“The work I do with trauma survivors is intended to support them in having a safe experience of agency within their own bodies.”
You specialize in trauma-sensitive yoga, but what exactly does this mean?
Teaching from a trauma sensitive place means that I teach therapeutic yoga classes and offer individual sessions to trauma survivors, teaching them healthy self-regulation strategies to empower them to live connected and embodied lives. I also train Yoga and health care professionals in the trauma-informed yoga theory and techniques required to support trauma survivors in their healing, long-term stability and recovery. The work I do with trauma survivors is intended to support them in having a safe experience of agency within their own bodies. If one considers that an inherent piece of traumatic experience is the experience of choice being taken away and that that experience lives on in the sensory and hormonal systems of the body after the traumatic experience, then the establishment of body-based safety and choice becomes an important step in healing.
How do you ensure sensitivity towards interpersonal trauma?
Interpersonal trauma occurs within the context of a relationship ie. sexual, physical or emotional abuse. Healing from interpersonal trauma therefore also needs to occur within the context of relationships.
I offer both small group classes as well and individual sessions for trauma survivors to begin to explore developing and being in trusting, safe relationships once again or maybe even for the first time. This healing relationship may be the relationship between the teacher and student, student to student and hopefully, in the long run results in trauma survivors finding healing, trust and more connection in their personal relationships outside the classroom.
In order to support my students in feeling safe to be in their bodies and in relationship I endeavour to create spaces and practices that support the establishment of trust. So in this context trauma sensitivity might look like making sure that I always let students know where I am going in the room and what I’m doing, always offering choices with what to do with their bodies avoiding physical assists, not having the main focus of the practice be about whether or not the student is doing something right or wrong with their body, predictable sequencing, attention to lighting, limiting Sanskrit and chanting and trying to speak to the roots of where the practice comes from while also being clear about why we change the practice to meet the needs of specialized groups.
You’re certified with Trauma Center Trauma-Sensitive Yoga (TCTSY). Can you tell us a bit about this program?
The program at the Trauma Center is the gold standard in Trauma Sensitive Yoga teacher training and the only place that can certify teachers in this empirically validated, adjunctive clinical treatment for complex trauma or chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD. The training has its’ foundations in Trauma Theory, Attachment Theory, and Neuroscience as well as deep roots in Yoga. I found the training to be a perfect balance of theory and practice with a healthy dose of academic and research-based assignments. The program at the Trauma Center provides on-going support, resources and mentorship.
Would you only recommend trauma sensitive classes to students who are triggered by common practices in more conventional yoga classes?
A trigger is a reminder of a traumatic experience that can dysregulate the person who is experiencing it. Anything can be a trigger. Some examples can include smells, people, sounds, spoken phrases. If you consider that traumatic experience is universal then trauma informed yoga practices may resonate for anyone. My public class, Yoga for Resilient Embodied Well-Being is trauma informed but not marketed as a class exclusively for trauma survivors. It is well attended by people who are looking for an inclusive class that provides a safe entry point into the practice of yoga.
Do students ever approach you off the mat for personal advice or guidance?
Both in my private practice and in my group classes, I am approached in this way and I always attempt to support folks to the best of my ability while maintaining an awareness of my scope of practice as a yoga therapist and teacher. I make sure that I have a list of resources available to students should they need support beyond what I can offer.
As YogiTunes is primarily a music service, we’d love to know what kind of music you would recommend for trauma sensitive classes. What music (if any) do you like to feature?
I would recommend instrumental music like Arvo Part and El Hadra.
What is the most rewarding thing about providing trauma sensitive yoga to your community?
The most rewarding part of the work I do is feeling that I am making a difference in the lives of people who are struggling.
In 2009, Nicole was awarded a master’s degree with a specialization in yoga therapy from Lesley University in Boston, MA. From 2008 – 2017 she served as the Director of Therapeutic Yoga Programming for the Provincial Health Services Authority at their Burnaby Centre for Mental Health and Addictions, where she developed and delivered a comprehensive yoga therapy program for in-patient clients in various stages of recovery from mental health and addiction issues.
She is the Program Director for Incorporating Yoga as a Trauma-informed Practice to Enhance Drug Treatment Outcomes for Justice Involved Youth as well as a training facilitator and mentor with Yoga Outreach, a not-for-profit organization providing volunteer yoga teachers to marginalized populations. In 2017, she completed 300 hours of training to become a certified Trauma Center Trauma Sensitive Yoga Facilitator (TCTSY-F) with Dave Emerson and Jenn Turner at the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute in Boston, MA. She is also certified to teach yoga in military communities through Warriors at Ease in Silver Spring, MD.
Nicole is a faculty member at Ajna Yoga and the Vancouver School of Yoga and a project coordinator and instructor at Langara College Continuing Studies in their Holistic Health Department in addition to being the yoga programming coordinator at Onsite, the treatment arm of North America’s first safe injection site in Vancouver’s downtown East side. She is a Certified Yoga Therapist (C-IAYT) with the International Association of Yoga Therapists and a member of Bridge for Health and the Breathe Network which connects survivors of sexual violence with healing arts practitioners.
For more information about Nicole’s services, please visit: www.finebalanceyoga.ca