By Jessalyn Akerman-Frank
When I saw a facebook post about the Firefly Training in trauma-informed yoga, it spoke to me. My first thoughts were that this is the type of training I need to incorporate into my yoga and advocacy work, and my work with Interpreters who interpret for hearing yoga classes that have Deaf participants. My second thought was, I wonder if they would accept me because I am Deaf and I require ASL Interpreters to participate fully. I am a passionate yoga teacher who loves the practice of yoga and wants to continue to grow in the field, and give that to my community. I decided to apply and to ask for the accommodations I needed. Firefly was very professional, asked all the right questions, and worked hard with me for months to figure out a way that we could work together.
My opportunity with Firefly was a beautiful community experience. It's always nerve-wracking for me to walk into a room with many seasoned yoga teachers, some new teachers, and people from all walks of life. Having ASL Interpreters helps, but knowing that I am the only Deaf person heightens my awareness every time. These feelings of unease lasted for no more than 15 minutes. Why? The Firefly Training facilitator (my teacher was Annie) immediately set the tone within the room.
The room was set up in a circle, which required us to look at each other and grow more accustomed to being together in a small space. The tone Annie used, which I could feel through the interpreters, was gentle. Annie was real, honest, and the way she instructed didn’t make the yoga classes feel like advertisements for the best yoga teacher, or for a studio environment that was “all smiles.” There is nothing wrong with that--but what I wanted was authenticity, and Annie was both authentic and present with us. The process, as we worked through the day, felt like the metaphor of being a caterpillar, shedding layers of skin, bringing out rawness (Truth)--and only by consent and will of the individual. The transformation was evident in all of us. In the end, I truly was changed, a beautiful butterfly of my own.
Annie created space for me, for my ASL Interpreters and for my need to have a slower pace, more time to relay my words, and a sense of comfort that gave other participants space too. With all that Annie gave to my learning experience, I know it was a lot of work, but it was exceptional and so masterfully done. For me, the knowledge I gained was the best challenge I have had in many years: learning the social justice aspects of trauma-informed yoga; discussing language usage and trauma-informed cues; translating that into ASL; becoming aware of the principles of trauma-informed yoga and identifying how to blend that in with Deaf Culture, Community and ASL. I fell in love with Annie’s teaching approach, the Firefly Training, and the community that was built through this program, and I am grateful that all fully embraced me.
It has been a challenge to be accepted in the mainstream yoga community and offered the same opportunities or even get support to grow, so the Firefly Training experience truly gave me the love, confidence and positive light I needed to continue to move forward. Trauma-informed yoga is very different than many of the yoga trainings offered today. It truly embraces the reality of many of our lives (including grief, abuse, loss, pain, depression) with love, light, healing energy, specific yoga terminology, approaches, and curriculum.
I use trauma-informed yoga in my weekly classes when I travel to teach yoga in other countries and in my daily work as an educator, presenter, and community builder. I think all teachers should have the knowledge that trauma-informed yoga offers. It is so important that we are aware of our own impact on students, be mindful of our language use, and understand that different parts of a yoga practice may be comfortable for some, but not for all. The Firefly Training demonstrated that which is missing from many yoga studios that I have been part of: namely, the flexibility, the accommodations, and the acknowledgment of the people in the class and the journeys that brought them to yoga, or yoga to them.
I am grateful to Firefly Yoga International for embracing diverse yoga teachers and making it accessible to me as a Deaf yoga participant. Yoga should be available to everyone, but not everyone makes it available. Firefly took the lead in helping me emphasize this critical point. Accessibility barriers mean working together, finding that bridge, and making it possible for everyone to participate.