November 22, 2014

How Yoga Helped me Confront the Reality of my Sexual Assault.

yoga rave class

When I first dropped into a regular asana practice, I had no idea the magnitude of what I was doing.

I now give credit to yoga for every single one of my best qualities.

It has taught me to be present, strong and compassionate.

Most importantly, it taught me to love myself.

The cultivation of those qualities has brought me to a place where I am finally able to talk about a time in my life where I was the antithesis of my present self—disconnected, weak and selfish.

I was sexually assaulted in when I was 19-years-old.

Four years later, I am now able to say those words without feeling shame. Only a few months ago, that traumatic experience was still locked up inside. I have since realized that confronting it is empowering.

Now, I am determined to transform it into a gift.

In the aftermath of the assault, I reacted in countless self-destructive ways.

I felt ashamed of myself. I escaped from the present moment and my own body whenever possible. The majority of my time was spent disconnecting from others and from myself. Why? Because I felt something was wrong with me—that I was bad. Simply being in my own body caused me humiliation.

It didn’t take long for my shame to be accompanied by guilt. The disordered behaviors I found myself stuck in did not make me feel any better. Not only did I feel bad, I knew that what I was doing was bad. Not only did I want to escape my body, I wanted to escape my behavior.

I didn’t have the ability to end my destructive behaviors, so instead I hid them, which caused constant anxiety. I hid my habits from my family, friends and boyfriend. I continued to study hard and work hard so that no one could see how I was feeling or what I was doing.

I was functional, but still self-destructive.

My life went on in this way for nearly a year following my assault.

Until my friend encouraged me to come with her to a Vinyasa class at a nearby yoga studio.

It was my first time in years practicing in a room with a teacher leading class, rather than on a screen in front of me. To be honest, nothing “clicked.” I didn’t find instant clarity as my hands hit the mat, but I did feel a magnetic pull—right from the center of my gut—to come back. That’s when I started dropping into a regular practice.

Yoga soon replaced running as my physical outlet. In the months following my assault, I would run almost every day. Not jog—run. I was running as if I could somehow run right out of my own skin.

With yoga, I was slowing down, I was even staying still.

I didn’t realize it, but I was starting to heal simply by learning to be present in my own body. I abandoned my destructive behaviors. I learned to come to my mat when I was feeling shame, or guilt, or disconnection.

Over time, I began to cultivate self-love, compassion and connection.

You know what? It wasn’t always easy. In fact, sometimes I left my mat feeling worse than when I started. I would leave class and cry, or I’d leave and be on edge for days, not wanting to go back. No matter how I resisted, though, that magnetic pull yanked me right from my core back into the practice.

Even though coming to my mat and practicing bodily presence was a great step in recovering from the assault, I was completely and utterly unaware of just how great a step it was.

I was gaining a connection between my mind and my body, my breath and my movement. I was gaining intentionality.

Through dedication to my practice—on and off the mat—I slowly began to rebuild a sense of self and a sense of ownership over my body.

“Release anything that you are holding onto.” These words are often said in the yoga classroom. Something in me was ready to be released, but I needed more time.

Eventually, it all started to connect. Through my disconnected behaviors, I had so effectively buried the memory of my sexual assault that it was nearly impossible to trigger it. Now that I was beginning to reconnect to my body and my world, I was getting back bits and pieces.

Three years after I dedicated myself to my practice on the mat, and four years after my sexual assault, yoga has equipped me with the tools to begin to process.

I know how to breathe, even when I am in an uncomfortable position. I know I am strong; if I can bear my least favorite pose for just another moment, I can bear anything. I know that I can trust myself.

Most importantly, I know that I am here.

Side note to self: Jenna, you are here. You are in your body. You can sense the world around you, thanks to your body. Be in your body. No, it hasn’t always been great in here, but you are alive and you are here. Be here. This is real. This is happening.

Several months ago, it was (unsurprisingly) my yoga practice that finally pulled the emotional trigger, and brought four years of suppressed feelings bubbling up to the surface.

I was literally knocked flat on my ass for a day. I felt like a train had hit me, and I wasn’t ready to accept why. It took an entire week of nightmares for me to realize that it was time to confront the reality of my sexual assault.

It was real. It happened.

I turned to one of my teachers and asked for help, and with her encouragement began seeing a counselor to process my trauma. Thanks to the skills I have acquired through my yoga practice, I feel prepared to process.

No, I am not healed. No, I haven’t let go of all of the shame and guilt. Looking back, it is difficult not to feel guilty for the way I reacted after my assault. It still feels like an excuse when I say I did the best I could. I wish I had learned to love myself sooner.

I am grateful every day for my physical yoga practice. Without it, I might still be disconnected, apathetic and miserable.

Getting onto my mat taught me how to be present in my body, learn to reflect without feeling shame, and learn to feel without being out of control. Being a part of a community of like-minded yogis helps me to feel supported, connected and grounded enough to face my demons.

And as I continue to process and grow, I do so with the intention of turning my traumatic experience into a gift.

I want to use my gratitude for the practice of yoga to increase its magnetism—that familiar pull that caught me right in my gut—so that others might find a way to love and accept themselves in light of, not in spite of, their traumas.




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Author: Jenna Brown

Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: Flickr

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