In yoga we say that we can't always control our external circumstances, but we can control our reactions to them. That is true—unless you are a survivor of sexual assault.
If you are a yoga practitioner like I am and a trauma survivor (like I am), you are still susceptible to retraumatization in triggering situations. Activities like watching the news—especially this week, as allegations of sexual assault against a Supreme Court nominee are dissected on a national stage and shared on screens everywhere—can induce familiar feelings of fear, panic, rage, insecurity, and anxiety.
It has brought up all of that, and more, for me.
During my senior year of college, I was sexually assaulted. I was 21 years old. The perpetrator was technically my boss, who was married with children, and for years I blamed myself for it. I coped with the trauma through self-destructive behavior and did everything I could to abandon myself.
Now, nearly 20 years later, I am still in the process of healing.
It is important to know that the body stores trauma. That’s why the sympathetic nervous system responds to triggering situations as though the traumatic event is happening all over again. Physiologically, your heart rate speeds up, cortisol rushes your body, blood surges to your extremities, and your breath becomes short and erratic.
You may be feeling these fight-or-flight symptoms this week. It does not mean there is something wrong with you, or that you are not a seasoned yogi. It means that you have fought the fight, and you are surviving it. And you are doing the work you need to do in order to show up fully in the world.
Although there is still an element of shame that comes with sharing my story, now I know that I don’t have to run away from it. I have gained a sense of resilience from this experience. Through my personal yoga and meditation practice, I have learned how to live in, respond to, and honor the sensations of my body. No matter what arises, I have the capacity to hold space for it. It is in tolerance of our feelings that creates our ability to heal.
I return to my practice every day on my own mat, and I am fortunate enough to share the transformative tools of the ISHTA Yoga lineage to help others reclaim their sense of self, regardless of whether they have experienced trauma.
In addition, my service on the board of Exhale to Inhale has also given me the ability to help other survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault access the healing power of trauma-informed yoga. It has also empowered me with the language to put words to my experience, and to work through and process it as part of a safe, supported community.
Finally, I have learned that allowing yourself time for self-care helps you create a safe space in your body that brings you back to your true source, which is infinite and untethered.
A Self-Care Practice for Survivors of Sexual Assault
I created the following self-care sequence for survivors of trauma to help get through this week’s challenging news cycle with ease, self-compassion, and peace of mind. Through standing postures, you’ll establish your connection to the Earth, which enables a sense of steadiness and security in the present moment. The most important thing is that you feel safe and strong in your body.
As you move through the sequence, do what feels right for you in your body. These are all suggested postures, and you can modify them in any way to suit you.
About the Author
Sarah Finger is the co-founder of ISHTA Yoga and the private yoga teacher of Dr. Deepak Chopra. She teaches trainings, workshops, and retreats internationally with her husband, yoga master Alan Finger, and is a featured expert on the wellness platform, Jiyo. Sarah’s values of self-empowerment led her to join the Board of Directors for Exhale to Inhale, a non-profit organization that teaches yoga to survivors of domestic violence. Her daughter, Satya, inspires her to live a life based on love and unbound potential.