External and Internal Choice

What does the term and concept – choice – mean to you?

English language definition: an act of selecting or making a decision when faced with two or more possibilities

A core guiding principle within trauma-sensitive yoga (TSY) is choice – a concept within the western world and English language that comes with freedom, privilege, access…

The action of choosing asks us to be present in the moment…at least – perhaps more present than if being directed.

In TSY, choice is offered within any form (posture) leaving the student to exercise specific neuropathways necessary for choosing.  Often it involves a process of interoception – looking inwards – in order to decide which adaption to the form is most comfortable for them in that moment.

This got me wondering…

Asana, the physical practice of yoga can be done almost anywhere.  Many people have a home/self practice.  Often this route of practice demands more from the practitioner – such as choosing when to practice, deciding on the postures and sequence, creativity etc.  There is limited room for apathy.  Instead, there the presence of self-direction and discipline.

More frequently, people can be found at yoga and fitness studios.  People choose this in comparison to a home practice for a number of reasons – and I would like to place emphasis on two: a) to immerse themselves in classroom environment where motivation is increased within a collective experience, and b) people have an opportunity to focus on directions provided by a teacher.  After a busy day at work where one may be consistently bombarded with problem solving and decision-making, having a yoga experience that is directed and feels healthy could be refreshing.  This certainly may serve a number of people – and with no intent of diminishing that experience I invite you to consider this…

Many of those work day decisions were most likely externally focused – based upon factors separate and outside a person’s inner environment, decisions grounded in intellectual and logical reasoning.

What would the experience be – a person who has been making externally based decisions all day long, comes to a class that invites them to look inward to make choices based on what their bodily sensations were telling them?

Would this send them running in the other direction – too tired to look inward and ‘think’?

Would it strengthen their ability to make effective externally based decisions?

Could it contribute to expanding a practice of ahimsa (non violence), on and off their mat?

I make this distinction because within a TSY oriented class, choice is based upon looking within.  As options are provided, students are invited to choose an adaption of a form that feels most comfortable for them.  This supports the enhancement of self awareness, making decisions based upon bodily sensations – a foreign experience for a complex trauma survivor who’s power to make choices may have been significantly limited, and in order to survive, they tactfully disconnected and dissociated from any bodily sensations and emotions.



The journey of strengthening one’s capacity for making choices can be a matter of life and death for a trauma survivor – therefore the journey of incorporating yoga into their pathway of recovery is a testament to one’s resilience.

All this being said, going inward and exercising the practice of enhancing self-awareness is challenging, even for a person who does not have a traumatic past –

So consider if your “choosing muscles” could use some exercise, and if so – the internal or external pathways?



ARTICLE: Reclaiming Joy by Dearbhla Kelly

This article ‘Reclaiming Joy’ offers some interesting and accessible perspectives on how yoga supports recovery from trauma.  The author provides some neuro-scientific explanations to offer empirical proof – which in the contemporary western world, scientific evidence has become the new truth – therefore strengthening the yoga platform amongst professional service and health care providers.  As I engage in research on trauma and recovery, neuroscience and PTSD, mindfulness and yoga – the threads that weave the fabric pieces together are becoming more apparent.

This weekend I will be teaching a trauma-sensitive yoga class – and in the past two weeks have spent much time with David Emerson discussing the relationship between trauma, yoga, and teaching yoga to complex trauma survivors.  The article I posted, discusses benefits a yoga practice can offer to someone striving to overcome trauma, however there is no discussion about teaching trauma-sensitive yoga.

Yoga studios are in abundance throughout North American cities, classes take place within community centers and a variety of settings – and within these classes, many students will be recovering from a traumatic event or a history of trauma – and in rare occasions, the yoga teacher may learn a student is suffering from PTSD.  More frequently, yoga teachers are unaware of their student’s histories.  All this being said, students who have a history of trauma participating in a studio class will often benefit from the experience, and many will not due to being triggered…and, depending on the complexity of a person’s trauma, attending a yoga studio class may not even be an option.

So how can we create an environment that may be more attainable and safer for someone recovering from trauma to access?

There are techniques that yoga teachers can begin to incorporate into their classes to make them more accessible for trauma survivors.  These techniques not only support people to feel more in control of their body and choices, but offer opportunities for new neuro-pathways to establish that contribute to the person’s path of recovery.

To learn more about these techniques – read ‘Overcoming Trauma through Yoga’ by David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper.