Why Children Need Trauma-Informed Yoga…

Why Children Need Trauma-Informed Yoga

A year ago, in my idyllic view of the world, I thought I would be able to teach yoga and mindfulness to inmates. I studied the methodology, did my research, organized an event, read Best Practices in the Criminal Justice System and took trauma-informed training. However, legislation in the state I reside in is not keen on yoga as a life-skills program in order to rehabilitate prisoners. One of the key takeaways I remember from the workshop was, “Where am I not showing up in my life?”

At around the same time, I was visiting my son’s school daily and lightly mentioned volunteering to teach yoga at his elementary school. The principal was not keen initially until I mentioned I had taken a trauma-informed mindfulness workshop. Six months later after the principal did her own research and she approached me about leading a trauma-informed program for the elementary school, for kids aged 5 to12. I was elated as interpersonal trauma starts young and this action could potentially help prevent future crimes.

In fact, “Children and adolescents in the U.S. suffer numerous stressors in both family and school settings, which are known risk factors for mood and other psychological disorders. A recent U.S. survey suggests that the cumulative prevalence of psychiatric problems by 21 exceeds 80 %.” Dr. Sat Bir Khalsa, Best Practices for Yoga in Schools.

SEE ALSO: What Is Karma?

Why should yoga, meditation, and mindfulness be ubiquitous?

Children today receive the message that in order to do the “right thing” they need to conform to other’s expectations (ex. follow rules, pass tests, etc.) Furthermore, the old paradigm, of being slapped on the wrist and shamed publicly can cause low self-esteem for life. Having yoga providers in the system can provide a different experience in which children learn to value the internal positive messages from their bodies and minds. Within each public school system, there is a mix of special needs, high needs, ASD (Autism Spectrum), and those afflicted by trauma.

Teaching children how to regulate emotions early on could prevent school shootings as well. Of 97 school shootings, the median perpetrator age is 21. Furthermore, four of 16 school events were committed by those aged 18 to 20.

The facts

Exposure to difficult or extreme circumstances overwhelms a child’s ability to cope with life and learn from it. What is the operational definition of trauma? Trauma is abuse, neglect, accidents, natural disasters, illness). Trauma is an emotional response that affects how one relates to others, what they perceive as a threat, and how their nervous system manages input from other people and the environment.

Children and teens who have experienced trauma behave in ways that are challenging or confusing to their teachers, parents, and other caregivers. That’s just it. A more trauma-informed aware society creates more empathy. By the time one is 21, regardless of race or socioeconomic background, one will experience 100,000 pre-cognitive commitments or fight or flight responses.

How to become a trauma-informed children’s yoga teacher

Since most of society’s focus has been on adult survivors of childhood trauma, yoga providers should think carefully and educate themselves about the differences in experience, adaptation, and behavior or children versus adults in regard. It is also important to note that the traumatic event is almost always ongoing, rather than in the past.

Yoga instructors should work with a local-based yoga-based organization that aligns with their values, attend best practice pieces of training such as Connection Coalition, or any other kid-centric program. Being a trauma-informed teacher of any kind involves support from peers and mentors. Being affiliated with an organization of trauma-informed teachers inspires one to continue, offers a form of accountability, in addition to resources for guidance and support. Presenting a secular mindfulness program, evidence-based paper to the school district or the principal. In the meantime, do your homework by reading white papers and peer-reviewed articles on this subject matter. In case the school is looking to measure the results of the behavior of their students, be prepared to answer these types of questions. Become an RYT (Registered Yoga Teacher), and practice teaching to your friends, family or children.

Have a strong personal practice, so that any trauma you may accrue in life does not affect the children. The art of responding to student’s needs is dependent on the emotional stability of the instructor. Also, don’t limit yourself to “yoga.” Yoga providers should stay in touch with research in other fields such as education, social and emotional learning, transformative education, psychology. Maintaining continuous education in all facets of human development is going to create a children’s trauma-informed yoga provider that makes the greatest impact.


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Brieanne Tanner

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Brieanne has been practicing yoga diligently for 13 years. She’s been a registered yoga teacher with Yoga Alliance since 2010…

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