For a long time, yoga class made me feel like a complete fraud. Sure, I’m really flexible (“bendy,” as some teachers like to say), and I happen to inhabit a size of body that doesn’t prohibit me from maneuvering into Twister-esque (remember those elementary school days?) shapes with my limbs. I certainly “look” like a yogi. And yet: moments of coached deep breathing would send me into a total panic. I couldn’t figure out how to sync moving myself with simultaneous breathing, and my inner flailing made any attempt at relaxation difficult. Moments of seated, deep breathing were the worst.
Here I am, nine years later. I’m still not “good” at deep breathing, and it still doesn’t serve me. And that’s… perfectly okay.
In fact, my difficulty and automatic resistance to this exercise is actually incredibly wise. My body innately understood that traveling to a place of exclusive focus on deepening and slowing my breath was a danger zone for me based upon past experiences – some of which I could articulate, and some which still seem to remain beyond conscious memory or words.
Last month, I became certified in the Trauma-Conscious Yoga Method (TCYM). It brings me peace and deep joy to realize I’ve finally found my place in the yogi world, as instructor and student. I initially completed my 200-hour certification in 2018, but I’ve struggled to feel authentic and navigate how I wish to offer my knowledge in some big ways since then. The idea of teaching rooms full of strangers felt overwhelming to me, and leading folks through crafted flow sequences didn’t feel intimate or compassionate enough. I’m always in awe of well-choreographed and led classes, but I simultaneously have also always known that that’s not me. I am a highly sensitive person with a heightened startle response and a deep well of emotion. And… that’s perfectly okay, too.
TCYM validated my difficulties with deep breathing and my struggle feeling inauthentic and unhelpful guiding traditional flow sequences. It brought me back to the reality that asana, or movement, is but one aspect of the eight limbs, or components, of yoga. We tend to overlook or simply not be aware of this as practitioners in the West. Most importantly, I felt incredibly validated that deep breathing can be highly triggering for folks who have experienced trauma and might not feel safe sensing deeply into their own bodies. This doesn’t make me, or you, any less valid as a human or a student or teacher of yoga. In fact, it’s highly compassionate to witness and honor the experiences we have and to navigate making yoga work for us. Our nervous systems are arguably our best teachers – if we know how to tune into them. TCYM rests upon the emphasis of people, not poses, a powerful mentality shift for me.
If you, too, struggle with deep breathing – or any experience you’ve had in a yoga class that might have felt unsafe to you – please know that you are not alone. My wish for you is to be able to hold your very human and very valid experience with compassion. If this feels too big a task, perhaps working toward neutrality could be a helpful starting place as you think about these experiences. Any sensation in your body or thought which crosses your mind is welcomed, logical, and perfectly okay. Perhaps keeping your eyes open and focusing gently on a place which doesn’t move (drishti), such as a tile line or wood grain marking in the floor, could invite a bit more bodily calm. Simply noticing your natural breathing pattern, without exerting any effort to control or change it, might help open the door toward increased capacity to allow and respect your body and existence. I say this with full recognition that the yogi world, myself included, has much to learn in the way of cultivating safe, welcoming, supportive environments and practices for all. May this brief reflection be a gentle reminder and a charge to begin to approach this work with vulnerable honesty, an open mind, and respect for the powerful wisdom inside us all.
Megan Brown is a nationally certified school psychologist, clinical mental health counseling student, certified yoga teacher (RYT-200), and a recent graduate of the Trauma-Conscious Yoga Method. She’s a lifelong reader and writer and has an affinity for rescue dogs. She’s still figuring out her way in this world. Please feel free to contact Megan at firstname.lastname@example.org if this piece spurs any questions or comments for you. You may also find Megan offering gentle, restorative yoga and yoga nidra at Thrive Farm GA, beginning with the Peace and Abundance Retreat to be held in February.