I’ll admit it. When I first saw I had to read an entire book on self-care for the Trauma Sensitive Yoga program I am taking, I kinda groaned inside. In fact, for the first three chapters, I thought “Yeah, yeah, I know all this,” because, really, over my career I’ve read lots about self-care, gone to seminars, etc. I felt like I knew it all intellectually, even though I knew I hadn’t done a great job of embodying the principles in my life.
Then I got to Chapter 4: The Sixteen Warning Signs of Trauma Exposure Response. Uh oh. I knew I was in trouble. It had been 5 years since I had worked in an extremely high stress job as a front line social worker where I had completely burned out. After recovering from burn out, I did some clinical social work for a couple of years and I thought I was good. I thought I had healed and was over it all. But then, I read the 16 warnings signs and realized I still bore the battle scars.
Okay, I know that last one – chocolate, coffesque beverages – sounds funny, but it’s actually an addiction to sugar and caffeine. It’s a way to self-medicate from stress. It’s an addiction. Some people drink copious amounts of coffee or tea to survive the day. Some people need to have a glass of wine or a beer at the end of the day to “unwind” but let’s call a spade a spade – it’s a form of evading the present moment…. an escape. My escape comes in the form of dark chocolate and coffesque beverages.
Even when I was reading the book, I felt myself feeling an emotional flashback. I felt the feelings of overwhelm, discouragement and darkness crowd in on me as I remember feeling helpless to help my clients. Feeling like no matter what I did, I couldn’t break the cycle for them or bring them freedom from the chains that bound them to darkness. Apparently it’s still there lurking in the corners of my mind and heart.
Then I got to the next five chapters: The Five Directions – a method of stewarding trauma to keep yourself healthy and whole. I was curious to see if these five directions would resonate with me or if they would seem kinda “airy fairy.”
North – Water – Creating Space for Inquiry – “Why am I doing what I’m doing?”
East – Fire – Choosing our Focus – “Where am I putting my focus? What is my plan B?”
South – Earth – “Creating a community and practicing compassion for self and others.”
West – Air – Finding Balance – “Engaging with our lives outside of work. Moving energy through. Gratitude.”
Space – A Daily Practice of Centering Myself.
These directions all resonated with me to varying degrees. I definitely felt more pulled to West – Air – Engaging with our lives outside of work, moving energy through and gratitude and Space – A Daily Practice of Centering Myself.
It’s been small things, itty bitty things but they are making a difference.
I made space in my life. I said no to some requests from others – both in my personal life and my professional life. No to coffee with a good friend was self care last week. No to networking events is self care for me. Everytime I engage in an activity I’m giving away a piece of my energy. Kinda like coins in a bank and as an introvert I need to make sure I have enough alone time, enough down time, for coins to go back into bank. Otherwise, I’ll be empty.
I started breathing. I know that sounds weird for a yoga teacher but I realized I wasn’t really breathing. Owning a busy yoga studio and raising three children is a busy gig, especially when one of them has a severe disability. I was breathing shallow. A lot. This was putting my nervous system into constant hyper alert. So I started to take time throughout my day here and there to remember to take deep breaths. Here and there. At my computer. Driving in the car. Eating dinner. Reading to my kids. Inhale Exhale.
I felt guilt saying no to time with a friend. I felt guilty not showing up to networking events. Heck, I even bailed on Thanksgiving dinner with my in laws because I had bad cold. But the guilt – those are just lies in my head. Those are lies that come from a world that is in constant overdrive telling me I must not be good enough, I must have failed if I can’t do it all. I’m starting to call the bluff on that. Our culture is full of so much anxiety and stress because everyone is constantly moving at a frenetic pace and I don’t want to partake in that.
I continue to reflect on how I can make more space in my life because that’s my biggest form of self care right now. Space. I need lots of space. Akash as we say in Sanskrit. Akash.
Physical touch. Consent. These are loaded words in our culture today. What place do these words have in the yoga studio?
Some love assists. Others loathe them.
And for good reason.
Physical touch has historically been a big part of yoga but over recent years, abuse in the yoga industry has come to light, making it controversial. Maybe even taboo in some places. Instructors are afraid they may injure someone. Or offend them. Or worse, that their assist may be misinterpreted as a sexual advance.
But some instructors don’t like giving assists for their own personal reasons: They aren’t big touch people. They have sensory issues. The idea of touching someone’s sweaty skin grosses them out. Or, their own personal story involves some difficult and painful experiences with touch.
Some folks have been injured by well meaning but overbearing instructors giving them more of a chiropractic adjustment than a simple, gentle gesture to support their practice. Some folks have been violated during an assist. And for some, touch triggers traumatic memories they wish they could run from forever.
These are the many complexities of touch in the yoga studio. And it’s time we start the dialogue.
These complex layers should be respected by both clients and instructors, while at the same time holding space for people who enjoy the benefits that hands-on assists can offer. After all, there can be a bond that happens when touch is involved that can be a beautiful and enriching experience for the instructor and student alike.
In the current social climate, touch has become a dirty word. I sometimes wonder if the lack of physical interaction we have with one another might be a contributing factor to, or perhaps a result of, the increasing social isolation in the West. When my son gets in trouble for play wrestling with his buddies at school, something doesn’t seem quite right. Healthy, positive touch releases endorphins that can improve our mental well being. The absence of touch can have profound affects on attachment for both children and adults as evidenced by numerous research studies. Yet in the same way, touch that is unwanted and/or forced can do a great deal of harm.
So where do yoga instructors contribute to this social dialogue about physical touch and consent? Sure, people come to yoga to get physically fit but the reasons don’t end there. People come to yoga looking for a safe place. A place to heal. A place to seek refuge. Instructors, have the to opportunity to aid in the healing journey of their students by offering them the choice about whether or not they want a hands-on assist.
But empowerment doesn’t end with our clients. Instructors need to be empowered as well.
Instructors, need to feel respected and valued regardless of whether or not they offer hands-on assistance to clients. A “yes” card doesn’t mean that an instructor will give that client an assist. Maybe the instructor doesn’t feel like it that day. Or maybe they don’t want the pressure of giving everyone an assist. Maybe they run out of time. Or maybe they just don’t give assists. And that’s okay too.
Consent is a dialogue and both parties have to agree to it… or it’s not consent! The introduction of consent cards allows us to have this dialogue with our clients without getting into a potentially awkward conversation. A client flips the card to yes or no. Enough said. And they can change their mind at anytime. Maybe they don’t want an assist during the active part of class but would sure love a little massage during Savasana.
Touch is personal. Consent cards attempt to hold space for people to be empowered – both instructors and clients.
Yoga by Sarah is excited to celebrate our Grand Opening week at our new Grantham Plaza location by hosting a Greater Niagara of Commerce Business After 5 event on Tuesday, February 6 from 5 – 7pm. We are looking forward to welcoming the Niagara business community into our beautiful new space to connect with each other and network, network, network! Be sure to bring lots of business cards and remember that the yoga studio is a “shoes-off” facility, so bring some socks or slippers along.
This event will feature delicious appetizers catered by The Vegan Hippie Chick, local craft beer poured by Niagara Oast House Brewers, and Niagara farmhouse red and white wine served by Cattail Creek Winery.
During our Grand Opening week we have all of our drop-in classes on sale for only $10/class, and Saturday, February 10 we are featuring FREE Community Classes all day long! Classes are first come, first serve, so come early to get your spot!
We’re open! After two very busy months of renovations, we have opened our doors today at our new location for Yoga by Sarah at the Grantham Plaza in St. Catharines. The new studio features a beautiful front entrance with more space for coats and shoes, 4 practice rooms, all larger than at our previous location, new change rooms, showers, and convenient parking. Come and check it out! We hope that you will love the space as much as we do, and that Yoga by Sarah will continue to be a welcoming place for your practice.
Our new address is 400 Scott St., Unit E3-4, St. Catharines, Ontario. We are located in the rear section of Grantham Plaza between Home Hardware and the Water Source. See you soon!