Quantcast

How Yoga Helped Liberate Me From Rape Trauma

Through my yoga practice, I began the process of truly healing.

Her Voice

TW: This article discusses elements of trauma and rape.

My path to healing after being raped was everything but a straight line. I went on with business as usual. I didn't tell anyone. I didn't think about it. I didn't have flashbacks or nightmares of it. I didn't look for the face of the man that raped me in supermarkets and parking garages. He was someone I knew so I wasn't worried about that. I didn't think about it when I finally started to have consensual sex.

But the shame was there.

Not in a self-pity way, but in a matter of fact way.

At first I blamed myself for being there and trusting this man at all, but over time that didn't make sense to me because I had trusted other men who didn't make the same choice as him. So then I blamed myself for not fighting hard enough. The same questions lingered in my subconscious whenever the topic of rape came up. Why didn't I fight harder? Why did I give up? Why did I freeze? It wasn't until years later, as I began to commit to my yoga practice and study trauma, that I would learn my reaction was a normal autonomic response to a threat and understanding it would be my pathway to healing.

Courtesy of Jasmine Allen

After becoming a certified yoga instructor, I went on to take additional training in trauma-informed yoga. Through my studies, I began to learn about the nervous system. While I was vaguely familiar with the fight or flight response of the nervous system, I knew much less about the freeze response and immobilization.

In my mind, people chose to freeze in a crisis because they were too afraid to fight back or try to run away. Little did I know, I was very wrong.

The autonomic nervous system is made up of two branches: sympathetic and parasympathetic, and responds to sensations along three distinct pathways. The sympathetic branch is in charge of fight or flight. The parasympathetic branch is split into two parts, ventral vagal, and dorsal vagal. The ventral vagal is in charge of social engagement which is activated when you feel safe. The dorsal vagal is in charge of immobilization which is activated under extreme stress and danger and is the oldest part of the nervous system. The dorsal vagal puts the body into a protective state of collapse. It literally causes a reduced flow of oxygen and blood to the brain during a traumatic event to aid in dissociation, which is why after traumatic incidents you often hear people say, "I felt like I was outside of my body watching it."

I could identify with this because at some point while I was being raped, my eyes glazed over, my body went numb, and my mind went blank. For me, this felt like I had given up but in reality my dorsal vagal pathway had taken over in an attempt to protect me. Humans may describe their experience of the freeze response as feeling numb, frozen, or not here.

The most important thing I learned about the freeze response is that it's automatic. It's an instinctual decision made from the oldest part of the nervous system. The rational brain is not involved in the decision making of the freeze response. It is the nervous system's last resort when the brain interprets a threat as too close, too big, or too dangerous.

The goal of the freeze response is to temporarily shut down the body and then activate the sympathetic nervous system to escape the danger and discharge the energy built up during the attack. Unfortunately, in many cases like being imprisoned, being in an abusive relationship, living in a high crime neighborhood, or being raped to name a few, individuals are not able to escape the danger and their nervous systems are unable to restabilize. Whatever triggers the freeze response, the body is not to be blamed. The circumstances or the individuals committing the violence are responsible.

So while I had been blaming myself for not kicking, biting, and screaming and instead zoning out and waiting for it to be over, all along that was my body's way of protecting me. This was a man that I knew well so the shift in events shocked me so much that I went from thinking I was safe to thinking he was capable of doing virtually anything to me.

Courtesy of Jasmine Allen

Through this newfound understanding and my yoga practice, I began the process of truly healing.

For me, healing meant exonerating myself. My shame had prevented me from healing because deep down I didn't believe I deserved to be sad over what had happened to me because I felt it was my fault. After understanding it was not, I began to take the lessons I was learning on my yoga mat and implement them into my life. Lessons like the impernancy of my feelings. Just like I could start off a practice feeling drained and end feeling energized, I started to see the constant impermanence of my feelings in my own life. I no longer avoided feelings of sadness or rage when they bubbled inside of me because I understood they were not there to stay.

Similarly, yoga showed me the healing power I possess within my breath and body. On the mat, I could be in a challenging pose and take a deep breath and stay a little longer. Off the mat, I could feel overwhelmed with the fear of telling my story then take a deep breath and reassure myself that I am safe.

Courtesy of Jasmine Allen

More than anything, yoga helped me learn how to approach myself with kindness and empathy instead of the criticism I toted around for years. In The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a great yoga philosophical text, the first ethical precept is ahimsa, which is sanskrit for "do no harm". I practiced very carefully because of the concept of ahimsa, always prioritizing alignment and stability over deepening my stretch beyond my limits. In life, I learned to practice ahimsa by becoming aware of my negative self-talk and the lack of compassion I showed myself. It gradually became easier to surrender the blame for what had been done to me and know it was never my fault.

For me, yoga began as a way to get out of my head and into my body. It was my meditation in motion. Eventually, it led me to a new way of understanding myself and one of the hardest things I had ever experienced. My yoga mat will forever be the place I fell back in love with my body and learned to trust myself again.

xoNecole is always looking for new voices and empowering stories to add to our platform. If you have an interesting story or personal essay that you'd love to share, we'd love to hear from you. Contact us at submissions@xonecole.com.

You know what? Sometimes, you've got to push a few coins aside and determine in your mind that you're going to invest into your sex life (if you had a sex jar, this would be easier to do, by the way. You can read more about what that is all about here). If you're someone who is totally down to do that, but you don't have a clue where to begin, boy have you come to the right place! Between the joy of being a writer who sometimes gets samples sent to me, the constant research that I do for the couples I work with and having folks shout-out certain items semi-often, I've compiled a list of 12 sex-related items that may seem random AF (a pun is kind of intended there) and, at the same time, can make sex so much better between you and your partner. Where's your pad at? You're definitely gonna wanna take note.

Keep reading... Show less
The daily empowerment fix you need.
Make things inbox official.

Recently, I was talking to a friend of mine about someone who once told me that they had an annual week-long summer rendezvous that lasted for over 15 years with someone else. Yep — this individual would meet up with another person who lived in a different state, solely to have sex for a week straight, and then return to their city as if nothing ever happened. According to them, the only reason why this ritual romp eventually came to an end is because the other person decided to get serious about someone else; however, it wasn't until it ended that the person who told me the story realized how attached they actually had become to their sex partner (a cautionary tale). After I completed my lil' tale, my friend simply said, "Oh, I do that s — t every cuffing season. There are some people who I only talk to around this time of year, we f — k around and then that's that until the season comes around again."

Keep reading... Show less

How We Met is a series where xoNecole talks about love and relationships with real-life couples. We learn how they met, how like turned into love, and how they make their love work.

When it comes to sexuality, there have always been societal limitations centered on what is "acceptable." However, with more honest conversations about how fluid sexuality and sexual expression can be, now there are so many more opportunities for self-exploration and taking back ownership of our identities again. One couple that is living their truth and being sexual beings unapologetically while living and loving their lives are Jasmine Johnson and King Noire.

Keep reading... Show less

I'm so excited because one of my favorite unscripted shows is back. OWN's Ready to Love is a dating series that follows professionals over 30, looking for long-lasting relationships. Hosted by Nephew Tommy, it follows singles who desire true connections and are grouped together to find them.

Keep reading... Show less

Social media influencer and actress Tabitha Brown has garnered viral fame through her inspirational and vegan videos on Instagram, thanks to her cheerful personality and infectious smile. Now, she is entering a new phase in her life as an author. The 42-year-old released Feeding the Soul on Sept. 28 and recently shared an emotional video of herself after finding out her book was number one on the New York Times Best Sellers list.

Keep reading... Show less
Exclusive Interviews

Jill Scott Talks Balance, 'Highway To Heaven' & Not Burning Herself Out To Produce

In this exclusive, the actress dishes on executive producing the reboot, and balancing business and motherhood.

Latest Posts