I almost walked out of a yoga class last winter.
As an introvert and a highly sensitive person (HSP), I’m quick to experience sensory overload. Too much stimulus makes me anxious.
If you’re sensitive like me, you may find it ironic that a practice based on quieting the mind can be so stimulating in a lot of studios these days.
As a yoga teacher myself, I want to share with you the secret to finding yoga studios and classes that offer calmer experiences. First, I’ll tell you what happened that made me want to run.
Overstimulation in Yoga
The snow came in spades that weekend. After introverting for days, I decided to try a new studio in my neighborhood.
I walked into a heated room with yoga mats crammed together all facing a wall of mirrors. The music was so loud that I could barely hear the teacher, which was a shame because what I did hear was helpful. Then repeated snapping of her fingers started…and I wanted to run.
I was adjusted in poses rather forcefully without her knowing the inner workings of my body — and without consent. This sensory overload contributed to a stressful experience, the opposite effect of what we aim for in yoga.
We all have preferences when it comes to yoga. Thus, I say this not to criticize, but hopefully to bring to light some alternative options for the sensitive person. The secret I give students is to seek out trauma-informed teachers.
What is Trauma-Informed Yoga?
Trauma-informed yoga is an approach that bears in mind that any student coming to a class may have experienced trauma, and some aspects of yoga can be re-traumatizing. The approach offers a framework for creating a safe space in which students can connect with their breath and increase body awareness.
When I began thinking about what makes yoga trauma-informed, I realized the same principles are perfect for introverts and HSPs. I’m not grouping introverts and HSPs with trauma survivors, but the overlap in how we require safe space is noteworthy.
I teach yoga at a great trauma-informed studio in the Chicago Loop called Room to Breathe Chicago. It’s been built by sensitive souls, and you can expect to walk into any class and have a calming experience. I actually teach all my classes this way, as I believe we all benefit from becoming more mindful of one another’s boundaries in a world that often feels stifling and disrespectful.
If you’re a sensitive person who is new to yoga, or you’ve had a negative experience, I highly suggest looking for teachers trained in trauma-informed yoga and studios that have missions that include language like “empowerment,” “gentle,” “choice,” “sensitive,” and “accessible.” Many trauma-informed teachers are indeed introverted or sensitive folks themselves.
Why Trauma-Informed Yoga Is Perfect for Introverts and HSPs
1. We provide options. We encourage choice, whether it’s taking rest or a variation of a pose. We focus on self-paced, dynamic movement that centers on body awareness and breath rather than rigid dogma or vigorous movement. When we use alignment cues, they’re to keep students safe and develop greater presence. Modifications are abundant in our classes.
2. We keep our music chill. Sometimes I don’t use music at all so students can focus on their breath. When I do use music, I opt for soft, calming melodies without many lyrics. Loud music in yoga creates what we call a “rajasic” experience, which, in this context, could be understood as overstimulating the nervous system, which results in exhaustion and imbalance.
3. We use minimal hands-on assists. We refrain from placing our hands on students unless we’ve built a relationship or the student clearly states they want adjustments. We use cards that students can flip over to indicate if they want assistance. We are conscientious about the adjustments we do offer. It’s your practice, and you should be able to move and breathe in community with respect for your personal space.
4. We avoid too much stimulation. If heat is going to be created in class, we facilitate that process from the inside out rather than lumping students together in a heated room. We’re careful to limit class sizes so students have personal space. We avoid too many visuals and smells. When so many of us are up in our head space all day long, we want to provide an opportunity to quiet the mind, not spin it into a tizzy of stress.
5. We are aware of our voices. It’s not that we all speak in soft voices, but we find the balance in strength and softness. Yoga is not a spinning class or boot camp. We offer more opportunities for silence and stillness.
6. We teach the essence of yoga. Our cuing weaves yogic philosophy and meaning into the practice in a way that is genuine and helps students connect to their experience. We support the positive effects yoga has on the body, but will never teach it as a group of poses to be conquered. We cultivate interoception, the sense responsible for detecting internal regulation responses within the body, such as respiration, heart rate, and other physical sensations.
7. We don’t teach with mirrors. Yoga certainly encourages reflection. Self-reflection. The internal reflection you find when you are deep in your breath and body, connected to your present experience.
Not all trauma-informed yoga teachers are introverts or HSPs, and not all introverted and sensitive yoga teachers are trauma-informed. Yet, the intersection I see is the keen awareness of what creates a calm, safe environment that nourishes students and fosters introspection.
Are you a highly sensitive/introverted/trauma-informed yoga instructor or a student that knows a teacher who is? If so, please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to build my resource list worldwide to refer students appropriately.
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