“For a traumatized person, the journey toward a vital, spontaneous life means more than alleviating symptoms--it means transformation. When we successfully renegotiate trauma, a fundamental shift occurs in our beings... Through transformation, the nervous system regains its capacity for self-regulation. Our emotions begin to lift us up rather than bring us down. They propel us into the exhilarating ability to soar and fly, giving us a more complete view of our place in nature. Our perceptions broaden to encompass a receptivity and acceptance of what is without judgment. We are able to learn from our life experiences. Without trying to forgive, we understand that there is no blame. We often obtain a surer sense of self while becoming more resilient and spontaneous. This new self-assuredness allows us to relax, enjoy, and live life more fully.”
–Peter Levine, Waking the Tiger, Healing Trauma
I never imagined that I could feel strong and safe in my body again. After the trauma I completely neglected the needs of my body because frankly, I detested it. I would look in the mirror some days and not feel any connection to what I was witnessing. It was a sad, lonely, and frightening place to be. It was not until I learned through my own personal exploration of the beautiful practice of yoga that it takes the whole mind, body, and spirit to transform the deep seeded wounds of trauma.
The light that yoga brought into my life is truly encompassed by the process of transformation that Peter Levine so eloquently describes above. Yoga has given me permission to live the life I was destined to live. The wonderful thing about yoga is that you can take it with you anywhere. Whenever a painful memory arises or I feel the anxiety and distress flowing through my skin, I can always return to my breath to regulate my emotions. When I notice my mouth getting dry, my palms start to sweat, and my heart beating out of my chest when going into the details of my story, I can walk outside and feel the beauty of nature, the wind on skin, the warmth of the sun on my face and know that I am vibrant and alive. When I come home from a horrible day at work after hearing the trauma-filled stories of survivors, I often times think that binge eating unhealthy food will help me cope. When I resist that urge and instead make the choice to eat something cleansing and nourishing to my body, I am practicing yoga. Yoga helps me stay embodied. Yoga is a lifestyle that transforms the healing process. It’s magic really. The past few years I have finally settled into a path of healing that feels authentic for me. Everything clicked. My body changed. My relationships changed. My life changed.
The most important thing I want to communicate is that through the practice of yoga, YOU always have a choice. Whether it is finding answers within the four corners of your mat, turning inward and noticing conscious connections of your breath to your movement, or even making the decision to carve out time in your day just for you…yoga exists all around you.
Do no Harm
I keep going back to the principles of trauma-sensitive yoga because they are a central component of healing trauma. Restoring a sense of choice and establishing safety cannot be stressed enough. I was reading a local yoga magazine last week and came across a photo of a woman in a yoga pose who was bound by something that looked like black duct tape. The caption of the ad read “All Bound Up? Come Unwind.” I kept having a horribly adverse reaction to the ad and realized how the only impact it was having on me was feelings of being traumatized and unsafe. My heart deeply sank when I realized how a survivor might feel looking at that ad whose trauma involved being tied or bound in some way. I was saddened to think of how it might deter a survivor from a practice that could be an incredibly healing part of their journey. It brought me to tears.
In that moment of devastation, I found a glimmer of hope. I realized how pivotal my work in this movement is. Experiences like this empower me to continue my education about the intersection between yoga and trauma and help teachers understand the powerful impact of making changes to their classes to ensure they are trauma-informed. Most importantly, Margaret Howard’s message of “do no harm” cannot resonate more deeply.
The Transformational Journey: Survivor Stories
I wanted to share a few testimonials of students who have participated in the Transcending Sexual Violence through Yoga Program and whose lives have been transformed through the practices of trauma-sensitive yoga. I hope that if one day you choose to embark on this journey, these words can give you strength and hope.
“I learned so much from this program, not only did I learn yoga but I also learned more about myself and my body. I learned to take care of myself, to be conscious of signs that point to me doing the opposite of self-care. I learned how to read my emotions, to pay attention to my surroundings, and to be more assertive and strong. But most of all I learned how to let myself become the person I am meant to be, to let myself see me for me. It allowed me to view myself in a positive light.”
"Since the assault, I've regarded my body as something almost like a traitor or foreign. This program has helped me feel more comfortable in my skin. I feel strong and beautiful. I feel like I'm in control of my body again."
"I gained my body, spirit, and mind back. I gained confidence, openness, and courage. I gained strength, assertiveness, and knowledge to carry me for a lifetime. I gained myself back."
"This program helped me find my inner voice. Peace. Some courage to be myself and communicate my needs/wants to others. I'm learning how to speak up for myself. This yoga class has changed my life."
"Zabie has forever changed my life. Before I was lost and numb. She has shed light into my life and guided me to be the strongest I've ever been. She has showed me the positive aspects of my life and taught me to be loving, open and confident."
"I found a way to be calm at my most stressful and emotional times."
“Prior to the program, I was having difficulty with eating. When I would get stressed, either emotionally or with school, I would have a panic attack and eat until I "felt better. I felt that the satisfaction from eating, as if I was hungry, calmed me down. I have gained 30 pounds since I was raped, but I am proud to say that since the beginning of yoga, I have been able to control my emotions way better and have stopped eating/binging. "
“I can now manage painful experiences well without breaking apart.”
“I learned that being who I am is enough.”
|Trauma-Sensitive Yoga 8-Week Series, Center for Living Peace|
I want to leave you with one of my favorite meditations from “Five Good Minutes in Your Body” about creating the sacredness within:
“At the center for your being lives your soul. (If it is comfortable for you) Visualize your soul as a radiant, golden beam of light near your heart or in your belly. This inner light represents all your beauty, strength, resiliency, and other positive qualities. It is your spiritual core. It isn’t troubled by physical shortcomings or limitations. Focus on this light that represents your soul and (I invite you to) breathe into it- imagine the light growing in intensity and radiance with each breath in and out.”
I invite you to live your intention. To experience the life you deserve. The life you envisioned is yours.
Zabie received her BA in Psychology and Social Behavior and Education at UC Irvine and her MA in Higher Education Administration at The George Washington University, and is a certified trauma-sensitive yoga instructor offering workshops specifically designed for healing trauma. Zabie is the Violence Prevention Coordinator at UC Irvine and serves on Board of Directors for Stop Street Harassment and We Step into the Light. She is the founder of Transcending Sexual Violence through Yoga, an organization with a simple mission: empowering survivors to heal through yoga. She teaches trauma-sensitive yoga classes at Be the Change and the Center for Living Peace in Orange County, California.
Zabie has created a model therapeutic yoga program and curriculum being implemented throughout the U.S. Her work has been highlighted in the Huffington Post, OC Register, Pinterest, Elephant Journal, Breathe OC, Coast Magazine, and various OC publications and magazines.
Photo by Sargeant Creative