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Yoga Transformed Me After Childhood Abuse

How yoga helped me heal from neglect and violence.

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I grew up in poverty in a drug-addicted and violent family. Without necessities like proper food or shelter, and subjected to regular abuse, I ran away at the age of 13. Within two years, I was on the road with a 19-year-old man. Being so young, I was attracted to his antisocial, rebellious past rather than recognizing these behaviors as red flags. Eventually, we called my mother and she threatened him with jail time for statutory rape and crossing state lines with a minor—unless he married me. She was, as she put it, “tired of dealing with me.” I was forced to wed him.

One day, he returned from work with a vengeance. Storming through the door, he grabbed his gun and summoned me. I didn’t know if he was planning to hurt me or someone else. I tried to make up excuses: I don’t feel that well; I’m tired; can we go after dinner? But he ordered me to get my things from upstairs. My hands quivered and my knees buckled as I closed and locked the bedroom door, knowing it would only buy me minutes.

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Clutching the scissors that I’d come to hide beneath my mattress, I waited for him, my mind racing to think of an escape plan. Within seconds, he was pounding on the door. “I’m going to kill you if you don’t open this door!” he threatened. When the yelling stopped, I grabbed the bedroom phone and called the police. Then I hid behind the bed. It was the first time I’d ever asked for help.

The police arrived just in time. They ordered him to leave the property, suggesting a 24-hour cooling-off period. After his truck pulled away, an officer came inside to tell me I was safe—for the moment.

I had been living in denial about the severity of the situation for so long that I had become numb to its potentially fatal consequences. But in that moment, I knew I had to get out while the police were still there. I contacted a local battered-women’s shelter. I was barely 17 years old.

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Flowing Toward Freedom

Up until then, my life had been the absence of everything yoga. But after years of living with intense shame, guilt, and fear, I could finally see that I deserved more. I desired a life free from the violence and betrayal I had always known. And so I reinvented myself. It was a deliberate disruption that took years of perseverance, grit, and tenacity. I transformed myself through education, training, and the determination to live a healthy lifestyle (starting with a decision to be the first person in my family to finish high school). In the midst of my transformation, I found and fell in love with yoga—a practice that pushes me to change, but in a safe place: In college, I performed in a play called Daughters—about the evolution of women in society—and several women in the cast practiced yoga. They introduced me to Sun Salutations, which we did before each performance. I fell in love with the ritual of it all.

Twenty-something years later, my mat is still my sacred place. For me, yoga is a freeing moving mediation and a source for finding infinite power and responsibility in honoring my authentic self. I find myself overwhelmed with gratitude for the abundant life that yoga has taught me to pursue, expect, accept, and appreciate. My life has evolved in ways I never would have imagined when I was a girl struggling to improve my circumstances. Today I have a doctorate in educational leadership, and I am proud to say I started the first public charter school for at-risk kids in Nevada—where I now live. Instead of running from my past, I embrace where I am.

See also Overcoming Past Trauma to Create a New Future