Yoga for Survival

By Carly Lanning
Staff Writer

Our lives are governed by certain, pre-approved rules: red light means stop, green means go, don’t talk with your mouth open don’t cough on others. But when it comes to times of hardship and trauma, times when we are most lost, confused and hurt, there is no guide book.
When it comes to healing from trauma, each person’s healing process is unique to themselves and their experience. For many of us, we attempt to fast forward in our routines, leaving the emotions and pain of the past as far and unexplored as we can. We come up with our own set of rules, what makes us feel better, what makes us feel worse, trying to protect ourselves and absorb as little of our overwhelming pain. At the end of the day what we need most is to take time to self reflect, and reconnect with ourselves and our emotions.
This quarter, the Campus Assault Resources and Education (CARE) office announced a new support service for survivors of sexual violence called “Yoga as Healing.” This program, taught by violence prevention coordinator and yoga-certified alliance instructor Zabie Khorakiwala, was created to help survivors of sexual violence become reacquainted with their bodies, grounded in the present moment, and explore the benefits of mindfulness as they flow breath to movement through their yoga practice. But this program goes way beyond the benefits of the mat. For many survivors, the aftermath of an assault can leave them disconnected from their emotions, relationships and own bodies. Having used yoga is her own healing journey after, Zabie wanted to create a program that would both empower survivors of violence while giving them time to reflect upon their emotions, trauma, fears and healing.
“In my own experience as a survivor, yoga is what I needed. I believe the opportunity for people to connect with their bodies is really powerful coupled with individual or group counseling,” Zabie said. “When I was first introduced to yoga, in my experience, I was always in my head and had a lot of anxiety. Initially that was the benefit of the practice, to be on my mat and not think about anything else. When I started getting into the practice more and more I was able to connect with my body as a whole.”
Yoga as Healing is an eight-week program with each week building upon a specific intention from safety to mindfulness to the ultimate goal of acceptance and community. In this class, with one hour devoted to a yoga practice and the remaining hour devoted to art therapy, journaling and reflecting upon the impact of their experiences, survivors are both mentally and physically challenged. Developed with love, positive energy and intention, each class builds upon the other guiding the survivors to explore the pain of their assault but, through the peace and mindfulness of their practice, learn to connect once again with their lives and trust the relationships within it. Though no two assaults are the same, this program has given its participants a space to develop a community to support one another through both the class and their lives outside of the mat.
“I can see changes in these participants after only three sessions,” Zabie said. “In combination, the yoga and being able to talk about their assaults, binds this community together. The goal is to give them the time that they need for themselves. None of them have given time to focus on feeling but having a few hours together, you can already see the difference and I hope this experience allows them to be open to new relationships and most importantly builds a new connection with themselves.”
The program is open to all UC Irvine students and for many of the current participants, this has been their first experience with yoga.
“This program is about building a connection of the mind, body and healing,” she said. “The yoga is not advanced but focused on allowing people to tap into emotions and effectively feel inside, and with this supportive atmosphere, talk about their experiences. I want to strengthen the body and have it translate into building strength in their lives off the mat.”
With the guidance and love placed into this program, Yoga as Healing is helping survivors develop their road map to healing and giving them the space to embrace their future as connected, empowered and strong.
For more information about the program please email Zabie Khorakiwala at zkhoraki@uci.edu.