Post contributed by Zack Pasillas
Driving through any major city, it’s common to see the bumper sticker, Do no harm. Most agree with this idea in the general sense, as yoga teachers we’ve committed to passing on the yoga tradition, so it’s important to know what actually puts nonviolence (ahimsa) into action?
You may think that every yoga teacher magically becomes nonviolent through their 200 hours of teacher training, but this brief time is just the start to a life endeavor! Just as violence is a learned pattern, so is nonviolence; we have to practice concrete ways to express and inspire nonviolence with our students. It all starts with each of us, how much of an example we can embody to have discipline (tapas), truthfulness (satya), and honest self-inquiry (svadhyaya) towards ourselves and others.
These 4 next level nonviolent tools are gleaned from the fields of education, psychology and social justice. Yoga aligns with all life affirming practices at it’s root; it’s time as a yoga community to see the worth in the best practices shared by experts outside the yoga studio! You may already be a skilled yoga teacher, so think of these as tools for how you teach.
- Restorative Practices and Nonviolent Communication offers the opportunity to practice nonviolent leadership and respond rather than having a knee jerk reaction. Both tools are well suited to resolve conflict and guide discussions in small groups. They are well employed in prison and psychiatric settings, where outcomes can be unpredictable.
- Honor truths around Transference and Countertransference. If these are new terms, think of it this way: if I see someone with a blue hat, and they are very kind to me, I retain an impression unconsciously. Then later, if I see someone else with a blue hat, I assume they are also going to be kind. We can see the weak logic in this, but we do it all the time, especially in the yoga world. We don’t live in a guru based culture, but many yoga students provide a special soapbox for their yoga teacher. The teacher may be an amazing person, but holding that all yoga teachers are gurus is an nontruth and can be harmful. We’re all human, with our beautiful flaws. We are in the role of a yoga teacher, not therapist, not parent, not whatever else is attributed to us! Literally, be yourself!
- Language and Action: Have you ever been in a class where the teacher is shouting out cues and strict with corrections? This may appeal to some who enjoy direct language and a tough practice, but for the entire rest of us it can seem out of place and even rude! Following the insights from the Social Discipline Window, it is most motivating to use a combination of control and support when teaching. Try to incorporate more “with” cues to supplement the “to” cues. That way, as a class we can practice yoga together, instead of yoga happening to
- Social Justice Mindset: Microaggressions and bias are everywhere! These are learned ideas, that like it or not, are with us until we work them out! Countering this is beyond a commitment to be politically correct, it’s about learning what language we have that deeply offends the identity and safety of others. Nonviolence requires self-inquiry to alleviate the accumulation of negative patterns (karma). We need to continually strive to make our speak match the nonviolence and kindness of our hearts!
These next level tools will support creating an environment where trauma-sensitive populations will feel that they matter, instead of feeling marginalized. There is a lot of jargon, tones and norms that have been passed down for decades in western yoga. Much of this has roots in the original studios where clients were mostly affluent and highly educated. That is not the picture today in the 21st century, yoga’s brush stroke is broad, and we as an industry need to flex to keep up and be relevant.
Zachary Pasillas, ERYT-500 is the Director of Trauma-informed Programs for the Yoga Seed Collective in Sacramento. He directs programs in psychiatric hospitals, clinics, schools and for the incarcerated. In 2013 he taught the pilot APPLY program at Solano Prison, training 14 inmates to pass on yoga and nonviolent lifesytle to their peers. Zachary is devoted to making yoga more trauma-sensitive, accessible and socially conscious.