by Kara-Leah Grant
I recently read a well-articulated and thoughtful open letter to Tiffany Cruikshank by Nikki Cook of the Yoga and Body Image Coalition.
In the article, and the comments, Nikki suggested that it is our responsibility as yoga teachers to be mindful of our language and not use language which may be triggering*.
My initial response to this was to think:
No! That’s not true. If we’re triggered by something external, it’s our responsibility and an opportunity to release a layer of the conditioned mind.
It’s not the responsibility of the other person to constantly police their language so they don’t trigger someone.
But is this true? Or is this my bias – my conditioned mind at work? I decided to delve into this and see what I could discern.
The first step was to get clear on what it means to use triggering language while teaching a yoga class.
This is something that has been under general discussion in the realm of trauma recently.
I found this excellent article on Decolonizing Yoga called 12 Simple Ways To Make Yoga Classes Trauma Informed. In it, author Dr. Jamie Marich, a trauma therapist, details how to language a class so that people who have experienced trauma feel safe. So they are not triggered.
And I got it.
Within a few paragraphs.
Like how some people don’t feel like they can so no, or have the right to say no, and how to work skilfully with that. Or that being shut into a room can be re-traumatising for some people, especially if the reasons for not leaving the room aren’t well explained. Or how even closing your eyes in a roomful of strangers can be challenging for some people.
Just from this one article I realised that of course it’s our responsibility as yoga teachers to be mindful of our language so we can avoid triggering people in class.
We are the ones in a position of power – we can see more, we’re aware of more, we know more in this context. At some point, as students grow and step into their own source of power, this is no longer true. Then they are able to handle and grow if and when a teacher triggers them in a classroom context.
On reflection I can see how I was projecting my personal experience onto the universal.
I am capable of taking responsibility any time I get triggered because I’ve been doing this work for years. I understand the process, and I have learned to step into my power. I don’t assume that teachers know more than I do.
While this might be my experience, it is narrow minded and myopic for me to assume this is everyone’s experience.
Especially in a situation like a yoga class. And doubly so if the student is just beginning their yoga journey.
When students show up for a yoga class, they often automatically and unconsciously give their power away to the teacher. They often feel vulnerable, uncomfortable and are looking for guidance and support. It is the job of the teacher to recognise this, and to provide a safe space for the student while gently handing their power back to them.
That means understanding power dynamics, and the potential of some language to trigger students. This can be within a trauma context, or it can be related to other biases like body image, diversity, privilege or assumptions based around able-ness.
The irony is that Nikki’s statement about triggers, triggered me (in a very subtle way). And I was able to witness that subtle thought and question it.
Through that witnessing and inquiry process, I was able to research and apply discernment to see what the truth of the situation is. And, I was able to see a pattern of behaviour which has been tugging at the edges of my consciousness for a while now, yet I couldn’t quite name and label.
As a writer, it’s one of my biggest downfalls – to project my personal experience on to the universal and so recommend a course of action from that perspective. Now I’ve seen that downfall in action, and in the specific. It means I’m more likely to be aware of that particular pitfall next time I assume I know anything.
And even better, doing the research honed my skills around triggering languaging so I can be a more attuned and aware yoga teacher next time I’m in class. Which is a great thing. If you’re not aware of how your language could be triggering students in class, check out the articles below:
*What is Triggering?
Triggering occurs when any certain something (a “trigger”) causes a negative emotional response. The emotional response can be fear, sadness, panic, flashbacks, and pain, as well as any physical symptoms associated with these emotions (shaking, loss of appetite, fainting, fatigue, and so on). Triggering can vary in severity, and the most harmful triggering tends to happen when the trigger has been encountered without any prior warning.