When teachers of meditation and yogic practices are not informed about spiritual emergencies and trauma

Yesterday, I learned that a family member of a friend committed suicide immediately following a tantric retreat.

I don’t know what happened, obviously. But it’s not a stretch to imagine that something got triggered in him from the practices in the retreat, possibly deep trauma, it was overwhelming and unbearable to him, he lacked the support he needed, and saw no other way out of it at that moment. Possibly, if he had some forewarning that this could happen, if he had felt he could go to someone with what was happening, and if he had received support, he could have weathered it and come out on the other side.

To me, this highlights what fortunately many talk about these days: It’s important for anyone working with energies, meditation, yoga, and awakening to be aware that these explorations can trigger spiritual emergencies and deep traumas, and how to deal with it the best way possible. And this goes tenfold for anyone in the role of teacher, coach, or instructor.

It’s important to…

Inform potential participants before they sign up for any class, workshop, or retreat.

Do a screening for trauma so you can give them extra attention, modify the approaches with them, and perhaps recommend that they instead use another and more gentle approach.

Give them an outline of what may happen, what the typical symptoms are, and how to recognize it. (Usually not so difficult since it can be quite strong!)

Go slow and in small portions. Even apparently gentle practices like tai chi can trigger spiritual emergencies and trauma in some.

Create a safe and encouraging space for them to follow their own guidance, intuition, gut sense, and body, and slow down or sit out of anything that feels like it could be too much for them or too activating.

Create a safe and encouraging space for asking questions about this or asking for guidance.

Know how to best deal with what may come up and support them through it.

Be available following the event in case they need support.

I know that this can seem like bad marketing since it may scare some away. But it’s far worse marketing to have people have a bad experience, go into psychosis, or something similar. And if people are scared away because of this emphasis, then perhaps that’s exactly what needed to happen. Something in them likely knew that this could bring up more than they were ready to handle.

This type of trauma-informed practice is going to happen. It’s inevitable that it’s brought more into these types of events and practices. So why not be slightly ahead of the curve?

And it does make you look more professional, especially if you are actually trained in dealing with the possible fallout of these practices, which is also a good thing.

An online search on “trauma-informed mindfulness” will bring up resources on this topic. I have also written some articles on emergency tools.

NOTE: PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

I have some experience with this myself, both as a student/client and coach.

When I did the training in Tension and Trauma Release Exercises (TRE) in Oslo, I did a private session with one of the trainers. After five or ten minutes of shaking, I told her that it felt like it was enough for me. Anything else felt like too much. She said: “No, it’s fine, don’t worry, just keep going, we still have forty minutes left”. I did as she said, against my inner guidance. And it triggered a huge amount of energy and previously dormant things in my system. I didn’t sleep more than a few minutes at a time for more than ten days following this and was unable to function apart from doing the basics. It was uncomfortable beyond most of what I have experienced. And it’s hard to see that it was worth it, apart from as a lesson in what NOT to do as a coach or guide. She went against two of the main principles of this kind of work, which is to do it in very small portions in the beginning, and also to always encourage the client to follow their own guidance even and especially if it means taking a break or ending the active part of the session early. (After this, I did the rest of my training in the US where the trainers seemed far more professional.)

As an instructor, I have encouraged people to do just that: Follow your own guidance and sense of what’s right for you, above anything I say or any sense of expectation from anyone else. And do the practice in small portions, especially at first, and especially if you feel a bit raw and vulnerable.


INITIAL OUTLINE

  • Irresponsible spiritual teachers and event organizers
    • family member of a friend committed suicide immediately following a tantric retreat
    • don’t know but likely bc trauma came up during (and from) the retreat
    • very important for spiritual teachers/coaches to be trauma-informed, to know what can happen, screen people, inform, offer support and so on

….

This is something many talk about today, fortunately.

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