Sexual Healing Through Yoga ~ Sue Jones.

Via on Mar 29, 2011

The renegotiation of touch

One in three girls in this country has been sexually abused or molested before the age of 14. One in four women will have been raped in their lifetime. One in seven boys has been sexually abused or molested.

The clinical world raises eyebrows regarding touch. Sexual abuse survivors?! You’re touching them?! That can be re-traumatizing! And yes, this is true. But with the right knowledge it can also be profoundly healing.

I say, it’s time to renegotiate what touch means to us.

 

Growing up, I experienced an abundance of inappropriate touch amidst a parched and empty desert of nurturing touch. During my childhood and later teen and young adult years, I came to fear and later be confused by touch from men. Family friends, doctors, bosses and other men in authority positions abused my trust and ultimately I came to figure that there was just something about me that made people do this.  I recognize that my story is not unusual. In fact it is sadly common.

It is not surprising that I met and married a man who could help me continue this dynamic—a dynamic that was so familiar to me that I knew no other way. Over the years, this repetition of unsafe touch left me feeling like a turtle pulled deep into her shell. Each time I would peak myself out of the shell I gained further assurance that there was just something about me—he couldn’t help it. It was up to me to make sure I didn’t continually cause this to happen. I needed to erase myself. I needed to become dead. I began to retreat. I would run to bed and pretend to be asleep before my husband would come up. I shut all my physiological and energetic doors. I became a prisoner in my own body.

Then I began to practice yoga. The studio where I happened to stumble upon my first of thousands of yoga classes had a hands on assistant in class. The experience was so profound for me that I still remember who she was and exactly what she looked like. Suddenly I was being touched in a way that I hadn’t experienced in what seemed like forever. Whoever this loving, giving spirit was, she was offering breath, support, nurture and love through her touch. Over and over I found myself feeling safe and nurtured in my practice. The assistants changed but the quality of touch remained the same.  I began to trust. I began to allow myself to feel my body once again. I began to come alive.

When I eventually trained to become a class assistant, my life was turned upside down. Other than my children, I had no connection to others by way of touch. In addition, it became clear to me that it was just too dangerous for me to touch my husband unless I was prepared to receive the only form of touch he knew—a touch that I had come to fear and despise.

I once pleaded with him to express nurture and care in a touch that was not sexual. He informed me that there was no such thing as non-sexual touch. For him, I have not doubt that this is true.

But I was starting to understand a different kind of touch. It is the kind of touch that asks for nothing—that does not push—listening to the receiver before offering more. This touch offers support. It is a conversation without words. It says, “I am here. I will help you trust when you are ready. I will support you in going where you want to go. When you are ready to go there.” It is mindful and considerate yet given fully and without doubt or hesitation. It is an exchange of energy.

Now I teach groups of yogis how to give this touch—it is not easy. My partner, Ray Mucci and I teach this skill from a fundamental belief that this is an opportunity for healing in not only the student, but the assistant as well. The foundation behind our teachings is build upon three core principles:

  1. fully believe and trust that you have something worth offering
  2. Meet the student where they are
  3. Listen to where the student is telling you about where they want to go. Support them in going there.

Of course there is a lot more to the art of assisting than just these three things, but without these core principles I believe a beautiful opportunity for connection and healing is missed.

Without fail, participants of our program bump up against all kinds of self-doubt, fear and shame. It takes a lot of work to understand that the shame they carry is the very shame that the students carry—in that we are all the same. We are healing together.

Loving, supportive and nurturing touch is one of the most powerful healers of shame that there is.

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When they express fear of a student not wanting to be touched, we remind them that by giving a student permission to say “no”, they are offering that student an opportunity that can be profoundly healing. It may be the first time the student has allowed themselves to safely use that word in a long time—maybe ever.

When they express fear of being “creepy” (this usually comes from the men) we tell them that if they come from a place of nurturing and care, they can help a woman heal from abuses of the past.

It was the nurturing and supportive touch of the male and female assistants that changed my life. Over time—in the sanctuary of the yoga studio and on the safety of my mat—I was able to renegotiate what human touch could be.

It wasn’t very long ago when I was so scared of touch that I was not able to feel alive. I thank my first assistants every day for helping me to feel supported, nurtured, loving and ever so fully and brilliantly—ALIVE.

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About Suzanne Jones

Sue Jones, Founder and Executive Director of yogaHope has practiced yoga for over 15 years and is a leading voice in the subject of mind body practices for self regulation and personal empowerment. For the last six years Sue has trained, inspired and lead hundreds of volunteer yoga teachers who have donated their time in substance abuse rehabilitation centers, domestic abuse safe houses and homeless shelters for women. She dedicates much of her time to researching the effects of yoga and mindfulness practices on survivors of trauma and those suffering from traumatic stress response. Sue’s life and work have been profiled in Yoga Journal, The New York Times, Shape Magazine, Body + Soul Magazine, Martha Stewart Whole Living Magazine and on CNN Headline News.

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31 Responses to “Sexual Healing Through Yoga ~ Sue Jones.”

  1. Just posted to "Featured Today" on the new Elephant Yoga homepage.

  2. Great article. Where did the "like" buttons go today? Sat nam! M.

  3. Luce says:

    Thank you so much for sharing. Your love and warmth shine through so beautifully. Especially this line struck a cord with me: "(…)we remind them that by giving a student permission to say “no”, they are offering that student an opportunity that can be profoundly healing."

    I once trusted a "healer" who touched me where I didn't want to be touched. He rationalized it by saying that a body is a body, all parts are equal in healing. He made me feel like something was wrong with me, to tell him, a "healer", "no". This was a horrible experience. It left me confused and ashamed. When I was a student I have been assualted by someone in my neighbourhood, during the day, outside. But his intention was so "clear", that I smacked and kicked him until he left me alone. It was an instinctual reaction that actually surprised myself; I never thought I was so strong!

    So the experience with this so-called-healer, who I trusted, was unbelievable. It really messed me up for a while. It's important to learn to say "no" in a safe environment, and to learn to trust your gut. No matter who is touching you.

  4. Sarah says:

    Superbly insightful, almost as if you've stepped into my world & felt it.

    • elephantjournal says:

      Sarah: As a former stripper of 13 years …I was weirded out by touch as well. Yoga allowed me to go beyond my skewed perception and understand that touch is healthy and needed. XO

  5. renegadecd says:

    How important and beautifully written. Thank you

  6. Claudia Azula Altucher Claudia says:

    I enjoyed your article. When I started practicing ashtanga I felt something like what you describes in some paragraphs here. I was being "touched" in a new way, helped to get in new poses, and it was all new and different. Guess I also had to renegotiate my ideas about what being touched were, and good thing I did, now I can actually even ask for help and trust that I am being helped within safety.

  7. Joe Sparks says:

    All of us need to be in physical contact with other people, far more than we ever get to be. You can see how much contact children want. They want to be held, they want you to pick them up. They'll wrap themselves around your leg and hang on. They want to feel you next to them. And as long as they are babies it's okay with society. The older they get, the more they're supposed to be independent and physically separate. This usually happens faster with boys than with girls. It's partly because of sexism-you can be a cute little girl longer than you can be a cute little boy. Boys are supposed to be little men very soon, which means that they don't have much physical contact, so they give up on feeling people close to them. But people actually want to be close forever. It's taken away from us. We don't out grow it.

    All of us are looking for people to be close to, whom we can relax with-people who are safe enough that we don't have to stand guard but can just relax and lean into them and enjoy being alive together.

  8. Dagda Segais says:

    Touch is an extremely important form of communication and has great healing abilities so I am glad to see this method of healing promoted here. I think the article is good food for thought and it is nice to see a victim move forward to a healthier more functional place in society and help others along the way.

  9. Dagda Segais says:

    Quote"One in three girls in this country has been sexually abused or molested before the age of 14. One in four women will have been raped in their lifetime. One in seven boys has been sexually abused or molested."

    However, I do not agree with this statistic, the author does not write which study and in which country, social class, race, time period that it applied to, or cited where she got this statistic from and whether any other scientific that studies back these numbers for victims.

    Pardon me if I come acroos as a little critical, but please remember I am only critical of the statistic and not of the good work this lady has done on herself and in helping others.
    I have taught self defence to people for over twenty years, I teach yoga and meditation to people and I also heal people using Shiatsu Massage. I have spent a lot of time helping people, victims of abuse and otherwise.

    Below are three websites with information for for victims of violence and healing methods and ideas. http://www.reuniting.info/wisdom http://www.giftfromwithin.org/html/articles.html http://www.violence.de/archive.shtml

    • Suzanne Jones sue says:

      for citations see this video. Citations are in italics below statistics http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CmUUOTvDRaQ

    • Suzanne Jones sue says:

      Thank you for your comment. For more information on my work you can visit http://www.yogahope.org and click on news to read about the Trauma Informed Mind Body Program that I have been developing over the last two years. I will be presenting our program model and preliminary data at the American Society of Criminology next November. If you are interested in hearing more about my research and work I would be happy to provide you with more information.

      sue

  10. Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the new Elephant Yoga homepage.

  11. [...] Sexual Healing Through Yoga ~ Sue Jones. [...]

  12. Named to Top 10 Elephant Yoga Blogs of the Week.

    Congratulations.

    Bob W. Yoga Editor
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  13. 13thfloorelevators says:

    I realize it is an easier sell to quote stats re: the number of women who have been sexually abused and/or assaulted, but it's unnecessary. Many women suffer viacarious traumatization when the women around them are sexually traumatized. Furthermore, many serious psychological difficulties suffered by young women, particularly eating disorders and body image distortion, are directly linked to the constant sexual portrayal of women in the media. Eating disorders are a form of self-inflicted violence, in case you just didn't grok that.

    Thus, the one in three girls who have been sexually abused stat is certainly disturbing, but is THAT really necessary to convince people that many women carry an insane amount of trauma around in their bodies?

  14. [...] newfound hero, Sue Jones, director of yogaHope, wrote a profound piece of the positive power of touch for survivors of trauma and, really, for all of [...]

  15. Sue,

    In my profession (psychology), there is a fear of crossing ethical boundaries with touch. I was grateful in my training to have a feminist mentor who challenged us to be more aware of patient's needs than our own fears. Since then, I have had opportunities to respond to requests for supportive touch. Thank you for your work, your writing, and your generosity with your own story! You're doing important work!

    Warmly,
    Ann

  16. [...] people. She goes on to remind me that I have the right to do all of those things and I have the right to say no. To internalize these two things—feeling good and saying no is a lesson I wish I had learned back [...]

  17. "Renegotiation of touch." Liked that, Suzanne….airing it out again on Elephant Journal on Facebook

    Braja Sorensen
    Lost & Found in India
    Editor, Elephant Spirituality
    Like Elephant Journal on Facebook

  18. Karen Ayee says:

    So articulate, the power of connecting and reconnecting with the quality of touch that speaks Trust n Safe. Thank you.

  19. Simbayogini says:

    Amazing piece of writing….I can totally relate to this, as your words have just helped me understand and piece-together feelings that have been prevailing from a past trauma I am currently working through.

    R x

  20. Guest says:

    "I once pleaded with him to express nurture and care in a touch that was not sexual. He informed me that there was no such thing as non-sexual touch. For him, I have not doubt that this is true."

    I, and I'm sure many others, would appreciate a piece exploring this. I am sorry for your experience, but was comforted to read that someone else has had experience with this. May I ask if you are still married?

  21. Leslie says:

    I, too, have a similar background of abuse and in the recent past came to class to find a male teacher subbing for my regular teacher (I've avoided male instructors, doctors, therapists, authority figures, etc. for most of my life, knowingly and unknowingly) I never really thought I would react the way I did internally and was a bit shocked, "Whoa, where did that come from after all of these years"? My first thought was just to sneak back out but I bravely went into class instead. When he came over to assist on a pose I was struggling with, I could feel old tension and fear from within rising up (stuff I haven't felt in years) and was doing my best to stay calm. He gently assisted me, and maybe, sensing something, stood by for a minute providing a comforting and steady presence. I felt a beautiful calmness and release and most of all, gratitude. After class, I sat in my car and cried a wonderful releasing cry, maybe better than anything any therapy or workshops had ever opened up for me. All from a simple healing touch! Thank you for this article!

  22. rachel says:

    Thank you. I am near tears in realizing my own fears of touch as a demand. Realizing that there is another way in which touch can be received helps me come closer to a healthy understanding of intimacy and reminded (once again) that there really is nothing wrong with me. Thank you.

  23. Spirit says:

    Thank you so much for your courage in healing yourself and others Sue.

    For me as a Dance Floor Energy Worker the most important thing I do is to ground myself for as long as it takes and to constantly revisit this as I dance and offer healing. Grounding into the Divine Feminine / Earth / Gaia / our bodies, is the key to keep myself and others safe. If not then I am in my head / thoughts / fantasies and so not present with the other and can be then so easily driven by my un-conscious past conditioning.

    I would be interested to hear if you managed to find healing with your husband? As I too find difficulty at times being able to offer healing nurturing touch to my partner, when I can so easily share it with others. This troubles and upsets her and although I am not looking for sex, it is often difficult for us to share the healing nurturing touch with each other we desire. I wonder if you have any wisdom to share on this? I'm wondering if it is a common dynamic that the healer finds difficulty healing their partner?

    I agree to all has been said about the abuse of girls, women and boys and not just through actual physical abuse, but the media onslaught of body perfect has a massive negative effect on girls and boys. I would add that men who abuse have probably (I have no statistics for this) been abused themselves predominately by men via direct sexual abuse, verbally or through abandonment when men leave relationships and through lack of nurturing touch from fathers, childhood friends and other men in their life. The taboo on touch between men is huge here in the UK and it is getting to the stage where any touch of any sort with a child from a parent or any other adult is seen as suspect and/or illegal.

    Add to this the depiction of men in the media as figures of either corruption, ridicule or fear and the sight of a penis being seen as traumatising to anyone who sees it and men have hard time knowing what is right or wrong with virtually no positive role modelling to go by. The first abuse though, in America (90% of boys) and elsewhere of men by men is the removal of the most sensitive part of the penis, the foreskin, which is ripped off the penis glands that it is attached to with a blunt instrument to the agonising tortured howls of the baby boy and then the skin is sold at high price for top end cosmetics! It is this skin that brings a man to orgasm not the head of the penis and sensitivity is severely reduced. This very early trauma of pain, invasion and mutilation has to have major ramifications for the adult man's sub-conscious in relation to how he views other men and the fact that his parents agreed to it (often under pressure from the doctor who making money from the procedure/torture)

    I write this to not to diminish in any way the abuse of women, but to suggest that if we as men don't face up to the abuse we inflict on our boys and each other as well as on women and girls then nothing will change. however, many women are healed. Men have to heal themselves and other men if this cycle is to be changed. If we haven't been abused or have healed from our abuse then we won't abuse ourselves or others. I look forward to the day when I can walk down the street and do not see men avoiding eye contact, voice contact, body contact from other men, because they no longer live in fear of abuse and attack. If we men can't trust first ourselves and then each other then how are women ever, ever going to trust us.

    There are so many routes to this level of healing for men, but personally the most profound I have found so far on my 44 year journey round the Father Sun has been with the ManKind Project (MKP) which offers deep trainings and support to men of all ages, race, class, sexual orientation to become the men they want to be in the world. And when we men really face the answer to that question we ALL find that we want to love and be loved. Yet most of the time we are so scared of other men that we don't dare reveal that truth and the opposite becomes true for us and we are plunged into isolation and pain. If you are a man reading the article above, please take action to heal your wounds inflicted by men in your life and then reach out to other men that they may heal.

    Thank you again Sue for your wonderful insightful article and courage in healing yourself and others and so the world. May we all take this journey with the same grace and humility.

    Blessings to you.
    Spirit. X

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