Wednesday, October 7, 2020

How Yoga Helped Me Transcend Sexual Violence

by Zahabiyah Yamasaki, M.Ed., RYT

Zahabiyah Yamasaki will be presenting at the Accessible Yoga Conference Online, October 9-11, 2020

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 a 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.

Zabie Yamasaki, M.Ed., RYT is currently the Program Director of Trauma Informed Programs at UCLA and is the Founder of Transcending Sexual Trauma through Yoga. Zabie has trained thousands of yoga instructors and mental health professionals and her trauma-informed yoga program and curriculum for survivors is now being implemented at over 25 colleges campuses and agencies including the University of California (UC) system, Stanford, USC, University of Notre Dame, and Johns Hopkins University. Zabie received her undergraduate in Psychology and Social Behavior and Education at the UC Irvine and completed her graduate degree in Higher Education Administration and Student Affairs at The George Washington University. Her work has been highlighted on CNN, NBC, and The Huffington Post. She is currently writing the book: Trauma-Informed Yoga for Survivors of Sexual Assault which will be published by W. W. Norton & Company and is expected to be released in 2021. and @transcending_trauma_with_yoga

This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

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