"Energy held in immobility can be transformed ... contrary to popular belief, trauma can be healed -- in many cases without long hours of therapy; without the painful reliving of memories, and without a continuing reliance on medication." -- Peter Levine, Waking the Tiger
As a survivor of sexual violence, I never imagined the years of disconnect I would feel from my own body. I wasn't prepared for the way my past experiences of trauma would sneak up on me and manifest in various areas of my skin where painful memories still existed.
Sometimes, triggers would brew and create sensations in my limbs, leaving me with a heavy heart and frustration as I looked to bottles of medication or sat in anxiousness at the thought of having to explain these somatic feelings in talk therapy.
I quickly learned that what I needed was something tangible. I needed access to something that allowed me to feel like I could use my body to regain power and control. Yoga entered my life at a time when nothing else made sense.
Yoga became an integral part of my healing journey. I finally had an outlet to process the unsafe feelings that were residing inside of me. I had the choice to move my body in ways that felt comfortable. I gained tools to manage painful experiences. I felt lighter, more grounded, and balanced, and I had a form of self-expression that allowed me to move beyond trying to find the words to articulate what I was feeling.
I finally had control.
It is scary to feel unsafe within the layers of your own skin. This has been a common theme among many of the survivors I have interacted with in my role as Violence Prevention Coordinator at the University of California, Irvine. Students were looking for something to deepen their healing process. I felt compelled to share the gift of yoga with those who were in search of a missing piece along their journey to heal.
I decided to enroll in a 200-hour yoga teacher training and attended specialized 40-hour training in trauma-sensitive yoga instruction . This training changed my life and sharpened the lens through which I teach. I learned about the importance of teaching from a trauma-informed framework, and it allowed me to create Transcending Sexual Violence through Yoga, a safe and sustainable program that has had a profound impact on survivors.
The program offers Yoga as Healing, an eight-week series that offers survivors a safe space to gain greater awareness around strength, stability, assertiveness and mindfulness. Classes have different themes, focus on grounding and restorative postures, explore positive affirmations, and are coupled with guided activities including debriefing exercises, journaling, drumming, and art therapy.
Survivors have said that the program has empowered them to report their experience to law enforcement, be intimate again, and have a healthier relationship with their body and food. It has increased their confidence and self-esteem, taught them how to trust themselves and others, and empowered them to seek other resources. One student shared a detailed testimonial that speaks to the need for trauma-sensitive programs throughout the world. For those looking for ideas on how to start a program, the Holistic Healing Service for Survivors White Paper is an incredible resource.
The journey to heal is a lifelong process filled with ebbs and flows, and is not always linear. Most importantly, all survivors don't heal in the same way.
My yogic journey, more than anything, has taught me about the importance of seva, or selfless service. Teaching yoga to survivors in a safe and accessible way is an experience that transcends words. The energy in that room is nothing short of magic. It is a beautiful process to be a part of and I am humbled.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center in conjunction with Sexual Assault Awareness Month. To learn more about the NSVRC and how you can help prevent sexual violence, visit here. Read all posts in the series here.
Need help? In the U.S., visit the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline operated by RAINN. For more resources, visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center's website.