Transforming Trauma Episode 027: NARM and the Role of Consent in Trauma-Informed Yoga with Colleen Millen
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In this episode of Transforming Trauma, our host Sarah Buino welcomes NARM Therapist and Accessible Yoga instructor Colleen Millen to dive into and discuss the theme of consent. Throughout the episode, Colleen shares how her understanding of what consent means has deepened through her relationship with yoga and through her ongoing study of the NeuroAffective Relational Model (NARM).
Each episode of Transforming Trauma begins with our host Sarah asking, “What would you like listeners to get out of our conversations today?” This is inspired by the NeuroAffective Relational Model, as NARM sessions always begin with asking: What are you wanting for yourself out of this time? Colleen and Sarah unpack the ways that consent is embodied by these questions. They place the client in the role of deciding where to go and what will be discussed, allowing them to guide the session rather than be prescribed what they need to work on. Colleen was drawn to NARM by this focus on consent, and it has become the value around which she organizes both her therapeutic and yoga practices.
Colleen shares honestly that at first she was reticent to join the NARM training because of a traumatic experience that she had in a previous training community. She shares that she had been part of a yoga healing community where consent was not represented, and where “there were some cultic dynamics that created power differentials that were very, very difficult and abusive.” She left that yoga community and continued to work as a therapist while she continued to heal from the experience of betrayal. After decades of dedicated yoga practice, she began asking herself “Do I want to teach yoga at all?”
Through this process of self-referencing and self-healing, she discovered the deeper aspects of yoga that continued to call to her, which led her toward trauma-informed yoga, and a new branch of yoga called Accessible Yoga. She describes that Accessible Yoga is specifically designed to place the student at the center of their own relationship with their practice. Colleen shares the deep resonance that she found in Accessible Yoga. “[It gets] back to the roots of yoga [and is] what yoga, in my opinion, is supposed to be about. Which is… our community liberation. We can't have liberation without the people and systems around us being liberated.” In this way, Colleen re-discovered her relationship with yoga by placing the emphasis on trusting the participants to decide, using a language of choice, and supporting the agency of students.
It was from this place of rediscovery and renegotiation that Colleen discovered NARM. She described that she felt terrified, due to the betrayal and abuse of her previous yoga community, while at the same time a deep desire to learn and connect at the NARM training. Her experience of volunteering to do a NARM demonstration in front of the class was what transformed her understanding of what consent is, and how it functions in healing from complex trauma. She felt what it was to have her consent truly respected by the therapist/trainer. She reports, “Consent was honored throughout the process… [the therapist/trainer] really heard the essential wounding I had there. And he gave me a choice.” From that time on, this has become the reflection around which Colleen has oriented her work as a therapist and as a yoga instructor: “How do I offer consent? How do I ask for it? How do I orient myself to that in the world?”
The embodiment of these questions is exactly the learning that Colleen was looking for in a professional training, and that NARM has integrated into every level. From the initial question, to changing course in the middle of a session, to the mentorship and coaching available to students throughout the training, consent has always been central to her learning in the NARM process. And as a Yoga Instructor, she now practices through a lens that encourages self-referencing and choice.
Sarah and Colleen close their conversation by connecting around the respectful and caring relationship that is created with clients through honoring their consent and their agency, and how this quality creates such essential healing with people who have experienced complex trauma. As they reflect on their conversation, another element of NARM emerged for them – by bringing awareness to consent, an individual’s relationship to it will naturally deepen.
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Colleen works with complex trauma and regulation at Discovery Counseling Center in Danville, CA, a community mental health center. Accessibility and consent are core values and interests of her work. Colleen is also an Accessible Yoga Ambassador and trauma-informed yoga teacher and trainer.