As a yoga teacher with Complex PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), yoga didn’t always feel safe. My first yoga class was filled with flashbacks, triggers, and a sense of powerlessness. Luckily, it didn’t stay that way, but I understand the anxiety a yoga class can cause when you don’t feel in control of your body and surroundings.
For those of us that have PTSD, we can find a safe place on our mat, and with a few tips, you might just feel ready to take a huge step in healing your body.
1. Seek A Class That Honors Non-Physical Assists
Physical assists can be extremely overwhelming and unwelcome if you have PTSD. I personally have been in a yoga class where a teacher has come up behind me, placed their hands on my back, and have been triggered. Eliminating physical touch in a yoga class is no guarantee that those flashbacks or unpleasant feelings won’t come, but it is a step closer to finding safety on your yoga mat.
What can you do?
- Call or e-mail the studio ahead of time and ask for the names of any teachers that do not give physical assists. In the yoga world, it can be difficult to find those teachers, so you might want to call around to a couple in your area. You do not have to explain your situation if you’re not comfortable - just explain what you’re looking for and hopefully you will get a couple of options.
- If you feel comfortable, you can go to a class and explain to the teacher that you do not wish to be physically touched. Some teachers even ask discreetly at the beginning of class. If you’re concerned that the teacher won’t offer, ask to speak with them before class starts and say, “I’m not sure if you are assisting in class tonight, but I would prefer not to be touched.” Establish your boundaries to provide a safe foundation to your practice.
2. Skip Certain Poses
There are some poses that can be more harmful than helpful. Poses such as tabletop (aka hands and knees), Happy Baby (laying on back with legs lifted), and Downward Facing Dog are often taught in yoga classes but may cause uncomfortable triggers or flashbacks.
What can you do?
Be aware of what poses are triggers for you, and find another pose to take instead. If you know certain postures can be a trigger or cause any sort of anxiety - know in advance, so that if an instructor offers it, have an alternative instead.
The table below offers some suggestions:
|Happy Baby||Legs Up the Wall, Hip Stand|
|Tabletop||Child’s Pose, Chair|
|Downward Facing Dog||Child’s Pose, Forward Fold, Puppy Pose|
It’s also important to recognize the poses that are being offered are only suggestions. You are the boss when it comes to your body. It’s ok to walk out of the room, and leave if you need to.
3. Experiment With Savasana Variations
The last and final pose of the yoga class, Savasana, can cause some to feel very uncomfortable. The physical purpose of the pose is to allow the body to recharge from the physical practice. The “typical” Savasana pose begins with the student laying on their backs, with their legs long and arms out to the side with their eyes closed. The teacher may or may not turn off the lights, and most likely will remain silent during this time period.
What can you do?
If this pose or the environment causes you to be uncomfortable, here are some options you can experiment with to find what is the most restful for you:
- Instead of laying on your back, turn and rest on your favorite side. Explore bringing your knees in close to the chest and resting that way.
- Come up to a seated position and sit however is most comfortable for you. Placing your hands on top of your legs or on the floor can provide a safe and grounding connection.
The most important thing is to make yourself as comfortable as you can. Know that if you need to move your body, you have that choice. Savasana is your rest time, so find what works for you!
Yoga can create an amazing mind-body connection but navigating through a yoga class when you have PTSD can be scary. Even if you’ve never felt like you have had a choice in your body, know it is possible to feel safe in yoga class. With these tips, you can alleviate some anxiety and who knows? Maybe you’ll try something new and begin to reclaim your body from your traumatic past.
Do you struggle with PTSD and want to try yoga? What questions do you have? If you’ve been to a yoga class, what do you wish someone would have told you before you went?
By Nicole Anthony - Nicole was born to help others discover Radical Self-Love. As CEO and Founder of Anchored Yoga, she uses yoga, discovery work and meditation to help women break through the barriers of their past so they can live a vibrant & authentic life. Take the next step in your self-love journey and get your Roadmap to Radical Self-Love: a free quiz by clicking here.
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