Yoga After Sexual Assault

By Gabby DeLorenze for Yoga Medicine®.

Disclaimer: This is just one woman’s story and this content may be triggering for some. By no means am I trying to diminish how anyone else has been treated nor feels.

I rose from my bed after a night that changed my life forever. I would say I “awoke” but this was a sleepless night filled with adrenaline, guilt, shame, fear, and self-hate.

The night before, I was raped. By a friend. I was scared for my life and what was to come as he broke into my room and then the closet I was hiding in with what turned out to be a butter knife. I had my mother on speaker phone as she prompted me through God only knows what I said.

Miraculously, he left.

As I lay my head back on my pillow, I was full of adrenaline pumping through my veins with a heart rate well over 200 and no connection to my breath; but I remember closing my eyes and knowing it was all my fault.

I should have listened to my intuition. I should have locked my bedroom door. How could I be so stupid? Why does it take the worst of the worst to happen to realize how stupid it is not to listen to your intuition?

That last night, my low belly, my space of intuition, was screaming at me. My head told my belly to chill out, I’ve never locked my bedroom door in my life.

Lesson #1 – ALWAYS trust your body. It knows.

As I rose the next morning, I called my mamma back and before I knew it… I found myself in yoga clothes in my car, driving. To where? I had no idea; I just couldn’t be at my apartment.

I had gone to this particular Saturday morning yoga class the last 3 Saturdays since I moved to my new home in Nashville. I had no friends in this new city and nowhere to run; so my body went into routine mode.

I walked into the studio late but the teacher, with a huge smile on her face, was waiting for me (mind you, I didn’t even sign up online). There was one mat space left in the room, of course, in the middle of the front of the room (aka I had to walk past every single other yogi in there to get to my space).

So, with swollen eyes and an empty heart I held my mat as close to my face as possible and made my way to my space. Everyone was watching me (in reality, class was about to start, I’m sure everyone was in child’s pose… but it didn’t matter, everyone was watching, and everyone knew).

I took child’s pose and the rest is a blur. This was a Baptiste flow: powerful, vibrant, and energetic. The teacher never asked if we wanted assists or not… but it was expected at this particular studio.

I stayed in child’s pose, half crying, maybe breathing when it hit me, “why the &%!# did I come to yoga?! Am I really here right now?!” I was in the middle of the front row and embarrassed that everyone was “for sure” watching me, but I didn’t know if I could physically stand up or not.

Half-way through the class I heard Tree pose. “I got this,” I said to myself as I sluggishly rose from my mat for the first time. As I stood up, I almost passed out. Back into child’s pose I went.

Between tears, mental chatter, and wanting nothing more than to leave my physical body… I stayed – praying class was almost over, praying no one would ask me if I was “okay.”

Then it happened… the teacher came over and offered me a physical assist. Still in my child’s pose, she came and gently pressed my hips down. Never asking, not knowing and yet – that assist saved my life.

Quietly, I cried into my mat; but I was different. For, in that moment, I knew I was going to be okay. I knew this was not how I would feel forever. I didn’t know how or when, but I knew I was safe here: in this space, on my mat.

Looking back, had the teacher asked if I wanted to be assisted, I’m sure I would have said “no.” My mind would have wanted no part of someone to touch me. Anticipating being touched would have made me crawl out of my skin. And yet, to this day I will tell you that her assist saved my life. My physical body needed a safe touch to know not all touch is violent. My mat supported me as I felt everything from the night before leave my heart space and come into my physical body. Within less than 60 minutes of being on my mat after being assaulted – I had changed.

With everything going on in the yoga world with hands on assists and allegations/accusations/confessions of sexual assault, I am not here to diminish anyone else’s story. Simply, I am here to share mine.

So often men and women alike will listen to the news and take action to almost CYA (cover your a$$). In today’s world, I can absolutely see why yoga teachers are stepping back from offering physical assists.

I would love to challenge that. Offer a different story, a different perspective.

After that assist, after weeks of living with my sorrows trapped in a physical body and mind that I didn’t recognize, I joined a yoga teacher training. If nothing else I would get to be in my “safe space” for a little longer. Through my teacher training experience, we had a full weekend on learning safe physical assists. We offered assists and received assists and through it, I healed. I didn’t even want to hold my friend’s hand as she tried to console me, but yet I could receive an assist from a classmate whom I had met only a few times.

The difference, for me, was the intention. My friend trying to hold my hand was tiptoeing around me, trying to heal me. My classmate’s intention was to help me dive into my body and in turn, help me rediscover the parts of myself that I was neglecting – the parts that needed healing.

After that assisting weekend, I was able to share my story, share my journey. I did it through very ugly tears, but it was the first time I was able to share it fully. In that I had to relive my story. But because of my yoga practice, I could disassociate from that. I am not the chatter in my head. I am not the aches in my body from holding onto all of my tension. I am not my rape.

I was able to embody what happened to me, fully feel it and through that – I was able to let it go. It didn’t happen all at once. But it happened. One yoga class after another I was able to release, surrender. This transformation was through holding strength-based postures, the introduction of new ways of breathing (for me, ujjayi breath helped me stay out of my negative thought patterns and in the present moment), balancing postures helped me ground daily, and savasana and meditation aided the recognition of where I held onto self-resentment, hatred, and embarrassment. And most of all, through giving and receiving physical assists. I felt my teacher’s and peers’ intentions as they guided me towards healing – never forcing or fixing – just offering me the space to explore my physical body in different postures and in turn, challenge my mind and emotions there too.

My yoga practice healed my internal wounds of sexual assault.

So, yoga teachers, know that you have a very vast and important job: you are healing internal and external wounds. I’m not advising to not ask for consent, definitely do. But an assist that I truly didn’t know that I needed saved my life, my spirit, and restored my belief in the divine.

Yogi’s with internal wounds and scars, open yourself up to the possibility that what you think you don’t want, may be exactly what you need – especially if your love language is physical touch like mine. How often in life do we shy away from or avoid exactly what you need in order to heal?

For all the men and women that have been affected by poorly given and/or poor-intentioned assists, my love and condolences go out to you. I pray that you heal, love and receive physical love again on and off your mat.

And I pray that through your yoga practice, whatever it may look like, you recognize and honor the highest version of yourself. For you are in there. May you use your practice to bloom, deepen your understanding of yourself and rise into your highest power once again.

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