August 9, 2011

A Poem for the Domestic Violence Victims I Teach. ~ Jamie Davies O’Leary

Photo: Jimmy Hilario

You are symbolic,
a flesh-and-body reminder standing before me of
all that is painful in this life,
this body.
Human skin and bones with the capacity to be broken, bruised, torn beyond recognition.

I am cautious about eyeing for too long your bruised arm, a cut, a jaw line swollen on your otherwise glorious face
or asking about injuries you may mention in offhanded fashion
at the start of class.
I’m sorry to take you back there.
This is supposed to be a refuge
Not a reminder
Or an interrogation
Or another reason to dissociate
Pull your mind away from its body, distrust it, fear it, maybe
Hate it.

It isn’t just physical.
Emotional wreckage hangs heavier.
Collectively, we feel it.
We pause
We breathe
We move
our way through that wreckage, casting pieces aside, moving slowly,
It’s like trying to run under water.

We do strengthening poses – I want to remind you of your fortitude.
Warrior Two, arms in T, lift up with power through your feet –
But it is I who feels weak.
The music plays lightly – I hope it’s not triggering,
But no matter what plays there’s a lyric that digs its way into my head.
“Forget the horror here, leave it all down here,
It’s future rust, and then it’s future dust.”

Foals – they haunt my own yoga practice.

“Forget the horror.”

For now, it seems you have.
There’s a point in each class where my own dark thoughts begin parting,
The heaviness abates.
We ride on the breath, rising, falling, evaporating –
The symbolism is too great to bear and words escape me.
It’s hard to be articulate when you’re moved.

There is a power in this.

I don’t need to tell you that.
Our breathe unites
Our postures flow
We move into the crevices, massaging the trauma, awakening memories,
Calming the body, rewiring the nerves,

You evolve before me.

What may have been a tragic reminder of the pain that others
Senseless levels of violence,
Damage – long-term: I see it in your face and trapped in your body and in
The eyes of your children who
Are here with you, too –

Is now a moment of hope.
There is hope for healing in all of us.
You smile.
Remember a song that I played two weeks ago,
sing along.

You are profoundly grateful to me.
These are basic movements,
Rudimentary breath,
But you are grateful.

You teach me how to see it.

Together we have shared – if nothing else
A brief moment of presence.
We were silent.
We were here.
We acknowledged.
We believed, if only for a second, in the capacity to feel calm, to feel okay, to be
In the body, to trust it – briefly,
to sense its power
the wisdom it holds
Wisdom of the ages
Universal strength that no amount of pain or exterior damage
Can conceal.

Your resilience is stunning.
So are you.


Jamie Davies O’Leary is a yoga instructor and also the co-creator of yogaServe, a yoga service group in Columbus, Ohio. She teaches domestic violence victims. She believes she is an old soul with many past lives as her passions are innumerable (and often unrelated): public education, anti-poverty initiatives, eastern religion, Tara Brach’s teachings, beer, art, music, vegetarianism, and interior design. She feels lucky to have found the path of yoga after a lifetime of being entirely too stuck in her head. Follow her on twitter @jamieoleary.

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