Domestic violence and sexual assault are a somber reality in today’s world. People who have been through these types of trauma often live with conditions that affect their long-term physical and emotional health. Research has shown that a yoga program can reduce many of the symptoms of trauma. Exhale to Inhale, a New York City-based nonprofit organization believes that yoga is more than just exercise. It is a path to healing for both the body and the mind.
Exhale to Inhale empowers those affected by domestic and sexual violence to transform their lives. They use the healing practice of trauma-informed yoga to empower survivors while helping communities develop the skills and knowledge to support them. “We offer trauma-informed yoga classes to survivors in domestic violence shelters and community centers throughout New York City and Los Angeles. We also provide separate classes and workshops for the staff and volunteers who work in this field. As teaching yoga to this unique population requires a special skill set, we provide trauma-informed teacher training for certified yoga teachers.”
Through their approach rooted in choice making, safety, and simplicity, survivors are offered the opportunity to reconnect with sensation, recognize how that sensation makes them feel, and then make choices about what to do with their bodies based on those feelings. More than 2,000 domestic violence and sexual assault survivors have attended Exhale to Inhale’s classes since its inception.
This is what some of the yoga practitioners who have participated in Exhale to Inhale’s classes have said:
“Trauma doesn't just happen in the mind. It happens in the physical body.”
“I come to yoga classes because they make me feel better. We keep it in. Yoga is a way to release.”
Research shows that two weeks of yoga is better for PTSD than any sort of medication. This is because yoga allows its participants to release emotions from the body, rather than relying on medications to treat the pain. The belief is, because of people’s traumatic issues, they may not be able to reconnect with their body. In this regard, many of the negative and shameful emotions become trapped in the body and psyche, leading to a dishonorable view of “self”. What the breathwork and movement do in yoga is to release fear and anxiety, so survivors can begin to reconnect.
“After the trauma, I had experienced, my body closed down. The practice of yoga physically helped me. But also using breath to spread stability has been, really, like night and day.”
“We hold space for survivors to be present at the moment, to connect to how their bodies move in space, and to recognize how those movements make them feel emotionally and physically. We strive to offer them a more positive connection to their bodies and a sense of agency. When our students begin to experience this, they may slowly incorporate that new way of being off the mat and into their everyday lives.”
Exhale to Inhale classes are different than what you would find in traditional open-level yoga classes. For example, an Exhale to Inhale class offers invitational language and options for each form.
“The very first time, I didn’t know what yoga was and when we started with Melissa [the yoga teacher] we were happy. We didn’t want it to end.”
In addition, Exhale to Inhale offers a teacher training program. The program provides participants with the tools to safely facilitate a trauma-informed yoga class. It covers topics such as the neurological and physiological implications of trauma, how yoga can support recovery and resilience from symptoms of trauma, and what to do if a student experiences a traumatic trigger while in class. Training takes place throughout the year and includes 17 hours of lecture/experiential learning. The course also provides trainees with a training manual and access to a network of fellow teachers, as well as audio and visual materials. The training also qualifies for Yoga Alliance continuing education credits.
For more information on Exhale to Inhale’s programs, visit www.exhaletoinhale.org