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About Laura Sygrove
Laura Sygrove is the co-founder and executive director of New Leaf Foundation, a Toronto-based organization that supports the mental, emotional, and physical health of youth in underserved communities through mindfulness-based programs. She has more than 13 years of experience developing & leading program/training curriculum, learning about the impacts of trauma on individuals and communities, and cultivating programming partnerships with schools, community organizations, and youth justice settings. For 10+ years, Laura facilitated frontline programming with youth who were incarcerated, and over the past two years has been building her therapeutic skills through counseling work with children, youth and families. Laura holds a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Toronto. She credits mindfulness, yoga and other forms of movement, like dance, as playing a major role in her own process of working through the impacts of chronic and traumatic stress.
About This Podcast
Kathryn and Laura talk about what trauma-informed means and how it’s almost become a buzz word in the yoga community. They talk about how trauma-informed teaching is more than following a set of guidelines, and the origins of certain guidelines. Laura talks about the difference between teaching a group class and helping individuals work through trauma. She also shares how her perspectives on trauma-informed movement have been shaped by anti-oppression and accessibility education.
Kathryn Bruni-Young: 00:00:08
[music] Hey, folks. I’m Kathryn Bruni-Young, and this is the Mindful Strength Podcast. On this show, I talk to yoga teachers, physiotherapists, and other clinicians about mindful movement, yoga practice, pain science, body politics, and how we can incorporate these ideas to create a sustainable practice. Let’s dive in. [music]
Kathryn Bruni-Young: 00:00:28
Hey, everyone. Welcome back. Today on the podcast, you are going to be hearing from Laura Sygrove. Laura and I had such a wonderful conversation about trauma and trauma-informed yoga and movement practices. Laura has been at this work for quite a while, and she has some pretty profound ideas and observations about the whole world of trauma-informed yoga and movement. She also has a huge amount of curiosity around what trauma is and how we can support people, the trainings that are available right now, who they might work for, who might get left out. I know you’re going to love this conversation. And specifically, if you have interest in trauma-informed yoga or movement practices, the New Leaf Foundation and Laura’s work is going to be super interesting to you.
Kathryn Bruni-Young: 00:01:29
Before we get into this episode today, I want to remind everyone about the Mindful Strength Membership. So Kyle and I have been producing this membership, this virtual studio, for three years now. And it started out as me filming my classes in my little home studio, and now, it’s taken a life of its own. It’s turned into live classes every week plus a bunch of pre-recorded classes that are on demand. You can access them whenever you want. Those classes range from 20 to 60 Minutes. Our live classes are Mondays and Thursdays at 12:00 PM Eastern, and included in the membership is also classes with a handful of guest instructors who we absolutely love. They’re all very different, different styles and themes, and you also get access to our 30-day practice progression which is an amazing intro. So if you’re new to Mindful Strength, if you’re new to strength training and you want to get started and you want to do this at home in a super progressive way, you’re going to love the Mindful Strength Membership. If you want to get started, head over to mindfulstrength.ca. All right everyone, here is my conversation with Laura Sygrove.
Kathryn Bruni-Young: 00:02:45
All right. Laura, welcome to the podcast.
Laura Sygrove: 00:02:48
Thank you so much. I’m happy to be here.
Kathryn Bruni-Young: 00:02:50
Yeah. I’m so glad that we’re getting a chance to do this. For the listeners who don’t know about you or your work, do you want to take a few minutes and tell people a little bit about the work that you do and maybe how you got into it?
Laura Sygrove: 00:03:06
Sure. So in 2007, I co-founded an organization called New Leaf Foundation. I am the executive director of that organization. And we’re based out of Toronto running programs in the GTA and Southern Ontario that aim to support the mental, emotional, physical health of young people in underserved communities through programs that are grounded in meditative practices like yoga and mindfulness. So I was certified as a yoga teacher in 2005. I have done a lot of training in mindfulness practices and also hold a master’s degree in social work with an area of focus around Indigenous trauma and resilience. And most of my person to person experience is with facilitating youth programs with young men who were incarcerated. I did that for over a decade. I’ve stepped away from that now to just focus on my work behind the scenes with New Leaf, but also have been building skills over the last two years doing some therapy, counseling work with children, youth, and families.
Kathryn Bruni-Young: 00:04:22
So you did your yoga training, and then it sounds like a couple years later you started New Leaf. And I’m wondering, what happened there?
Laura Sygrove: 00:04:31
Well, it’s funny. I mean, I started practicing yoga when I was 18, and I always tell people I had a real love-hate relationship with yoga. And this connects to my own history of trauma, which I’m sure we’ll get into a little bit. But in a nutshell, I found that practice very difficult emotionally largely, but I also, on some level, knew that there was something there that was helping me at the same time. So anyway, I started at 18, practicing yoga pretty regularly more into my early 20s. And I sort of fell into a job working at a yoga studio because I was doing a different line of work teaching ESL and was attending this yoga studio for my own personal practice and was having a difficult time at my job. And so a position at this yoga studio opened up to work behind the desk. And so I applied for it thinking, “Oh, this will just be a transition job so I can just move out of my other line of work into this for a little while while I look for something more related to what I wanted to do with my life.”
Laura Sygrove: 00:05:40
But I ended up staying at that studio, I think, it was for about five years and became the manager. And so I was really entrenched in this yoga studio world back in this was like, I don’t know, 2002 or something like that, so when there were maybe like five busy yoga studios in Toronto. Things have changed a lot. I really in that role witnessed, I guess, who was and wasn’t coming into that space and in the practice, had some interest in training to become a yoga teacher. But I was very on the fence about it, and I sort of always knew that if I did it, it would, A, largely be just for my own development and, B, if I ever taught anywhere, it probably wouldn’t be at a business yoga studio like a for-profit yoga studio. I was more interested in maybe– because I had come to the practice at such a young age, I was drawn to making yoga more accessible to more young people like me. And I knew that as a young white woman, there was a certain comfort level that I would have felt in a studio that a lot of other youth may not have experienced. But I think because of my own history of trauma, I didn’t actually feel that comfortable in yoga studios. So that kind of fed into me wanting to, if I ever did offer yoga, offer it in a different kind of space.
Kathryn Bruni-Young: 00:07:05
So what do you think about the word trauma-informed? Because there’s a lot of trainings now, lots of classes, lots of people are leading “trauma-informed” trainings, classes, movement yoga, everything, now, it seems. And I’m wondering what you think about this phrase.
Laura Sygrove: 00:07:30
I think my answer to a lot of things these days is I don’t know, which is just a way of saying I have lots of different thoughts about it, and I feel like my thoughts are constantly evolving and changing. So on the one hand, I kind of feel like trauma-informed has become a bit of a buzzword, and I always think that like anything that becomes a buzzword, there’s probably some pros and cons to that. The pros might be that maybe things only become a buzzword when people start to wake up to the importance of that thing or the usefulness of that thing, right, because I wasn’t hearing this when I started studying trauma and trauma-informed practices like 10, 11 years ago. I just wasn’t hearing it around– I wasn’t hearing that phrase nearly as often. Right? So sometimes that can indicate a bit of a waking up to the importance of something. And also, I think on the flip side, maybe some of the risks or a sign when something becomes a sort of buzzword like that is that some people might think it’s become sort of watered down. Or folks might be reading a book and calling themselves trauma-informed or doing a couple of hours of training and saying that they’re trauma-informed, and so I think it just raises questions.
Laura Sygrove: 00:08:54
For me, I used to be on the, I think, one end of the spectrum where I felt pretty strong feelings about people using that phrase to describe what they do if they hadn’t put in quite a bit of training or work around what it means to be trauma-informed or just studying the impacts of trauma. I’m less certain about that these days. I sort of think of it like what it means to be trauma-informed might exist on a bit of a spectrum. I don’t know who would get to decide, for example, what criteria you need to meet to say that you’re trauma-informed, and yeah, who would get to decide that and what would be the right thing. So I’ve seen, for example, some folks, say, on New Leaf’s team do 10 hours of training with us around the impacts of trauma and what some considerations might be for leading body-based and awareness-based practices. And it shifts something pretty big for them to have even just some introductory information about these things, and I think that that’s a good thing. So I’m not sure. I’m not sure. I’m not sure about that. I’m just raising more questions, but I have mixed feelings about it. I have mixed feelings.
Kathryn Bruni-Young: 00:10:20
Yeah. Yeah. It’s not an easy question. So maybe I think it was about almost six years ago when I moved away from Toronto, I started a little studio, started working with a really different population than I had been working with at Downward Dog. So my teaching changed, and then at the same time, I started doing the somatic experiencing course, and I never finished it. But I did just the first couple of modules and then that started to kind of shift my ideas about teaching and movement and just being with people, really. And then I took the New Leaf training online. I think maybe that’s when it had just gone online, and that got me even more interested, asking more questions, and in my bio, it says nothing about trauma-informed. But after I did those first couple trainings, started asking more questions, thinking about this stuff more, I started to feel like this is also just really good teaching. These are just great teaching strategies that I feel like so many people could benefit from.
Laura Sygrove: 00:11:25
Yeah. So I often say, when I teach nowadays, for me, trauma-informed is people informed. And I remember having a conversation with a friend of mine years ago when we were talking about just different ideas about what it meant and what I had been learning about trauma-informed ways of offering yoga, for example. I’ll never forget. She was like, “This is amazing, and it just sounds like good teaching pedagogy,” which is what I hear you saying, and I agree. One of the things I always say to folks on my team that I work with and coach around this stuff is just, first of all, there needs to be I think a distinction between people who learn a little bit about how trauma might impact people, or just even at a different end of the spectrum, how stress impacts people and how that can show up in the body and how that impacts the brain and behaviors and all these things in order just to sort of like add another lens to their awareness of things while they’re facilitating a movement practice or a mindfulness practice or whatever versus someone who has the job of supporting people to work through trauma. Do you know what I mean by that difference?
Kathryn Bruni-Young: 00:12:43
Laura Sygrove: 00:12:44
That’s very different to me. So I just want to get that clear because I don’t think that people who have done a little bit of trauma training or trauma-informed training should be working with individuals one on one and purposefully going into their trauma experiences and helping them work through that. That, to me, is really irresponsible. But teaching a group yoga class or group movement class and having done some trauma-informed training and some anti-oppression training and some accessibility of training around these things being accessible for more bodies, all of those things will inform how you hold that space and how you facilitate, and I think that’s a good thing. I think I just got away from your question.
Kathryn Bruni-Young: 00:13:37
It’s all good. All of this is great. I just want to get people talking. So you mentioned earlier this idea, I think this was such a great comment you said about, what is the criteria for teaching a trauma-informed class? And more importantly, who gets to decide on that criteria? And this is just such a great question because I think that there are certain criteria that people learn in trainings like you don’t assist anybody – or what else? – maybe don’t walk behind somebody or do this or do that or set up your room like this or tell them this. There could be so many different things. And I wonder if learning all these specific guidelines– I guess, my first question– and not that you know the answer to this, but my question out into the universe would be, well, who made this up? And who was that for? And is trauma one big thing that should be lumped together?
Laura Sygrove: 00:14:37
Yeah. Such a good question. I mean, this is where I see a lot of evolution in my own teaching and practice around this stuff. I mean, one of the first people I did a formal I think they call it trauma-sensitive yoga training was with David Emerson, and that was largely informed by the work of Bessel van der Kolk. And one of the things that I really had to discern over the years was that that training was very specific to his work with individuals who had diagnoses of PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, who were coming to practice yoga as a way of working through trauma. So that’s very different than a general yoga class with just a bunch of people in it and you have no idea what brought them there, what they’ve been through, where they land on that spectrum because everyone’s been through something. Whether folks identify it as trauma or not, everyone’s been through hardship. Everyone is dealing with stresses of some kind. So I think that a lot of the learning in that initial training I did was very– I mean, I just want to say it felt a little bit strict around like, “Do these things. Don’t do these things.”
Laura Sygrove: 00:15:57
And I think for me, it took a little time to kind of– I mean, right away there are a few things that when I left that training and I did it with a couple of my co-workers at the time, we had a lot of conversations around, “Yeah. This makes sense to me, but maybe not this other thing,” And I think that’s the case with most trainings and workshops is that you hopefully go, you’re not just passively taking in all the information as hard truth and then walking away and applying it. I mean, I don’t think that’s a healthy way to take a training. Nobody has all the answers, but rather sort of seeing how certain things land with you and experimenting with things and being adaptable with that knowledge. And so even for me, I think one of the things I’ll say about New Leaf’s training is– or just in general, I would say context matters. Right? So again, the context in that training was me really understanding, “Oh, he’s working with people with this diagnosis who are coming for this reason. That’s different than teaching in a general studio setting.”
Laura Sygrove: 00:17:01
Similarly, in New Leaf’s training, when we have some guidelines that seem kind of hard and fast rules, the context needs to be understood that our job is to teach people to offer these kind of practices to young people. And in the environments that we work in, it’s like we’re often teaching, say, for example, in a school, right, with 25 to 30 young people in a room, some of whom don’t want to be there. Right? We might be teaching in a gym class, and so some of the youth are interested in what we’re offering. Others would gladly not be there if they didn’t have to. We’re seeing them once a week for maybe 12 weeks, a little longer if we’re lucky. But it’s a very specific circumstance. Right? They’re youth under the age of 18, all of these things. And so some of those guidelines that we offer might be a little bit more defined because of the context that we’re working in. So in that context, as an example, it would be safer to have a general guideline of not putting our hands on anyone. But that shouldn’t be misconstrued into saying a trauma-informed approach should never, I think, now– I don’t think it’s a trauma-informed approach to say never would there be touch involved. I have found touch very healing in my life. I know all kinds of people who have. Certain contexts aside, for me, it’s less about this set of rules that you never do these things and you always do these things because that’s like saying you have the answer for people. And I think, for me, a trauma-informed approach in a very broad way is about understanding that we don’t have the answers for people, and people are the experts of themselves. If we are teaching in a way that’s assuming that we know what’s best for people, that’s where we get into tricky territory I think.
Kathryn Bruni-Young: 00:18:54
Yeah. And it’s such a great point. Okay. So for people who want to be working specifically with people who have experienced maybe specific forms of trauma, what do you think some great resources are, or do you think that there are great trainings out there? Or what are the skills that people could start to work on?
Laura Sygrove: 00:19:20
Good question. I think more than specific trainings that I would recommend– which if I was going to recommend some specific ones, I might have to follow up with you. But I think, in general, doing a lot of different workshops and trainings because, again, my experience has been that I take and learn different things from different people. And the more that I learn, the more I question, which I think is a good thing, and the more I sort of get clear about my own approach. So I would just say nobody’s got all the answers, so seek out various teachers with various approaches. And I think, as I said earlier, I can’t say the number of hours you should train or something. But your question was if you’re specifically wanting to work with a group of folks who have identified having been through trauma like, let’s say, women survivors of sexual abuse or something like that, right, I think is maybe what you’re suggesting, a group that identifies in some way. I think you need to seek out a lot of training in general around these things but also specific to that group. But again, it’s such a good question that I don’t have the answer for. How much is sufficient? My attitude with anything, and I’m sure you agree, is that there is no place that we get to where we’re just like, “Okay. I’ve got enough training that’s sufficient.” It’s like my attitude with all of these things is just continuous learning. It doesn’t stop. Maybe it shouldn’t stop. [music]
Kathryn Bruni-Young: 00:21:05
I want to take a moment in the middle of this episode to tell you about building resilience, our 30-day practice progression. If you want to get started with strengthening in a mindful way and you’re not quite sure where to begin or there’s just so many options out there, go over to mindfulstrength.ca and get started. Each day you get a new class. Every class is 30 minutes or less, so it’s super manageable, and classes range from strengthening with weights and bands and your bodyweight all the way to self-massage and restorative practices. So you get a little bit of everything, which will help you build your resilience. To sign up, go to mindfulstrength.ca. All right, everyone, now back to the show. [music]
Kathryn Bruni-Young: 00:21:56
Yeah. Sometimes I feel like when it comes to working with people who have experienced some type of trauma, I think that sometimes teachers are really nervous, which is interesting because, as you said before, everybody’s got something going on. And those people are showing up in our classes all the time whether we know what they’ve got going on or not. Those people are coming in. Yesterday, I had a call with Neil Pearson who’s a pain researcher, and he shared with us that a higher percentage of people in yoga classes experience chronic pain than out in the world, which is kind of interesting. I guess that could be for a number of different reasons. But people are coming to our classes, and then I think sometimes people start to feel like, “I need some special training to work with people better.” And sometimes along with that can go, “I’m also nervous about working with people. I’m nervous I’m going to trigger them, or I’m nervous he’s going to cry in my class or I’m not going to know what to do or da, da, da, da, da.” And I wonder what you think of that and how you might support teachers who have those kinds of feelings.
Laura Sygrove: 00:23:02
Yeah. I think, first of all, that it’s a good aim, and this kind of goes back to maybe what you asked earlier about this phrase trauma-informed. I’ve learned this around anti-oppression practice largely from my colleague Jamila Malika, who I know you’ve interviewed on this podcast, just around this idea of safe spaces. And I always feel like running in the other direction if I see someone say, “This is a safe space.” I’m like, “Really? How do you know? How do you know?” And similarly with trauma-informed, so I sort of feel like it’s like you can say, “We strive to make this an accessible space. We strive.” I remember at Kula Annex’s studio when Christi-an Slomka was the director there many years ago, it was like, “We strive to be anti-racist. We strive to be inclusive.” Right? And I think that word strive was so key because I think if we expect of ourselves that we can somehow magically create this space that’s safe for everyone and no one ever gets triggered, we’re just going to fail. And it doesn’t mean that it’s not something we should be striving for to make it as safe for people. But I don’t also know that a safer space means a non-triggering space. I think it might be more about how we hold space when the tough stuff comes up. I think there’s a temptation to want to run away from all the tough stuff or avoid all the tough stuff. And that’s sort of been part of my evolution around understanding trauma-informed practice too is that I think sometimes the trauma-informed piece gets misunderstood as, and maybe I’ve even taught that, minimizing as many triggers as possible, and it’s not to say that minimizing some triggers isn’t useful. But how do we sit in the hard stuff and how do we help hold that for people?
Laura Sygrove: 00:24:59
So for me, a lot of that and how I coach people is like some of it’s preemptive for me. So I feel like I’ve been to so many yoga classes in my life, especially when I was younger. I don’t really practice in studio spaces. I haven’t for some time. But so much of the way I saw yoga being offered was very prescriptive, I guess, maybe is the word, where it was sort of talked about like, “This is how you should feel. If you’re not feeling this, do this thing so you get this feeling.” And for me, at the beginning of this interview, I said I had a love-hate relationship with yoga. And one of the reasons was the way it was being offered made me feel like I was so different from everybody in the space. Now I understand and I’m sure other people, but I just would feel so angry because I started yoga with chronic pain. I’ve had a major spinal surgery so most of my spine is fused. I have post-traumatic stress that I’ve been working through for so many years, and so little things like people saying, “Oh, this will be so delicious. Just really get into this and enjoy. This is such a restful pose.” It’s like, “Restful for who? How do you know?”
Laura Sygrove: 00:26:14
So some of the shift is just preemptive. When I offer certain things, I really try to invite whatever feeling is coming up. I’ll literally say, “This may feel restful. It may feel agitating. Notice what’s coming up.” And I think it reminds me of this Buddhist teaching of the second arrow of suffering. Right? There’s pain, which is just inevitable, but that suffering we add on top of it of resistance or judging the feeling or whatever just makes it so much harder. So for me, when I’ve had teachers or facilitators in a movement class or something just in some way, shape, or form invite or give permission or welcome or validate or acknowledge a range of things that you might be experiencing, that’s so helpful because I think that helps to at least take away that other layer of, “I’m feeling anxious in this movement that’s this thing that’s supposed to be so relaxing.” So then on top of that, I’m going to be like, “What’s wrong with me for feeling this way?” And I’d like to try to remove the, “What’s wrong with me?” piece of things. So I think just really creating a space that really actively and explicitly affirms all feelings and experiences is something that’s really key. Can I tell you a quick story? Something just came to mind for me.
Kathryn Bruni-Young: 00:27:39
Laura Sygrove: 00:27:40
We tend to focus a lot on– when you’re actually facilitating, if you’re a movement facilitator or yoga facilitator or mindfulness facilitator, we focus on how you lead those formal practices in a trauma-informed way. But I just think about being with people period. Right? And you know if you teach even in a studio setting, you’re with people not just in that time when you’re in the front of the room leading the actual class. You’re often hanging around before and after. You’re in the space together. And I remember this time I didn’t have this language around trauma, trauma-informed. None of this was in my awareness. I was maybe like 23 and in that management role at this yoga studio in Toronto. And I remember this person who was very dedicated who came every day and practiced yoga, and they had been coming there for years. And they had a habit of coming and going out of the practice room multiple times during every class, and this was hot yoga. And I remember hearing the very kind yoga teachers who worked there and very kind owners who worked there sort of have this growing kind of frustration with this person because it could be disruptive or it was seen as being disruptive for the rest of the folks in the practice room that this person kept going out and coming back. So I remember at one point one of the directors of the studio spoke with this person, and I think they were being as kind as they could. But essentially the message was like, “We need you to stop coming and going out of the room. And if you can’t do that, this isn’t working,” kind of thing. And I remember at the time feeling I understood that it was disrupting people, but I also in my heart was like this isn’t right just to say, “Don’t do this thing because we have these sort of studio rules,” for lack of a better word.
Laura Sygrove: 00:29:39
And now, looking back at that, I understand, who knows what was going on with that person? It might have taken all of their willpower just to show up there each day and to tolerate being in that room for that amount of time, and then they needed to breathe, whatever it was. And they might not have even known what was going on for them. But I just think the way I would coach people is to be curious and compassionate about someone’s experience and really check ourselves about making assumptions about what’s going on. So people might see a behavior like that– I just feel like over so many years of being around yoga teachers, folks might talk about like in a large studio class and you’re trying to instruct people, you’ve got someone that’s always busting out into some other movement that you’re not guiding people through and how frustrating that can be. And it’s like, what about a curiosity like why does that person feel they need to do that? So instead of just seeing those behaviors as troublesome or disruptive, I think being able to say, “Hey, what’s up for you? I noticed this and are you okay? Is there something that can be done so you feel more comfortable to be in the room?” or you know what I mean? I think in a general way, the more that we can allow people to feel what they’re feeling and affirm and validate those range of feelings, that’s a helpful approach for people who might be triggered or feeling some big emotion come up during these practices.
Kathryn Bruni-Young: 00:31:05
I think that the way that yoga or asana classes are being taught, especially in the big cities, has shifted quite a bit, specifically in the last five years. But yeah, that scene that you set like the hot yoga scene where everyone goes in there and usually is quiet at the beginning. And then the class starts, and most people stay on their mats the whole time. And sometimes there’s other guidelines like drink water or don’t drink water or everybody’s quiet or people don’t leave frequently. When I was in that scene myself, it just seemed completely normal. I was like, “Well, this is how it’s done. This is how everyone is doing it. These are kind of the guidelines. Right? These are the rules that everyone is following.” And then I started going to the gym, and then I was just like, “Holy crap, people are doing whatever they want in here. This is so interesting. No one cares if you go to the bathroom or drink water or do this or have a granola bar in the middle of the whole thing.” And it was just such an interesting moment for me because I grew up in a yoga studio in one of these first five yoga studios in Toronto. I grew up thinking, “Oh, of course, this is for everyone. Of course, we’re so kind and open-hearted and everybody feels comfortable here. And this is such a great space for everyone.” And then when I went out into the world and started taking other classes, moved away from the city, started working with different types of people, then I started to realize, “Oh, boy, there was a lot going on there.” And what I thought we were facilitating is not necessarily what we were facilitating.
Laura Sygrove: 00:32:44
So for me, the first time– because I agree that just a lot of these approaches that I’m talking about don’t need to be and probably shouldn’t be, I think, is what I was trying to say about this people informed yoga. They’re just good approaches to being with people and facilitating body-based and awareness-based practices with people. But I think for me, in the yoga world of yoga trainings and things, the first and only time I used to hear about this conversation was in that context of a trauma-sensitive yoga training. That’s not to say it wasn’t happening anywhere else. I don’t know. But in yoga trainings, I was interacting with a lot of yoga teachers back then because I was in that management position and people had done multiple trainings and stuff. And I just wasn’t hearing these conversations, and thank goodness it’s changed. But even for me now, it’s like I don’t feel you could truly say you’re trauma-informed if you’re not doing anti-oppression work. Right? I don’t know. Thank goodness it’s changing. But yeah, I think for me, folks who were leading yoga for specific populations, like David Emerson for specific populations who identified as experiencing post-traumatic stress, that’s the first place that I was hearing conversations about the kinds of things that we’re talking about as just being good ways to teach people and work with people.
Kathryn Bruni-Young: 00:34:17
Yeah. I agree. I did a lot of yoga training for about five years. I did constant yoga training, and yeah, I agree. These conversations were not coming up. That was 10, 12 years ago. I think things are changing, but also, I don’t know. Yeah. It’s like I think things are changing, but I wonder if in just following these new guidelines, adding these lists of criteria to teacher trainings, I wonder if a lot of the nuance is still being kind of lost. And you mentioned that, how could you be teaching in a trauma-informed space without doing the anti-oppression work? Right now, I think a lot of people are trying to add anti-oppression work to their trainings. But even still, there’s a lot of questioning from participants being like, “Why is this part of my yoga training?” I have had these questions directed at myself this year like, “Why are we doing this workshop in part of our strength training training?” And so yes, things are shifting, but I feel like there’s still a lot more to go.
Laura Sygrove: 00:35:29
I agree. I think there’s always a long way to go, and the risk is that in so many ways I think it’s worse to add to your bio that you’ve done anti-oppression training, for example. But it’s almost like a checkbox that you’ve ticked off and maybe you thought you could do one workshop and that’s it. Whereas I know that it’s lifelong work. That’s why that’s striving. I love that striving bit and adding that to that description, right, because it’s like, “I’m working on this.” It’s a process which yoga teaches us about that. It’s funny how many people I think sort of resist anti-oppression work or trauma work as a process because, I mean, for me, it’s the very nature of a yoga practice or mindfulness practice. I mean, that’s why we call it a practice. Right? It’s ongoing.
Laura Sygrove: 00:36:26
And I think the danger is if people do a workshop, add it to their bio, it’s like they ticked the box off but are not truly dedicated to the ongoing learning because that’s almost more unsafe because I know, for me, there was a lot of time when I preferred to find yoga teachers in studios who there was some indication in their bio that they had done some trauma-informed work. It doesn’t mean that I would love the way they taught necessarily. It can be a very personal thing, but it was just something that I preferred to seek out teachers who might have had that background because I just knew I found being in those spaces very, very difficult because of my own history of trauma. So sometimes people if they have felt unsafe or unsupported or unseen or unsupported– or I said that already, really unsupported in a space like that, they might seek out a facilitator or a teacher who does somewhere list on their website, or whatever, they’ve done these kinds of trainings or they’re dedicated to this type of work or whatever. If that person has sort of treated it like a checkbox, it’s almost worse than someone not saying they’ve done that at all because it sort of could misrepresent. So yeah, I think we do have to be careful that these aren’t checkboxes that we just tick off that we add to our teacher training. It’s like, “Yup. My teacher training had five hours of anti-oppression, and great, I’ve done anti-oppression and trauma or anti-oppression and yoga. I’m good now. I’ve covered that base.” That’s tricky and dangerous I think.
Kathryn Bruni-Young: 00:38:01
I remember I think it was when I finished those first couple modules of somatic experiencing, I came back to my little tiny yoga studio and I continued teaching. And a couple of things changed for me right away like how we started the class, for example. But a lot of things stayed the same. But I made a conscious effort to just shift a couple of my cues and be a little bit more invitational sometimes. And I remember in one of my classes one of my regular students was there, and I said something like, “Do downward dog or you can come to seated,” two options. Or I said maybe, “Do downward dog, or if that doesn’t feel good right now, just do something else.” And then mostly people would do downward dog, and I went to downward dog. And then I came out of it and I looked up, and one of my students was doing something else. And I looked at him and I was like “Are you okay?” and he was like, “Yeah.” I was like, “Hold on a second. So I just said, ‘Do this or do whatever you want.’ Somebody takes it upon themselves to do whatever they want, to listen to their instincts, and then I’m singling this person out.” I was just like, “Hold on, you need to really integrate this. And yes, I just did this wonderful training. I learned all these new things. Cool.” But also integrating that into the cuing, into your language, language that can be so, so habitual, that takes time. That, I feel like, is a practice.
Laura Sygrove: 00:39:21
Yeah. As teachers– I sort of resist that word but I’m just going to say it. As teachers, what are we hoping for? Do we care that someone attains a certain pose? Or do we care that people might feel empowered, reconnect with their bodies, understand their own needs, and make decisions based on understanding what they need, feel a sense of agency over their bodies? That’s what I care about. You know what I mean? So it’s what you said around kind of embodying the learning. Again, is it a checkbox of, “I heard these guidelines. I’m going to start incorporating more choice because I was told that’s trauma-informed. I’m going to be trauma-informed. I’m going to put choice in there”? Maybe that’s a start. But I think for me what’s happened– and in a weird way, I think if you’re a yoga teacher or movement teacher or mindfulness teacher who has just found these practices, basically, really healing and not had moments of real struggle in those practices, you have to work harder, I think, to really remember that these things don’t feel healing to everyone all the time.
Laura Sy: 00:40:38
But someone like me who had that love-hate relationship, still does in so many ways, I feel like, for me, that is embodied in me that I am not as likely to take for granted that this doesn’t feel great for everyone. But I’ve worked with teachers who it’s kind of news to them that like child’s pose doesn’t feel great for people and not just for people who have tight hips or something, but for some other reason that even the practitioner doesn’t understand themselves maybe. They just want to run out of the room when child’s pose is done. It’s like that’s news to some teachers because they haven’t experienced that in their own bodies. And again, I think trauma-informed, anti-oppression learning that I am in process with teaches me to ask myself a lot of questions, and that’s one of them. What am I hoping for here? I don’t give a shit, honestly, if people can do downward dog. I care that they learn to feel connected to themselves and feel connected to their bodies. And how can I maybe support people in those things? So then that takes that cue or that “guideline” of invitational language or choice, and it’s less mechanical. It’s not like, “Oh, I checked the box because I was more Invitational because I heard that was trauma-informed.” And it’s actually like, “No, I’m offering choices because we’re cultivating an atmosphere here where people can explore how they feel and what they need and choose what’s best for them.” Do you know what I mean?
Kathryn Bruni-Young: 00:42:18
Laura Sygrove: 00:42:18
It’s less like a mechanical thing or like a thing that you’re doing because you heard it’s the right thing to do, and I think that’s a deeper, connected way of offering these things.
Kathryn Bruni-Young: 00:42:29
So you mentioned that you don’t practice in a lot of studios so much anymore. I’m wondering, do you have a movement practice?
Laura Sygrove: 00:42:36
I do have a movement practice. I mean, my movement practice is all over the map. It’s funny because so much of my life, obviously, because of the nature of my work, I think, with New Leaf, I inevitably talk a lot about yoga movement as being a big part of my life, and it has been. But something I talk about less is dance, and actually, dance has been a huge part of my life since I was a young child, all different types of dance. And dance has been I think very, very healing for me as well as one of the movement practices that I’m really acknowledging more and more what a role that has played for me historically and continues to play. So I find myself dancing more than anything these days. But I do do a gentle kind of yoga-based movement practice a few days a week, and yeah, I do what I feel I need. I also just try to move in any way. It’s great having a dog. We were talking about our dogs being out walking, running, being in nature, but I try to just move how I feel I need to.
Kathryn Bruni-Young: 00:43:41
Thank you so much. I feel like we could just keep going on and on, but we’ve got to draw the line somewhere. I’d love to have you back to talk about more of this. If people want to find out about New Leaf or anything else that you’re working on, where should they go online to do that?
Laura Sygrove: 00:44:00
They can go to newleaffoundation.com.
Kathryn Bruni-Young: 00:44:03
Awesome. We will have that link in our show notes. We’ll include links to social media as well. Thank you so much, Laura.
Laura Sygrove: 00:44:10
Amazing. Thank you so much. Such important questions to ask and be continuously thinking about.
Kathryn Bruni-Young: 00:44:19
[music] So that’s our show. Thank you, everyone, so much for listening. If you are listening on Apple Podcasts and you are loving the Mindful Strength Podcast, please consider leaving us a review. All of the reviews really, really help. If you want to learn more about my work, my membership, my teachers course, or my new free course called Mindful Strength Foundations, you can head over to mindfulstrength.ca. [music]