By Deb, HAVEN volunteer
I am a HAVEN Volunteer. Each week survivors join me in one of HAVEN’s group rooms to unroll yoga mats, take a comfortable, easy seat and begin an hour of yoga. The path from victim to survivor is not an easy one. I know. I am a survivor of childhood violence. I have found it is helpful to have as many tools in your healing toolbox as possible, and yoga can be an important tool.
As I greet newcomers, they often share their reason for giving yoga a try: “I need to get my body moving;” “I’ve let myself go and need to do something;” “My back has been bothering me and I heard this will help.” I smile and tell them they’ve made a great choice. After all, yoga’s many physical health benefits have been touted in magazines, books and TV — among them increased strength and flexibility, reduced stress, help in controlling blood pressure and diabetes. But for victims of violence, yoga can be so much more.
For those who coped with their experience of violence by disassociating from both the moment and their body, yoga can provide a safe place to come home to the vessel in which they move through life. To once again befriend their body and see it as an ally, not the enemy.
For those who suppressed their own wants, needs and desires — even their own voice — in an effort to keep their abuser or attacker happy and thus lessen the violence they might experience, the yoga mat provides a space where they can learn to listen to their body, what it wants and needs, and reconnect with their inner guidance system. Through their practice they learn it is not only okay to sometimes put yourself first, it is an important part of living a healthy life.
When in the midst of a challenging pose or the silence of a pose held for more than a breath, their inner critic speaks the deceitful words they have been told over and over again — “You are nothing. You are stupid, incapable, unlovable. Why are you even trying?” — yoga provides tools to silence that voice by pausing and recognizing these words as lies told by their abuser and not the truth of who they really are.
Over time their statements at the end of class move from “That felt wonderful” and “All my aches and pains are gone” to “I’m not sure how this yoga thing works. But I feel so much calmer all the time.” Some even have visceral experiences of blocked energy releasing from their body.
I end every class with my favorite translation of the Sanskrit word Namaste: “the beauty and light in me recognizes and honors that same beauty and light in you.” My hope is that, with yoga supporting their counseling, they will learn to recognize and honor their own beauty and light. For that is when they truly become survivors.