September 11, 2013

How Yoga Helped Me Heal from Early Childhood Sexual Abuse. ~ Debbie Lehwalder

To be its most effective, any journey forward must begin with a journey inward.

Although the path is not an easy one, with the help of yoga, a happy, healthy life is possible after childhood sexual abuse. I should know, I am a survivor of such abuse and it was with the tremendous gift that is yoga, that I was finally able to find both peace and healing from my early childhood ordeal.

For those who endure such abuse, it is all too often far less painful to keep such information concealed from others, rather than to run the risk of sharing only to be shunned. But for some, there comes a time when the price of burying such pain is far more costly than enduring the possible negative effects such a revelation might encourage.

I count myself as blessed because I was drawn to self-expression through movement.

Little did I understand at the time that my childhood love of ballet was in reality a way to both reclaim my body as my own as well as a way to express my pent up emotions through dance. All I understood was that I felt untouchable and free as long as I was in motion. Through dance, I was learning to cope with the scars of my abuse.

Gratefully, I had found the first tool to regaining my innocence: coping.

Though the discovery of dance was important in my process of coping with the abuse, my discovery of yoga was monumental in enabling me to heal from the abuse. As yoga is multi-dimensional in its effects, so too are the results.

First yoga gently addresses the physical body, allowing it to release long buried emotional pain in a safe and accepting environment. Second, with the practice of yogic deep breathing, a sense of calm can be cultivated. And finally, with the use of imagery, balance can begin to be restored.

My own journey to healing through yoga began with a gradual unfolding, as I released layer after layer of the effects of the abuse. The deeper I journeyed into yoga, the more profoundly I experienced it’s benefits until ultimately, I reached the moment where I was able to set the burden down, never to be picked up again.

Initially, I felt the practice primarily in the physical body, noticing I could move more freely and without the usual impingements.

For the first time in my life, I actually began to feel comfortable in my own body.

Looking back now, I can understand the importance of this initial stage. As the body holds onto the emotional trauma of abuse long after the danger has passed, the first step to releasing this trauma must be through the physical.

Once I began to truly incorporate the breath with my practice, another layer became accessible to me. I was now able to experience a deeper sense of calm, as well as connect with an inner strength that I had not known existed within me. It was also a pleasant discovery to notice that as the layers fell away, there was a shift in my entire perspective on life.

My previous outlook had always tended towards the negative.

Maybe it was a form of self protection, but I was forever looking for the thorn behind the rose.  The shift, though subtle, was definite, until one day I noticed that I had left the pessimism behind and had embraced positivity.

With this encouragement, I continued my practice, and soon found I was able to let go of  other old habit patterns that kept me forever trapped as a victim of abuse. One of these patterns was to turn away when thoughts or memories threatened to disturb the delicate balance that was my life.

However, with a newly found sense of courage garnered from yoga, I was able take the final step in my process of healing—I found a willingness to look inward, ultimately illuminating that which stood in the way of my final liberation and happily releasing it once and for all.

Thus, as I look back to the start of this incredible journey, I can see how through the constant support of yoga, I was gently, but purposely led forward into a new life unencumbered by my past.

To say that yoga saved my life is an overstatement of fact, but to say that yoga gave me back my life is not. Without the blessing of yoga, I might easily have lived my entire life trapped in a spiders web of pain, fear and anxiety. Instead, through yoga I was enabled to not only reclaim my life, but to find a sense of peace, purpose and hope.


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Assist. Ed: Jade Belzberg / Ed: Catherine Monkman

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Debbie Lehwalder