December 2, 2014

Ask Me Anything: Rape Victim Struggles to Reclaim Life. {Weekly Advice Column}

depression sad girl lying on bed

*Editor’s Note: Elephant Journal articles represent the personal opinion, view or experience of the authors, and can not reflect Elephant Journal as a whole. Disagree with an Op-Ed or opinion? We’re happy to share your experience here. 


Dear Elephants,

Welcome to this week’s Ask Me Anything, elephant journals weekly advice column, where no question is out of bounds!

To submit questions for next week, please email me at [email protected] or private message me on Facebook.

I look forward to hearing from you.

~ Erica

Dear Erica,

I’ve played around with yoga and meditation for a couple years but this past spring I really dedicated myself to practicing regularly. I’d struggled with anxiety, depression and self-hate for years, but the difference I felt with the regular practice of yoga/meditation was something I never even thought possible for myself.

Two months ago, I moved to a completely new country to start graduate school and the night before classes started, I was raped and he gave me herpes.

I’ve lost all my motivation and feel myself getting trapped in a cycle of depression again. I’m drinking way too much and the doctors have given me sleeping pills which I take on the few nights I’m not drinking. I’m seeing a counselor, but I don’t have any of my good friends here.

I’ve practiced yoga maybe two or three times since it happened, but every time I move into a hip opener, I feel this rush of debilitating fear and anger to the point where I feel like I’m going to pass out.

I’d heard people can experience emotional releases during hip openers, but I’ve never felt it before and it honestly scares the shit out of me. How do I motivate myself to get healthy and happy again?

How could I possibly let go of the anger I feel right now?

~ Lazy and angry wannabe yogi

Dear Angry,

You are not lazy. You are suffering profoundly from post-traumatic stress and rightly so. I am so sorry this happened to you.

You are absolutely right about hip openers being well known for releasing locked emotions. My sister, also a certified yoga teacher and a nurse practitioner specializing in women’s health, told me years ago about yoga designed especially for survivors of violent or sexual abuse.

One of of the main areas of concern are hip openers because they can make the student feel vulnerable and out of control if done too aggressively or before they are appropriate. In other words, they must be worked up to gently, over a long period of time, and hopefully with compassionate guidance.

This is not something you should undertake on your own.

There are two resources I would recommend to you as a starting point to reclaiming your practice—and your life. The first is The Breathe Network, an organization founded by Molly Boeder Harris, a rape survivor and yogi whose mission is to connect survivors of trauma to appropriate mind/body healers in their area and train instructors how to teach “trauma sensitive yoga.”

The second is a wonderful book, Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga: Reclaiming Your Body by David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper PhD. You will find answers and help in abundance in their clear and knowledgeable writing.

Whatever you do, be gentle with yourself. Through no fault of your own you have been set on a painful journey and your yoga practice will never be the same– but it will ultimately help you heal. Just try and take  one small step at a time. If a step is too much, start with one inhale and exhale.

A single breath can be the beginning.


Dear Erica,

I have a really awkward problem.

I own a yoga studio and have many wonderful students. One student is very loyal and comes every day, sometimes twice a day. She is a super nice person—a little eccentric—but a dedicated yogi.

The problem is, she has terrible B.O.

Other students have made comments about it to me so I know I’m not the only one who notices it. I have no idea what to do! If she worked for me I could pull her aside and figure out something to say, but she is a paying customer.

How can I address this without offending her? I’m primarily worried about my other students experience at the studio.

Nosy Yogi

Dear Nosy,

Ugh, that is an awkward problem! As you say, if this woman worked for you you would have some ground to stand on in terms of bringing up her personal hygiene, but because she is a paying customer you really don’t.

However, I do have two suggestions for you.

Consider focusing your classes for a day or even a week on the theme of the niyama saucha, which refers to the importance of maintaining the cleanliness of the body and the mind. This is one of the 8 limbs, as I’m sure you know, and would be a great place to stress the idea of taking care of our physical bodies. Perhaps your student will get the hint.

Alternatively, you could start any class this student comes to by walking around and offering to rub lavender or some other essential oil on the insides of everyone’s wrists. I often do this after class and it fills the room with lovely fragrance. This tactic might be enough to mitigate her odor for the duration of the class, if not beyond. Even if it doesn’t, it will be clear to your other students that you are trying to make the best of a stinky situation.


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Author: Erica Leibrandt

Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Holly Lay at Flickr 

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