Photo Credit: Stacey Cox 

This post is an excerpt from a longer podcast interview with our very own Sarah O’Connell, in which we dive into the art of creating choice based questions within a yoga practice, in particular, in Soul Studio’s Trauma Sensitive Yoga classes run in partnership with ACC and APT Services. 

Within this, we cover topics including trauma and sexual abuse, which some readers may find emotionally challenging, and individual discretion is advised. For questions and support, please email sarah@soulstudio.co.nz or visit www.aptservicesltd.com

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The Three Pillars within Trauma Sensitive Yoga 

Within the Trauma Centre Trauma Sensitive Yoga model, there are three pillars. These are: choice making, interoception, and effective choice making/action. 

Interoception is the opportunity – the choice to notice sensation physically in the body. Effective choice making is the result.

The first pillar of choice making sets the stage for invitational language, which then stems across the other two pillars also. 

Invitational Language in a Trauma Sensitive Yoga Class

When we facilitate a trauma sensitive class, every shape, every form is introduced via invitation. There’s no “shoulds”. There is no telling, there are no demands. Every stage in point of a shape is always prefaced by invitational language. 

So that might sound like:

“You might like to put your arm up by your side”. 

“You might like to lift your arm all the way to the ceiling”. 

“Your choice, however high you lift your arm is up to you … or not lift your arm. That’s also a choice.”

It’s the same bringing your arm down again. It’s the same moving through your shoulders or moving your neck. There’s always choices. 

The reason there are always choices is because the survivors, and these classes are survivors of relational trauma – that often looks like sexual abuse. These men and women have at some stage had choices around their bodies taken away from them. So for them, to be able to be in a safe space is paramount,  and invitational language helps to facilitate that safe space. 

Invitational Language helps to create a sense of agency that they may have lost at some time, I imagine. 

What to expect in a Trauma Sensitive Yoga Class

Within a group trauma sensitive yoga class, we normally have anywhere from 6 to 12 people in a room and they might sign up for one nine week term to begin with. The first three weeks are focused on choice making – we call it an AB choice. The second three weeks we’re looking at interoception; we’re inviting participants to notice sensation as they’re moving physically in their body. The final three weeks are about taking effective action through a combination of the two previous pillars. So you always build your building on it before you. 

We do the same shapes each week, the same shapes and forms. Up the front is the yoga facilitator – we don’t call them a teacher or an instructor. There is also a mental  health clinician present. The facilitator is inviting participants to find shapes and forms. The clinician alongside is doing the shapes or forms, and they may be doing a modification. For example, for some people, sitting on the floor is not an option, so the clinician may opt to sit on a chair and do chair yoga. That clinician is also looking at the participants to see if any of those participants need support. Sometimes participants might become noticeably upset. There might be some disassociation that occurs in the room. There might be some degree of triggering. So we’ve always got a clinician to help them where they need it. 

Why Teachers Might Consider Implementing Invitational Language in Yoga Classes

If you’re looking to support students to develop a yoga practice that is sustainable, then it’s good to give them options so that they can choose what suits them in any given shape or form, and every given pose and any given day and any given mood with any given injury or any different condition. It also seems to set up a clearer pathway for self led practice. 

Invitational language also enables a degree of curiosity. People explore what really is best for their unique body. Asking 

How does that feel?”  

“Yeah, that feels okay or not okay.” 

“And maybe I could do this instead”. 

The use of invitational language in yoga holds so many opportunities from a teacher – participant trust point of view. Greater trust builds when someone has autonomy in their practice. There is a lot that the teacher can learn from the student, when the teacher witnesses ways and which people decide and choose to try to move in their own bodies. 

Opportunities for Invitational Language Within the Yoga Studio Context

There are so many other opportunities in the context of the studio, in the way in which we deliver an invitation around membership or what a student might be committing to. There are ways of building and choices, and that might be simply saying something like:

“You possibly you might like to consider a ten class pass, or you might like to consider a monthly option”  

What you’re saying to the person is, this is your choice, rather than “we’ve got the ten class pass or we’ve got the monthly unlimited”.

It’s the intention and the energy behind. It’s showing  you, the student or you the client, that you’re at the front of this. 

There are opportunities, even, in the way we show people around. A simple thing in Soul Studio is we have little cubby holes where people can put their shoes or their gear or their clothes. So it could be

“you might like to leave your gear here, or you could leave it in the bathrooms if you’re more comfortable with that.” 

I hope that our community feels they are in a space where they’ve got agency. This space is for them. I hope that they’ve already been empowered before they even step on the mat. 

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We hope that this article has inspired you to consider your use of language in everyday life – on and off the mat – and has potentially encouraged you to consider how you might make some of it more invitational. 

If you are somebody seeking support and you feel trauma sensitive yoga may be helpful for you, please feel free to reach out to sarah@soulstudio.co.nz or visit www.aptservicesltd.com