I bring mindfulness and meditation workshops virtually to incarcerated men and women.
I also teach yoga to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence for a nonprofit called Exhale to Inhale (ETI). ETI alone has empowered over 3,000 survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault through the healing practice of trauma-informed yoga.
I have seen firsthand how effective trauma-informed yoga is in empowering victims and survivors. How generous a practice it is in reminding them about the power of their own breath. For people who have had their basic human rights stolen from them, the methodology behind trauma-informed yoga gives them the ability to take charge, trust their body, and make choices. I am not a survivor, yet I find myself practicing trauma-informed yoga on days when life feels out of control, more than usual.
Research tells us that one in three women experience intimate partner violence during their lifetime. And more than 43 million women have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Data shows us that domestic violence tends to increase when families spend more time together, such as over the holidays.
Families are now spending more time together because of the virus. More so, due to the restrictions brought upon by COVID-19, victims are forced to stay in a dangerous situation—the whole day with partners and away from help. There have been numerous media reports indicating huge spikes in calls to IPV hotlines after stay-in-place orders were mandated. Most of us understand that these mandates for quarantine and lockdown were essential to slow down the spread of the virus, but do you see how it has created a perfect storm for those women in abusive situations in domestic settings?
Look at these statistics. Think about it. Each one of us likely knows someone who is a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault. They might not have told you about it and that’s fine too. But let’s not shrug it away and add labels to who it impacts. Turn around: it could be your friend, sister, sister-in-law, cousin, colleague, or another woman in your network.
Once the pandemic hit, so many people I had known for years came out to me as survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. In some cases, I had noticed signs but didn’t want to speculate, so I didn’t allow my mind or heart to go there. But when they themselves acknowledged the trauma they had to deal with all alone—because taboo, shame, fear, and disbelief often accompany victims and survivors—it made me think about how many others must be suffering in silence. All these years, they had no one to talk to about their abuse. The lack of control brought about by the pandemic broke people. Once again, they felt trapped.
Imagine being stuck at home with a perpetrator who is also triggered by the lockdown and won’t shy away from hurting women and children in front of him. In the pre-COVID world, victims and survivors had a safe space and could turn to trauma-informed yoga to feel some respite and control over their lives. They could meet with fellow survivors in a support group. As a result of social distancing and quarantine during COVID-19, such options aren’t easily available right now.
There are people who identify as victims and seek help. Then there are people who choose to not talk about their trauma because addressing this gruesomeness is far more traumatizing for them. But a comment or a stranger interaction or an asana or the restrictions of a pandemic could open their unhealed wounds and unresolved issues.
During these unprecedented times, you might be feeling traumatized. Not being able to shut your mind during regular meditation or yoga practice might be agitating you. Not knowing what the next day might bring might be making you nervous or anxious.
Can we agree that 2020 has been the Year of Trauma? So many people have lost lives, loved ones, jobs, hopes, and so much more. These are enough reasons to feel distressed.
Trauma is dangerous.
The American Psychological Association defines it as such: “Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives.”
Trauma-informed yoga can be helpful to anyone. ETI tells us, “The residual imprint of trauma can remain in the mind and body long after the initial incident has occurred. Research has shown that yoga can serve as a therapeutic tool for survivors. Through this practice, survivors can reconnect to and bolster inner strength as they continue to cope with the long-lasting impacts of trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).”
I love this style of yoga because it offers people choices, doesn’t do subliminal coercing that a pose will make you feel good, reminds them the power of the now, doesn’t judge yogis based on their yoga clothes, and isn’t focused on how bendy you can be on the mat. It’s an empowering practice.
“Breathe. Let go. And remind yourself that this very moment is the only one you know you have for sure.” ~ Oprah Winfrey
In honor of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October, Exhale to Inhale is doing their annual gala virtually to raise funds, celebrate courageous voices, continue to build community, and support victims and survivors of domestic violence. I am sure there are many other organizations raising awareness and empowering survivors. I encourage you to support the dignity, freedom, and safety of victims and survivors today.