TIAVY (Trauma Informed Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga) seeks to foster mutually-beneficial & transformative relationships between teachers & students, as well as to connect all members of the international community with inspiring, empowering & ever-evolving sources of wisdom & healing. Seeking first not to cause harm (as so many spiritual lineages including Ashtanga unfortunately have in the past), we are inspired by modern neuroscience and trauma treatment modalities to practice in ways that foster healing and thriving.
Trauma affects us all in so many different ways. It might show up as an inability to perform a certain movement in our yoga practice or manifest as sleeplessness, headaches, or autoimmune disease… Trauma is not restricted to survivors of horrific atrocities. In fact, our nervous systems may become overwhelmed and we may begin to accumulate it anytime we feel a lack of support, even in everyday situations. By nature trauma is quite slippery: the body buries it when we lack the resources to digest it fully, and the latest research demonstrates that we also amass it under circumstances of oppression and inherit it from previous generations, so many people are in complete denial even though they may be carrying a significant trauma load. I can’t think of ANYBODY I’ve ever met who would not benefit from possessing a better understanding of trauma. It is a pivotal and missing exploration, equally for people suffering from physical and/or mental afflictions to those looking to optimize their already-brilliant performance to super-human levels.
Further, I have come to believe that practicing yoga without an understanding of trauma is yet another inadvertent form of spiritual bypassing that can be quite dangerous. Although pure awareness dissolves many kinds of samskaras (conditioning), research has demonstrated that traumatic conditioning often requires special treatment, including a safe environment and the compassionate presence of another being in order to allow the nervous system to rest in particular zones of activation. Unfortunately, whether due to lack of informed consent, excessive use of force, well-intentioned ignorance, outright abuse, or techniques that can trigger dissociation, dysregulation or injury, yoga classes are often very unsafe places that actually exacerbate trauma. How many times have we seen practitioners and teachers pass on their unresolved trauma to countless others through acts of gross or subtle violence? Our own trauma also puts us at greater risk of being manipulated and further harmed by such violence. It’s about time we all start taking trauma seriously and create a revolutionary space within which global healing can commence.
The brilliant framework of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga adapted to the individual as I learned it from my principal teacher Richard Freeman forms a base from which additional modalities can be implemented as appropriate. Having practiced Ashtanga as well as many other forms of yoga and meditation around the world since 2003, and studied with and assisted Richard and his partner Mary Taylor for over 2100 hours, I have experienced how the practice, practice environment and practice philosophy have contributed both to my illness and healing. I aim to elucidate both sides in my blog, as well as to share the rich variety of resources I have accumulated while struggling with trauma and an incapacitating biotoxin illness for over a decade.
TIAVY was the subject of my MA thesis in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with a focus in Transpersonal Psychology at Naropa University. It has been my all-consuming interest over the past 6 years, enriched by 9 years of previous study and research in Neuroscience at Columbia University, Princeton University, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) & Max-Planck Institute. I am now engaging in PhD research in Depth Psychology with a concentration in Integrative Therapies and Healing Practices at Pacifica Graduate Institute.
My motivation for delving ever-deeper into academia has been to develop a grounded Trauma Informed Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga (TIAVY), a style that can evolve with my own learning and the experience of interdisciplinary practitioners, scientists and healers willing to look again and again at what is truly beneficial. A large part of what I teach is psycho-educational. Yoga texts are often metaphorical in their descriptions of possible results, and generally address renunciate practitioners in a very different context than ours. When we are simply asked to believe that certain methodologies will work for us in our own lives, we are robbed of asking how, and we are likely to fail to optimize the effects by fostering misplaced impressions of where to focus. My personal opinion is that unhealthy fixations quite often dominate traditional Ashtanga Vinyasa circles, where obedience and deference override discernment and relationship.
We are seeing epic levels of devastation, from the tiniest microbes to Planet Earth as a whole. We are being faced with dark and frightening truths about members of our species and even those teachers and sangha members we have most admired, trusted and loved. For those of us who do not want to cause ourselves or others continued pain, it is time to question every single one of the traditions we uphold and habits we enact, to acknowledge what is not acceptable (for example the physical, emotional and sexual abuse perpetrated by the father of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, Pattabhi Jois, in addition to so many other well-known and lesser-known teachers), to come forth in support of victims and survivors of all kinds (not forgetting that perpetrators and enablers also fall into these categories), and to develop more effective and inclusive teaching and practice frameworks.
Perhaps most importantly, it is up to us to do the difficult yet not impossible integrative personal work that many “gurus” never did, relying instead on whatever technical prowess, transcendent clarity and/or charisma they may have possessed. Although many of the practices we have inherited from them may be enormously valuable, they do not necessarily stand alone and must be done in the right contexts with conscious intentions and a richer understanding of how our bodies and nervous systems work. Our generation has access to ground-breaking discoveries that can only add to the wisdom and skillful means from lineages of the past. We cannot blindly rely on the methods handed down to us. We must constantly reassess what we hope to gain and whether we feel we are headed in the right direction.
Every serious practitioner I know has suppressed various “uh-oh” feelings in favor of other-worldly promises of a far-off kind of salvation or enlightenment that we do not recognize as our present experience. Whereas we must be patient with ourselves and know that the change we seek does not happen overnight (and probably not even in multiple thousands of lifetimes), we must also be true to our internal alert system that tells us when spiritual jargon is being used within an injurious power structure or keeping us from being motivated by powerful emotions that could propel us to work in the world as a necessary force of evolution. Our best selves are needed. How do we want to show up in this world? Have we fallen into a rut of wishful thinking with our spiritual practices or are we truly doing what most touches our hearts and uplifts others? Is it possible that in following a guru or system we have forgotten our powerful ability to lead and come to our own insightful conclusions? We could perpetuate a privileged patriarchal culture or we could look into the truth about the harm it has caused and act to reverse it.
If our practices do not shed direct light on our interconnectedness and immediately begin to positively impact our interactions with all beings around us, then they contribute to the downward spiral that certainly affects our quality of life and in fact threatens our very survival. For the first time in my own practice, I am getting to the bottom of trauma that has been disabling for me, and for the first time in my career, I am thrilled to teach, because I have finally found a way to share yoga that feels authentic, intelligent and nurturing for me and my students. Let’s investigate together how to prevent future suffering as Patanjali, Buddha and so many others have recommended, and use our talents and intelligence to change the course of history for the better!