Heading out this morning to Yoga Service International with 2 of my favorite people. Erika and Barbara, a therapist and a counselor who work daily with victims of rape, and families affected by murder and assault. I work with them in conjunction with the BottleWorks Ethnic Arts Center where my yoga program is housed and is an amazing incubator for creativity. Two years ago we started on an amazing journey, creating a holistic, evidenced based approach to dealing with trauma. CBT, talk therapy has its limits here as the trauma occurred in the body, so it is in the body that we go to reclaim our bodies and therefore, our lives.
Yoga is a comprehensive system that has literally for thousands of years addressed suffering. In yogic philosophy the 2 main causes of suffering are attachment to pleasure which can manifest in clinging, grasping, cravings and addictions and aversion to suffering which manifests in fear, numbing, denial, hostility, resentment, anger, shame and blame. There are 5 layers to our person called Koshas where our beliefs and habits (samskaras) become engrained. This is why it is so hard to change and personal, social and cultural beliefs are so firmly entrenched and resist change! If you have ever told yourself to just get over it or told yourself to relax and noticed how ineffective that was, you get the picture.
Yoga has to do with our thoughts, speech and actions and working with this equation with our yoga forms has profound implications for all of these layers. If you have been disempowered in your life, your body at the cellular level carries the memory and ongoing experience of that. In a trauma informed or mindful (think slow, body based awareness, choice based language and uncomplicated options which is a completely different experience than the fitness based faster is better yoga that is the dominant cultural practice. This can actually be disempowering and triggering for survivors and others who don’t fit the cultural mainstream of a skinny, white, bendy female) based practice, you are led with awareness and choice based language into forms that ground you in space and time, bring an awareness of your core, your center and allow a safe space to open and extend the body. This is so simple, but yet is profound and again, at the cellular level, you are creating new, powerful, safe experiences in the body. Reclaiming what was taken away from you. Your life. I know this personally as a survivor.
This is becoming my life’s work. Heading to Omega with Victim Services Inc and representing our program with The BottleWorks is making this dream more of a concrete reality. Heading to a conference that doesn’t resemble the typical yoga conference. Here there are as many psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, therapists and counselors as yoga teachers. This is the cutting edge of Behavioral Medicine. There are also people of color, varying gender expressions, people of different abilities, shapes and sizes. Truly, for me, this is yoga heaven!
Heading there with the intention of bringing back knowledge of sustainability for these programs, networking more with others doing the work and receiving more training for trauma informed, social justice practices of yoga. (Currently have 120 hours and growing!) Anticipating growing and expanding the BottleWorks Programming with Victim Services Inc and will be starting a similar collaboration with Women’s Help Center. The wonderful thing about the BottleWorks is that it is familiar in the community and accessible to reach by public transportation and doesn’t have the stigma of the agencies (you tell people you are going to VS or WHC and you are marked as a victim , tell people you are going to the BottleWorks and there is no such assumption). Creating a home based program with Beginnings Inc for marginalized families with multiple kids and continuing to teach women at Cambria County Prison with the Commission on Hope. There is much to be hopeful about and there is much to be grateful for today. Life truly is beautiful and the transformation of suffering and creating space for empowering others to witness their own light is humbling and my heart overflows. Namaste.
Please visit www.traumasensitiveyoga.com for more information.
If you are reading this and you are a survivor of sexual assault and would like help and/or more info please call Victim Services Inc. (814) 288-4961 if you are a survivor of domestic violence, please call Women’s Help Center at (814)536-5361. All services are free and confidential.