A Talk With A Trauma-Focused Yoga Teacher

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Dee Opp is a yoga teacher with a special interest in trauma-focused yoga. She offers very special experiences that involve what she calls engaging the ‘sensing powers’. You never know just where you might find Dee with her students: in the studio, on the water on SUP boards, out on hikes and bikes, or in places behind high walls such as prisons and detention centres. Dee tells us a bit about her life story and has a few tips for the aspiring yoga teacher.

Please can you tell us about your journey and how you first got interested in yoga?

I was first interested in yoga after having children and my neighbour offered classes in her home. It seemed so familiar to me and natural, coming from a dance background. It was definitely an opportunity to experience my body as a doorway to the present moment. It made me feel balanced and whole again. I remember always leaving feeling I had accomplished a different internal state – an inner harmony.

How did you get your qualification and what was the hardest part of the process?

I became a certified yoga teacher in August 2015, just after Stuart, my late husband of 25 years, had passed. I had always wanted to teach yoga in prisons, so this was the first step towards that goal. As I began teaching within prisons, I realised that there was a great deal more to study and learn. I had heard great things from my mentors about the Minded Yoga Therapist Certification Program in London. I applied and was admitted to the 2019/2020 cohort. The program is just under three years altogether and I’m excited that I will be fully certified by this August/September 2021, once I pass all my case study submissions. This was the most fulfilling and challenging program of my life. Not only has it equipped me with the necessary tools to support people who need it the most in prisons and immigration detention centres, but it also gives me the opportunity to serve myself and reflect deeply on how to care for myself on a whole new level. This living body of yogic philosophy and techniques offer us a depth of knowledge that is quite profound and sometimes I feel I could spend lifetimes studying. My biggest success was when I finally realised that I am my own best teacher and how to nurture myself in all aspects of my life.

Who were you before you started practicing yoga and how have you changed and evolved along the way?

The practice of yoga has changed everything about me. I find great joy in nature, staying active, diving into my hobbies with crafting, and of course the daily yoga routines which can include everything – not just what happens on the mat. Before being immersed in daily yoga practice, I was more at odds with myself; not feeling enough or living up to what I was capable of. Now I just set goals – short term and long term – and enjoy the process of learning and challenging myself in new endeavours. I’m not overly concerned with the outcome, just the process of the journey itself. It’s like the essence of living more in the present moment, what Eckhart Tolle’s book alludes to as ‘The Power of Now’.

Why did you decide to start teaching yoga and what qualities do you feel are important to develop and work on as a yoga teacher?

The most important element to develop as a yoga teacher is your relationship with yourself and your inner teacher. I feel this has helped me to have deep understanding and compassion for the suffering of others. Over the last six years of teaching yoga, I now realise that the first why may never change, but the daily why and how is constantly changing and evolving. It’s like the layers of the why are developing.

Can you tell us a bit about what your classes are like?

I no longer teach public classes. I offer private one to one work either on a mat in my private riverside studio or on a paddleboard on the river. The only classes/sessions I run are now in prisons and immigration detention centres. As Covid restrictions start to lift, I will be returning to five institutions to run weekly class for both staff and residents. The sessions are never the same but are always tailored to who is there on the day. Some need more movement while others need less. It’s this way of working in a very diligent, compassionate way for whoever shows up. I have learnt from so many wonderful mentors and teachers over the last 30 years. I hope they all realise that I take them in with me every time I go into secure settings. The sessions are all timed with a slow pace and are breath-led. Transitions are as important as the posture. I have developed my own style of working in a trauma-informed way that has been inspired by experts in this field. I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to study with so many leaders in this field of work.

Are there any current projects you’re working on that you can tell us about?

I am developing some courses that will be the first of their kind in prisons and immigration detention centres. One such workshop is entitled ‘Creative Mindful Breath,’ that involves movement, breath, mindfulness practice and drawing (art). Another project I hope to establish is an intervention program for young offenders. It would involve a pilot study looking at outcomes of at least ten participants over a 10 week period. The interventions would be uncomplicated and easily replicated, and could even be shared on the units between residents. People who really enjoy the experience and feel the benefit will be likely to want to share it with others – the ripple effect. Peer support is the antithesis of suffering for our youth.

What has been the most inspirational moment you’ve experienced as a yoga teacher?

Each and every time I lead sessions within secure settings. The sessions are voluntary; people aren’t forced to attend. They show up to move, breathe, and reconnect to the true essence of themselves. It’s a gift to witness.

Do you have any tips for anyone who wants to start a yoga business?

Be authentically you and offer what speaks to you, not what you think you should be teaching or based on other offerings.

What do you think makes a good yoga teacher?

To over-simplify, being authentic and doing the work themself.

When you were a child what did you want to be when you grew up?

A dancer and oceanographer.

What do you like to do for fun that’s not related to yoga?

Paddleboard, cycle, run, and crafts.

What’s your favourite meal?

New Mexican Cuisine

Who is your greatest inspiration?

My children

If you were stranded on a desert island, what 3 things would you want to have with you?

A paddleboard, a paddle, and a watermelon.

What’s your favourite quotation or mantra?

“First the breath, the body will follow, and the mind will go for a ride.“ (Dee Opp)

Where can people attend your classes?

They can book private or group sessions for yoga in my private riverside indoor studio or on a paddleboard. I specialize in breath therapy, mindfulness, meditation, aromatherapy, and somatic movement. More info at my website, DeeOpp Yoga


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