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Indirect Trauma: Its Effects on YFFR Instructors Work and How to Support and Protect Against it

Updated: June 25th, 2021

I am at a Fourth of July celebration in Waco, TX. a couple decides to park their car close to where we are sitting, gets out of the car and walks away. My anxiety level rises, I am thinking about a similar story I have heard far too many times where a car is parked and used as a bomb, all I can think about during the firework display is when is the car going to blow up. It is only until the couple walks back to the car and drives away, that I am able to relax. Until the past four years, I believed that these thought processes were healthy and normal. This paper will dive into the various aspects of indirect trauma, ways that it could occur as a YFFR instructor, and practices/ self-care routines that I have found to be exceedingly helpful in my life.

Indirect trauma is

“Any combination of adverse transformations in the professional’s behavior, emotions and/or cognitive perceptions resulting from empathic engagement and sitting with the stories of those who have experienced trauma. Indirect trauma is an umbrella term that includes vicarious trauma, secondary traumatic stress, compassion fatigue, and burnout” (Center on Trauma and Adversity, 2019). YFFR instructors, in a multitude of different ways, may experience indirect trauma. One common way is through communication with a first responder who decides to share information pertaining to a particular incident that occurred. Another factor may be diminished boundaries with a student as the YFFR instructors want to help the student process stress outside of a yoga session. When working with the first responder community, it can become challenging to stay actively committed to assisting in the healing process if the YFFR instructor does not establish healthy boundaries, and pursue self-care practices that recharge and energize. “Hope and meaning are two of the primary gifts that are undercut by indirect trauma. Restoring these to work and life is the ultimate goal of addressing these difficulties'' (International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, 2000).

A personal excellence practice that I have found rewarding is professional development.

I shape my professional development and growth around areas that I find in my personal life that need uplifting. For example, in my mid-twenties I had just graduated college and wanted to learn more about personal finance so I could reduce my student loan debt as fast as possible. At the time, I was working for a government contracting company providing employment assistance to service members transitioning from the military. The opportunity presented itself to obtain an Accredited Financial Counseling certificate financed by the company, as I would be providing financial counseling to the service members. My drive for personal knowledge led to a more advantageous career path and better personal financial status for myself. If I target what is bothering me, a barrier to success, then I am able to reach out for help, and become a better version of myself. Another personal excellence practice has been tapping into the flow state. “The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times . . . The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).

The easiest way for me to accomplish this is through running and most recently yoga.

According to the Rise of Superman, “clear goals, concentration, a loss of the feeling of self-consciousness, distorted sense of time, direct and immediate feedback, balance between ability level and challenge, a sense of personal control over the situation, the activity is intrinsically rewarding, a lack of awareness, and absorption” (Kotler, 2014). All of these components comprise my running experience. When I start any run, my first initial thought is not of “Wow, I really love this!” It is contemplating why I am even starting out on this task. After mile one, I move into a phase of release. I start to feel comfortable in my breathing pattern, my pace, and confidence starts to build. I then go into “the zone”. I am aware of my surroundings up to a point but feel consciously out of my body. I am able to push myself harder while in “the zone” because my body and mind both know what I want to achieve is possible. After the run, I experience what is known as the runners high. Euphoria is the best word used to describe it and I feel that I can literally keep on running. This will last for about 30 minutes to an hour depending on the run. When recovery occurs, my body is in pain and again I think “why did I do this, I don’t know if I can have the same results next time”. I chase the runners high every day. Recently through starting Yoga, I find that a similar result can be achieved without the increased damage to the body that running on asphalt can cause.

Both of my personal excellence practices provide elements of hope and meaning to my life that makes processing through indirect trauma realizable.

I also incorporate self-care practices that center me in my life. One practice is through immersion in nature. My career is exceedingly front facing; I am speaking with service members and their families for about eight hours out of a nine-hour workday. To recharge my emotional state and take my mind away from work conversations, I will take a walk outside. The walk itself does not have to be very long. 15 minutes at most will help lower anxiety and quiet my mind. I am able to focus on the intricate details that surround me. This leads into my next self-care practice; meditation. I used to loathe meditation until the YFFR course. There was no way that I was going to empty my brain of all its thoughts and be still and quiet. I found that during the course, I was able to achieve a meditative state after I practiced the physical drills. Meditation, as a self-care routine, now allows for the stillness that is needed for repair within myself. “There is no mind without mindfulness” (Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D., 2014). I am excited to continue this journey with YFFR and thankful to have started this process!

Written by YogaShield® Trainee Clare Long

Clare Long attended the closed Instructor School, 015, in Lakeland AFB


Steven Kotler, The Rise of Superman, 2014

Bessel Van Der Kolk, The Body Keeps The Score, 2014

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