esther m palmer

It’s a blend of approaches

In a previous post I shared some elements of Moved to Heal that make the practices trauma-sensitive (you can read that here). This week, I want to share why I love teaching this way, and how trauma-sensitive approaches show up in my mov/ed yoga classes, as well.

Over the years, I have grown deeply interested in helping others (and myself!) feel safe. I am fascinated by the physiological and neurological differences between fear and safety -- and how these different states show up in our thoughts and actions. And I adore being in a room with a group of people who all feel safe and seen. It's not as common an occurrence as it should be, and it's glorious when it does happen

One of the ways I can help others feel safe and seen is through movement and teaching yoga.

On the Moved to Heal podcast, I teach trauma-sensitive yoga practices that follow some of the methodology of Trauma Center Trauma Sensitive Yoga (developed at the Center for Trauma and Embodiment at JRI). Locally, I partner with social service organizations to provide in-person group trauma-sensitive yoga classes, as well. So, you may be wondering, are the mov/ed yoga classes also “trauma-sensitive yoga” (TSY)?

No and yes. They are not TSY classes --there are many elements which would not be present in TSY classes and they are open to everyone rather than being intended for a group of trauma survivors. At the same time, my understanding of trauma and healing informs all of my teaching, so I’d say my “regular” yoga classes are trauma-informed (and again, everyone’s welcome, including survivors!).

In recent years, TSY has been the guiding principle that helped me blend previous teaching training and experience into my current format.


Some context and my teaching background

The physical practice of yoga can be done on one’s own or with a guide, instructor, or teacher. When there’s someone leading a group of people (or via live stream), a fairly common approach to instruction is to issue commands for students to follow: “move your foot here, move your arm there, do this now, do that then” and so on. Some styles expect students to actually do as they’re instructed, others allow for modifying to suit one’s own practice, but still issue a “standard” instruction with commands. When you think you are supposed to do what the teacher says, or when you want to do what the teacher says, clear, consistent, command-based instructions are generally reassuring. Feedback as to whether you’re doing the moves “right” might then also be welcome.

My initial yoga study and teacher training was with ISHTA Yoga (read a little about that journey here). I developed much of my group class skills while teaching with Yoga 216 (a studio in NYC that has since closed). The two studios offered similar, but also distinct approaches to guiding and teaching the physical practice of vinyasa yoga in group classes.

ISHTA’s approach is to provide direct instruction for what to do, and invite students to modify and adapt as they need within that. On the whole, ISHTA excels at creating an environment that allows for a diversity of practices. Within that, it was pretty much up to the teacher and the size of the class as to whether there was also equitable support for the various practices in a room. ISHTA’s primary purpose is teaching yoga as a spiritual practice, and they view the physical practice as one part of that.

216’s approach was to limit the group size so that each teacher could address a diversity of needs by instructing every individual in the class similar to a 1:1 session, to the extent that the class agenda allowed. Often this helped students learn a great deal about their bodies in relation to the yoga shapes. 216’s primary purpose was teaching yoga as a physical practice for whole-body wellness.

I love both approaches, but was never quite the poster-child for either. TSY became a bridge between the two, a way for me to teach with clarity and confidence, leave space for a variety of needs, and encourage students to choose their own path in class.

Here are some key qualities of mov/ed classes, and where they come from.

  • Clear, concise-ish, rhythmic cueing → ISHTA + 216
  • Consistent structure and format → TSY + 216
  • Some form notes / anatomy notes, but far less than I have done in past, and always as an informational resource rather than an instruction to master (ISHTA and 216 both are big on form and anatomical understanding, but these days I’d say I draw more from TSY in the way I share anatomy + form cues)
  • Choices for most forms and movements → TSY
  • Invitational language → TSY
  • Breathing practices → ISHTA and what I’ve learned through additional work in the Art of Breathing (with Amira Glaser) and Postural Restoration
  • Respond to what I see students doing by adjusting my language, movement choices, and cues → ISHTA + 216 (I might also address individuals by name if they’ve been to class a bunch and I think they’ll be receptive)
  • Invite students to notice or observe what and where they feel in the body, to listen to the cues of sensation and self

My purpose in teaching mov/ed yoga is to create a space for feeling whole through movement and community.

If you’ve never been to a mov/ed class, I hope this information is useful in determining whether you’d like to give it a try (and if yes or maybe, you can sign up for the class mailing list to get weekly invites). And if you’re already a regular, I hope this sounds familiar and gives you some insight into what we do every week!

Be moving, be true, be you,


photo credit ryan stone, found on unsplash

pain moved me to try yoga

At first I was a yoga skeptic. Or really, I just wanted nothing to do with any stylized movement that wasn’t dance. Then my years of dancing began to show up in my body as pain, pain that limited my capacity to move how I wanted. Dancing -- moving my body freely -- is at the core of who I am. The pain holding me back was a bit soul-crushing.

It wasn't long before I was ready to find a solution, and in that search my skepticism of yoga gave way to hope and I gave it a try with some DVDs at home. My experience surprised me, my joy within yoga grew, and I decided to find a studio for deeper learning and teacher training.


finding a yoga home

When I walked through the door of ISHTA, I felt immediately comfortable. It was only the second studio I had tried, and I wanted to stop my search there, but due diligence made me try the other spots I had on my list. But everywhere else seemingly small things made me feel judged and othered -- and when you’re looking to heal, seemingly small things can make a big difference.

I stayed with ISHTA where I felt at home with the place and the people. It’s my hope for everyone, that when yoga becomes something you love, there is a community of people who are part of that experience. For me, yoga and ISHTA were pretty synonymous. In a word, I felt safe in yoga/ISHTA.

the heart of teaching yoga

In the beginning, it was just about me and my practice. But quickly it became about teaching or sharing yoga. Like all young teachers, I grappled with how to be a “good” teacher and still be true to my own practice. During my early years, I didn’t always land on the best ways to help people feel safe, but it was a concern that bumped up against all my efforts; often my instincts to hold space and what I thought I “should” do to be a “good” teacher were deeply at odds. But it was a while before I knew what exactly I was struggling with.

Part of discovering clarity in my teaching came with time and experience. A bigger part came through the tools I learned through a trauma-sensitive yoga training (with Jenn Turner of TCTSY), ) that extended the spirit of the ISHTA approach with more concrete information.

The more I learned about creating an environment of safety, the more I recognized that this environment was what I had needed. Times when that feeling has been missing, times when I felt on edge, out of ease, and afraid, have gotten in the way of being true to myself --of doing all sorts of things, from simple everyday actions to bold risks that require courage.

the need for trauma-sensitive yoga

In my study of trauma-sensitive and trauma-informed approaches, I have also recognized the process of healing that is akin to what yoga/ISHTA has been for me. My own traumas have been either physical injury or relatively minor events (all related to someone in a position of authority taking away my agency) that nonetheless have created a deeper scar than "makes sense." And stumbling into the world of healing trauma has shown me that once the trauma is experienced as such, it’s not how severe the cause was that is relevant in the present. It’s how we experience it in our lives that stays with us and has power.

The experiences in my life that have hurt me are the kind that most of us have lived through and deal with. I don’t consider myself as having experienced what would be diagnosed as trauma, neither PTSD nor complex trauma, and yet, like most (all?) people, I’ve still lived through stuff that I’ve had to sort through and heal --and am still figuring out. When first introduced to trauma-sensitive yoga, I recognized how the process and the tools of trauma-sensitive care could have immense value as part of standard care. This is what motivates me to create safe spaces in the ways that I can, with movement and meditation and learning to know yourself through them.

learning to trust

My area of work is in trusting the body. The body is an area that I understand, and I love helping others learn to understand and trust their own body, too. I have learned to trust the body, even though I don’t know the cause of every signal. I know that what we feel can be confusing. I know most of us need to learn to trust the body --and unlearn ignoring or dismissing it. Trusting our bodies can require hard work and take a long time, but one movement at a time, one curiosity at a time, one conversation at a time, we can find our way there.

Be moving, be true, be you,

photo credit ninno jack jr, found on unsplash


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