Long before I knew that my “irrational” fear and anxiety were caused by child sexual abuse, I was drawn to yoga’s promise of inner calm. This was in the 1960s and ’70s when most North Americans associated yoga with culturally dissonant contortions performed by skinny men in loincloths. I knew no one who practiced yoga.
As it turned out, yoga was the perfect choice for someone who had lost any sense of her own body to child abuse. I was desperate for some way of relaxing the spasms in my shoulder, neck and back muscles. In my yoga class, I was safe and separate on my own mat. There was no competition. No one was watching. For the first time in my life it was safe to concentrate on what was happening in my body. I was fascinated.
As the months went by, my muscles firmed up. I felt more energetic and even peaceful for hours at a time. I was hooked. It was possible to imagine another way of being: a way that was relaxed and joyful.
Today, there are many types of yoga available. You can choose the one you prefer. Classical hatha yoga was what I found and later taught. After class I always felt soft and loving toward the world. I also studied Iyengar yoga which the founder, B.K.S. Iyengar, designed for the western body. It is strengthening and emotionally grounding. By contrast, following a class I always felt ready to take on the world. There are many other varieties. Shop around until you find the one that suits you.
Back when I was a yoga teacher, adults did not generally go to fitness classes. People like me were attracted to yoga, people who had never been keen on sports or exercising. Maybe this is because we associated breathing heavily from physical effort with the terror we once felt.
Today there are so many types of fitness classes. The choice is infinite. But I still think yoga offers remarkable healing power to those who were traumatized as children. Yoga teaches us mindfulness, the opposite of dissociation. In yoga classes you learn how to relax your own tension and change your emotional state with your breathing. Yoga puts you into a friendly partnership with your own body. This in itself is uniquely beneficial.