Enlightened Events Blog

Should you touch or adjust a student affected by trauma

Trina Bawden-Smith - Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Working with people recovering from trauma requires some special considerations, especially when it comes to the use of touch and making adjustments.

There are 3 main types of adjustments a yoga teacher can offer:

• Visual adjustments: modeling the movement or adjustment 

• Verbal adjustments: using language to describe the movement or adjustment

• Physical adjustments: using touch to direct focus and attention

Physical adjustments, in the context of trauma sensitive yoga, are considered a clinical issue and need to be very carefully considered as many forms of trauma involve some sort of physical violation or restriction. The student may interpret the touch as a traumatic reminder and experience overwhelming emotions, intrusive memories or dissociative flashbacks.

According to Sal Flynn, trauma specialist, Yoga therapy educator, and psychotherapist, Yoga teachers/therapists may find it useful to consider the following questions when considering adjustments for their trauma sensitive yoga class:

• Is an adjustment necessary? Following externalised ideals of ‘what is right’ takes a person away from their embodied experience and helping a trauma student reconnect with their felt sense should be a primary objective. The trauma student will often benefit more from just having their own experience without the pressure of being ‘text-book’ perfect. 

• Is safety an issue? If the student is at risk of hurting themselves, for example, by adopting an incorrect alignment, use visual and/or verbal cues to assist them. These types of cues can be used freely but limit their use to safety concerns rather than perfection of poses.

• Would the use of touch be of significant benefit to this student at this moment? Touch can be a powerful way of directing attention and focus, and in some circumstances may be appropriate although there are several cautions to be aware of with the use of touch.

- Have you asked for permission? Prior to the class it might be appropriate to ask your student whether they mind the use of touch. An explanation of how this might occur and in what circumstances it may be used should be explained so your student can make an informed decision.

- Limit your use of touch to focusing a student’s attention rather than to guide or move them. For example, placing your hands on the back ribs with permission to direct attention to how breathing can be felt in the back of the body.

- Lessen the intimacy. For example if you want your student to feel the movement of the belly in breathing, ask them to place their own hand on their belly and you can then place your hand on top of their hand. This is far less intimate than you placing your hand directly on their belly, but allows you to use subtle pressure if required.

Sal Flynn will be conducting a workshop on Surviving Trauma: Integrating Mindfulness, Yoga Therapy and Neuroscience.

At this workshop, you will learn and practice trauma-informed Yoga and meditation techniques that can cultivate mindful embodiment and allow the nervous system to heal and build resilience, restore personal integration and self regulation.