This is an interview with Jocelyn Casey-Whiteman, who's practiced yoga for 16 years and taught for 10. She initially started yoga while dancing professionally to manage the physical and mental stress of her work. A survivor of sexual assault, yoga helped her regain a sense of equilibrium and resilience during her most challenging times.
Rob Schware: What originally motivated you to do this work, and what continues to motivate you?
Jocelyn: When I heard Exhale to Inhale's mission to empower women who have experienced intimate partner violence and sexual assault to heal and reclaim their lives, I had a visceral experience of relief for women survivors. It made sense that conscious movement with breath in a safe environment would help survivors to feel ease and strength in their body, which is an important step towards healing.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your teaching experience?
It's good to hear a student report having a positive experience in her body, such as "feeling lighter," after class. The moment someone finds repose and stability in a posture, and her expression softens, is beautiful.
What are some of the things your students have taught you?
They've taught me to trust the resilience of the human spirit during dark and difficult times. They remind me to never lose hope.
In what ways do you think yoga addresses some of the societal factors at play in the institution or population you work with? In what ways does it not?
In a trauma-sensitive class, we create a safe space in which survivors can step back into their personal power and practice, and make decisions without fear. We offer choices between which posture to practice next and how long to stay in a posture. With time, this can be a step towards the survivor strengthening her self-confidence and agency. They may or may not have such a space and opportunity at home.
What, in your mind, is the relationship between a practice of mindfulness and greater social change?
I think the more we search inside ourselves, observe our thoughts, beliefs, and habits, the greater the chance of healing the psyche's wounds and cultivating a healthy, peaceful relationship with ourselves and the world. This requires vulnerability, compassion, and patience. It means loving and listening deeply to all the parts of oneself as they rise into consciousness, making self-care and reflection priorities, being open to change, and maintaining hope for harmony.
What advice would you give to someone who is going to teach in the shelters that you work with? What would be the most important thing for them to carry?
Be deeply compassionate with yourself. The people I've met who teach or work in domestic violence shelters are extremely compassionate, giving individuals, but they are not always so generous with themselves. It's important to check in with yourself, and to refill your well when you feel drained.
What are some of your ideas about, or hopes for, the future of service yoga in America in the next 10 years?
I hope service yoga continues to thrive and is taught wherever there's a need. I hope yoga organizations receive funding to fully realize their mission of fostering wellbeing in the communities they serve. Since I believe everyone can benefit from yoga and mindfulness, I hope yoga is added to more and more school curriculums, so mindfulness can start early.
Editor: Alice Trembour
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Are you a yoga instructor giving back to underserved populations? E-mail Executive Director Rob Schware if you’re interested in being interviewed for this series.