healing from a traumatic experience. But in these classes at the shelter, you better believe I’m keeping my hands to myself! The lack of touch here creates space for a person to be comfortable with touch on their own time, and that matters!
You have no idea how happy I feel when I hear these students say, “I feel a stretch, and it’s nice.” “I feel relaxed.” Or “My body feels good.” Over time and practice, I hear things like, “I feel friendly towards myself again.” I’m more open to touch from my partner.” “I can be present.” And that growth, my friends, is some seriously advanced yoga!
Trauma sensitive yoga is proven to make deep and quick inroads towards reducing trauma symptomology. But, like I said, yoga isn’t common in these communities that are in need. As well, yoga isn’t high on the budget for clinics and shelters right now. I believe that the developing body of research may lead that to change because yoga as treatment works.
Until then, I invite you to support me and JUJA in bringing this healing service to the women at Sanctuary.
May we all feel peace at home in our bodies.
Lauren Taus is a psychotherapist, writer, a life coach and a yoga instructor. Based in NYC, she has an upcoming retreat in Costa Rica. laurentaus.com
Support Sanctuary Today: