Spaces where deep personal sharing is happening and yet psychological safety hasn’t been created are dangerous spaces.
I just got off a call with some of my fellow coaching fellows at the Institute of Coaching where we talked about what it means to create psychological safety in spaces where we ask people to be vulnerable. This is an important and ongoing discussion, but I immediately reflected upon my personal experiences in the yoga world and times when myself and others have been asked to share deeply personal truths, and yet no one set up the room for it to be a psychologically safe space.
This is an unfortunately common practice in yoga, specifically in teacher training programs. Students are asked to journal and write about very personal experiences and then asked to share in front of the group, ranging in sizes from very small to very large. It would be one thing if the share was as simple as that, a stand and share where everyone holds a kind of loving space for everyone. However what has often happened and I have witnessed is a kind of poking and prodding along that one of the leaders of the training takes on as a way to integrate the particular yoga methodology and practice. This is where it gets incredibly dangerous. More often than not, the teacher leading the training is not actually qualified to be doing such a thing. While yoga offers a beautiful healing practice, it does not often address the trauma that gets brought up when we are so vulnerable with our bodies.
For anyone who has been through some kind of therapy or program for healing physical and mental trauma, yoga feels like a very excellent compliment to healing the psychological wounds. However, when the line gets blurred from being a complimentary practice to a kind of inquiry that stirs up emotional trauma, facilitated by people who themselves aren’t capable of speaking to trauma informed work, it goes from a healing practice to a practice in creating more trauma.
Here is a general rule: If you can’t pack it back up again, skillfully, intelligently and responsibly, don’t unpack it in the first place.
Yoga isn’t therapy. It is an ideology and potential path that offers a lot of really great ideas by which to consider living your life. But it isn’t a substitute for real and good therapy and certainly not an appropriate space for trauma to be brought up. The real tragedy too is that just like all other spaces, the yoga room can also create new trauma when the leaders of the room refuse to hold themselves accountable for being the keepers of physical, mental, emotional and psychological safety. Yes, there is autonomy in each and every student. But when we invite a group of people into a space, at our profit no less, we have an obligation to be as certain as we can be that we are creating safe spaces, not doing more harm. To keep it yogic, it is the absolute epitome of ahimsa and unfortunately too often gets pushed aside for the feeling of personal power.
There are amazing trauma informed yoga therapists out there. There are responsible and ethical yoga teachers out there who know where the boundaries are of where their work ends and trauma informed specialists begin. But if you find yourself in a room where you are being asked to share vulnerably and personally and the psychological safety has not been spoken about or created, please my friend, walk out of that room. It’s no longer a space for you or for anyone who is interested in actually learning about yoga safely.
On a personal note, being a keeper of safe spaces as a yoga teacher, a coach and even a writer is something I am committed to and always looking to improve upon. It helps that I have gone through therapy as well as supported a partner in therapy, but all the same, improvements can always be made. I share this openly and honestly because I think it is a key component to de-stigmatizing as well as normalizing talking about how many of us who came to yoga, both as a practice and a profession, are attracted to the healing feelings it brings. At the same time, if we choose to take on a leadership role, we must know where our boundaries are. I can coach people and teach in the vulnerable space of yoga, but the moment trauma is involved, I must defer to a more qualified colleague. It doesn't take away from my own qualifications and ability and in truth, there have been many days in the last year when the consideration of going back to school has been brought up. But for now I would like to encourage us, teachers, may we humbly acknowledge our limits, not because they make us less than, but because the acknowledgement itself is what will ensure that the spaces in which we invite others into, are actually safe. And to every single student out there, if your safety is not put at the forefront, then you deserve a better teacher and safer space. Yoga isn't therapy. Let's stop trying to make it so.
is a Mama, Wife, Yoga and Meditation Teacher, Coach, Writer and Activist. You can read more about her here.