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Yoga and Sexual Trauma

The #MeToo movement, founded by Tarana Burke, has brought the subject of sexual assault out into the open and exposed just how common sexual assault is, how deep the problem goes and how many have been affected by it - many who have never lifted their voices for fear of repercussions or of not being heard at all. We have seen men in positions of power including those who hold political office, work in our judicial system and even religious leaders accused of rape and sexual assault. In fact, there are also those in positions of leadership in the Yoga community who have been exposed for sexual abuse including Bikram Choudhury and Swami Satyananda Saraswati, among many others.

Unfortunately, for those of us who have experienced sexual assault, hearing these accounts on an almost daily basis can also trigger our own emotions and reactions from the trauma of our own experiences. Especially when we see women made fun of and even threatened publicly for having the courage to come forward and share their experiences - especially when their perpetrator is someone in a position of power who can damage other women and men by the choices he makes. We know how hard it is to speak about past trauma. We know that in many ways it’s like reliving the past trauma again and again. We also know that sometimes the only way out is through the pain.

Yoga can help us to process trauma and reestablish connection with our bodies and our Higher Selves. Yoga means to “yoke” or “unite”. The yoga journey is a journey Home to Ourselves - a journey that reminds us that we are in fact Whole and Divine exactly how we are and that no one can change that fact or steal it from us. Through mindful movement, we can reconnect with the body as well as strengthen neural pathways, access our parasympathetic system and learn to self-regulate powerful emotions. We can also learn to step back from a situation and cultivate our Witness Self - which can make us stronger in these situations where we have to confront past trauma. Yoga empowers us to love our bodies and find peace within our minds as we reconnect to Spirit.

Patriarchal and colonialist systems have always used weapons like shame, guilt and fear to control people - especially women and children. It’s why rape and sexual violence are often used as a horrific weapon of war - to traumatize women and scar them forever, and break the spirit of the community, as well as being a tool of genocide to end a woman’s choice to create a healthy family with someone she chooses. It is precisely because of the power of trauma that rape and sexual assault have over us that they are effective tools. We must break this cycle. We must stand together and support each other in this time and change the future for our children that they may not experience the trauma of rape and sexual assault. Sexual violence is used to Dis-empower. Yoga Em-powers. Reclaim your power. The time is now.

And, when you feel triggered or overwhelmed - take a moment to stop what you are doing. If you’re driving, pull the car over. Feel your feet on the ground. Place your hands over your heart. Take a deep breath in and slowly draw the breath out through pursed lips, slowing the exhale down. Feel your heartbeat begin to slow down. Take several breaths this way, until you begin to feel yourself coming back to the present moment. Remember this affirmation; “I am Whole. I am Healed. I am Sacred. I AM HERE.” Say it 3 times out loud if you are able (if you’re in a public place, maybe you say it silently to yourself.)

Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti. May we find relief from our suffering. May we all know peace.

“I said: what about my eyes? He said: Keep them on the road.

I said: What about my passion? He said: Keep it burning.

I said: What about my heart? He said: Tell me what you hold inside it?

I said: Pain and sorrow. He said: Stay with it. The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”

― Rumi

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