Jane Clapp is a Toronto-based feminist and embodied resilience expert. She has been a practitioner in the health industry for over twenty years. Jane's approach of combining holistic personal training with tension and trauma healing has helped over 1000 people improve emotional and nervous system regulation, positively shift neuroplasticity, and release somatized stress and trauma.
Jane Clapp: Trauma-Informed Training, Consent in Movement Spaces, and the Political Nature of Trauma and in Wellness
By Laura Khoudari
I learned of Jane’s work in early 2015, while I spent seemingly endless hours looking for New York based trainers or coaches who were trained to specifically work with clients living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Following my own experience of an acute trauma in early 2014, which resulted in my developing PTSD, my training was suffering. Flashbacks in the squat rack felt like the worst of it, until I wound up in a nasty injury cycle from overtraining that took me away from any sort of training for months. After my own research into the neurobiological symptoms of PTSD, I knew I needed to find a coach who could help me uncouple the physical activation of training from the emotional activation associated with being a trauma survivor. Additionally, I needed a coach who understood just how taxing my flashbacks and panic attacks were on my nervous system, so that I was allowed a proper amount of recovery. During my search I learned about Jane, whom I eventually had the opportunity to study under. I became the personal trainer I had been looking for.
This January I met with Jane to discuss what it means to be “trauma-informed practitioner,” ongoing consent in movement spaces, and the inherently political nature of working in trauma and in wellness.
Thank you for meeting with me, Jane. Just to open, can you tell us a bit about your background and how you moved from such a high pressure, private industry, into your trauma-informed movement specialty?
I grew up in an environment that was really stressful and toxic, that had a history of intergenerational trauma. I wasn’t embodied as a kid, and I wasn’t coordinated. I was always last to get picked for teams. In the late eighties, about age 15, I found high impact aerobics. It was a really good, supportive community. It made me feel less anxious, and more alive, and it pulled me into [movement]. It made me feel really happy.
As my anxiety got worse, I definitely had some form of over-exercising and undereating thing going on. I found I escaped into over exercise to numb out.
I was a group fitness instructor, and I loved teaching people, and seeing people come to life with music and movement. But, then I did the “right” thing and I went to get a commerce degree (laughs). I specialized in labor relations. I worked at a trade union for the first two years out of school. Then I moved into the corporate world, and I quickly discovered that the ideal environment for people did not really seem to exist in the corporate world. I went to the bargaining table, I fired people, I did lots of hard stuff and I realized that to survive in that world, I would have to hide the parts of myself that really needed to be expressed.
When I moved to Toronto, I left that behind. I did not know what the hell I was going to do with my life. Fitness seemed intuitive, so I went through Ryerson personal training program. It was a longer program than most trainers go through, and I started training.
I started getting involved in acting. Expressive arts is such a huge part of helping us find ourselves again. I even performed comedy. I created a dark clown character, which was very much focused on traumedy, and was very physical. Also clumsy! It was a very clumsy character that I created based on my own coordination, quite honestly. That is part of the reason why I really love working with inexeperienced movers. I know what it is like to feel good in movement, but in a way that you really have to work at.
I found a really wonderful boutique fitness studio in the neighborhood I was living in and I loved it so much. I just loved being there. It was so inclusive. I started picking up shifts at the front desk and subbing classes and teaching. I decided to dig right into that because I found it so incredibly rewarding to work with people one on one. The connection I had with people in that type of work was amazing. I trained in lots of different movement things at the time.
In 2006, I opened up my own movement studio. I had a three-year-old child by that point, and I really couldn’t push my body the way I had before. Her dad and I had split up. I just didn’t have the bandwidth to push my body really hard. But, I knew I needed to move for stress reasons. I had to find a different way to train, one that was sustainable for me, given the stress levels I had.
People just started coming through the doors of the movement studio who were in a similar situations. I starting working with people before and during cancer treatment, and without any guidance at all. I knew through my own body and experience how to help people feel vital and resilient, regardless of what they were going through physically and emotionally.
People started sharing childhood trauma with me, and a bit more about their history. I notices from the comments that would come up that they were getting into their body’s emotional regulation or disregulation as a result. That started making me really curious about people’s systems. People’s nervous systems, people’s fascial systems, people’s psychological systems, and how that all was intertwined. I started really focusing on making movement and strength accessible to a way broader range of people, that other trainers at the time were afraid to work with. I treated it like I was in school: "I meet somebody I don’t understand, I am going to learn how make this work for them.”
Charles Poliquin was a big influence for me many years ago in understanding how to access more integrated strength. I have had teachers along the way that really opened doors for me. Diane Bruni is one of them. She is Toronto based. Healers as well who have opened doors for me. I am not “I do this based on this one thing I learned from this person.” I am a nonconformist and I don’t want to be told there is only one way to do it.
A lot of your story is very relatable for me and I think it will be for quite a few people. The idea of listening to yourself and following where your curiosity takes you, and letting that shape your career, is pretty exciting.
You mentioned people were coming to you in your studio and started opening up to you about their childhood trauma. I have heard other trainers and clients in a similar situation, and I have been that client that opens up. Not all practitioners know what to do in response. In fact, most don't. If people are looking for a truly trauma-informed movement practitioner, where do you suggest they start and what should they be looking for?
First of all, I want to add a caveat to that.
The reason that I can hold space for people to share (we were not processing trauma, they were just letting me know them a little bit better), was because I have done years and years of psychotherapy. Not because I was just trying to enhance my life, but because it was keeping me afloat.
I have been in contact with my own pain, discomfort, and trauma. Being trauma-informed is not just taking a three day course and getting a step-by-step guide for what to do and what not to do. It starts with doing your own work. If you are looking for a trauma-informed practitioner, ask if you feel resonance, attunement, trust, empathy with that person? Do you feel like you are too much for that person? If you do, then they aren’t a person you should be working with.
Pamela Bohan and I just co-founded a collective called Trauma-Informed Practitioners. The guidelines for membership go far beyond a two or three day course. We talk about the number of hours you need to do of your own psychotherapy or traditional healing, that you are currently doing your own work or have some type of supervision set up. That you have also done at least 24-hours of training from a neurobiological understanding of trauma, and there are other requirements too.
I think it is important that they have those things, because if they don’t, then they might just be working on not causing harm. Their focus of trauma-informed may be a do no harm focus, but I think the neurobiological focus, and the ability for someone to not pathologize another person for their suffering, because they know their own suffering, is essential.
There is also the Breathe Network, which "connects survivors of sexual violence to trauma-informed, sliding-scale, holistic healing arts practitioners."
Another one of the things we have talked about is how Women’s Strength Coalition is not shy about the fact that we are political. You have spoken about the biopsychosocial nature of trauma, would you mind speaking a bit about that for our readers?
Our body is impacted by the society that we are living in. Any level of marginalization or oppression impacts our nervous system. It impacts our fascial system. When we don’t feel safe, when we don’t feel like we belong, when we are living in kyriarchal power structures that make us feel small, and take away our voice, it impacts us not just psychologically, but in every system in our body.
I focus on how that affects our autonomic nervous system and the fascial system. Even our breathe biomechanics are directly impacted. If we don’t look at people’s struggle to find some measure of health, wellness, or strength, as also being impacted by the intersubjectivities they are living with, then we are not seeing the whole person.
In this culture, we are told that our wellness is our responsibility. But if we can’t find a way to be stronger, healthier, and more mindful, it is not an indication of our failing. We must also factor in the things around us that are inhibiting our ability to access wellness. Acknowledging that is essential, because it takes away toxic shame and self blame.
Along similar lines, you have been vocal pretty recently about consent in movement spaces. You were speaking specifically about yoga studios, but yoga studios, gyms, any of these communities, could you speak about the importance of what you called “ongoing consent” when working with clients in these sorts of spaces?
I ask clients before I make physical contact with them. I have some who will say, “you have consent from me; you have blanket consent.” I say, “No, I don’t.” I am not comfortable with that. When we live in any kind of environment that leaves us feeling oppressed, disempowered, or lacking agency, movement coaches or yoga teachers can be part of neural reprogramming. We can essentially provide choice again, we’re making choice a part of our way of being again in the world. Consent is not just about tiptoeing around people who are “sensitive” or traumatized, it’s also about the work that we can do in helping people re-occupy their bodies and really understand that there is choice when it comes to our physical bodies, and even our psychic-emotional bodies, too. Our way of being in the world.
Having choice again is a huge part of recovery and feeling strong.
Yes. When I work with people I try to also encourage them to respect their own boundaries. They do not have to share, they are welcome to share, but they do not have to.
No. No one has to share.
The other thing about consent is that some people can often perceive it as walking on eggshells around people, and it’s not. It is really just a basic human right to have control over our bodies and our peripersonal space. It is not being careful to not harm people. It is just the way in which we should all be in the world.
Lastly, many of the members of Women’s Strength Coalition are strength sport athletes, so they spend a lot of time during training in an activated state. They are in extension a lot of the time, they employ valsalva to brace, they walk into the gym, they get turned on, and here in New York City they walk out of the gym and get on the subway (mutual laughs)...
There is the constant being on, on, on. Can you share any tools or insight as to what they should think about as part of their recovery and self-care, so that they can feel better in their sport and in the other parts of their life?
To me, sustainability, in any type of sport, is often based on nervous system health. So, how quickly we can recover from a high sympathetic nervous system, activated state. A big piece of my work is teaching people how to decouple physiological activation from emotional effect, like anxiety and hypervigilance. If people are performance athletes, they may need to override physical signs that they are overactivated and in a state of high stress in a way that they can’t adapt to. If they continue to override that, it really impacts autonomic nervous system health in the long run, and anyone with any kind trauma history is only going to potentially wire in the traumatic stress response even more deeply.
The funny thing is, I found that when people bring a lot more interoception into the way that they approach a sport, something what some people call “flow” is a lot more accessible, because our brain does not flip. When we are a lot more mindful, and bring more interoception to movement, we keep our prefrontal cortex on and we are not in the fight or flight part of our brain. This may allow us to get into a state of flow, which is where the magic happens.
As a special gift to our community, Jane has included provided Women’s Strength Coalition with a recording from her most recent webinar, When Intuitive Eating Doesn’t Work, so that we may share it with all of you.
Trauma Informed Resources discussed -
TI Practitioners - A network of practitioners that are trained in the neurobiology of trauma for the public and for practitioners to develop a rich network of referrals and a sense of community.
The Breathe Network - Connects survivors of sexual violence with sliding-scall, trauma-informed, holistic healing arts practioners across the country.
JaneClapp.com - Jane Clapp’s professional website featuring resources on trauma informed training and embodied movement practices, list of services, schedule of professional trainings, schedule of webinars for personal use.
Laura Khoudari - Trauma Informed Training - Learn more about Laura’s personal training services in New York City.
Women’s Strength Coalition - Starting this year, Women’s Strength Coalition, in conjunction with Laura, will be launching sliding scale training for women living with PTSD, anxiety, depression, or chronic pain who want to get strong supervised by someone that understands how mental health can affect performance.
Books on why and how trauma impacts people physiologically, emotionally, and socially:
Waking the Tiger, by Peter Levine - “Waking the Tiger offers a new and hopeful vision of trauma. It views the human animal as a unique being, endowed with an instinctual capacity to heal as well as an intellectual spirit to harness this innate capacity. It asks and answers an intriguing question - why are animals in the wild, though threatened routinely, rarely traumatized? By understanding the dynamics that make wild animals virtually immune to traumatic symptoms, the mystery of human trauma is revealed. Waking the Tiger normalizes the symptoms of trauma and the steps needed to heal them.” - from the book cover.
The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel Van Der Kolk - “This profoundly humane book offers a sweeping new understanding of the causes and consequences of trauma, offering hope and clarity to everyone touched by its devastation. Trauma has emerged as one of the great public health challenges of our time, not only because of its well-documented effects on combat veterans and of victims of accidents and crimes, but because of the hidden toll of sexual and family violence and of communities and school devastated by abuse, neglect, and addiction.” - from the book cover
*A note about books these books. Reading them, although very illuminating can also be very triggering. Jane suggests listening to titles on audiobook when content may be triggering but you want to read them.
My mission is to increase access to somatic-based treatment for women and genderqueer individuals living with trauma, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain, in order to help them restore a healthy nervous system, get in touch with their innate resilience, restore their quality of life, and begin to thrive.
Laura Khoudari has a Bachelor of Arts from Mount Holyoke College and her MPA with a focus on Nonprofit Management from American University. She is a Certified Personal Trainer and an Assistant Strength Coach at JDI Barbell in Long Island City. Her additional certifications and courses include:
- American Red Cross Certified CPR and AED
- JDI Barbell Internship Program
- Movement For Trauma 1 and 2 - Jane Clapp
- Pelvic Floor and Core - Susi Hately at Functional Synergy
- Professional Somatic Experiencing Training and Certification (in progress) Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute
- Resilient Movement Foundations - Resilient Performance Physical Therapy
- Sound Body - Sound Mind - Tony Gentilcore and Lisa Lewis