WHY DO WE PRACTICE YOGA AND MEDITATION TO HEAL FROM SEXUAL ASSAULT AND ABUSE?

Woman Warrior was created in response to a growing demand from survivors for safe spaces where they can join in community and heal.

With the explosion of the #MeToo movement in 2016, we have seen more and more brave women share the fact that they are survivors; but it’s not enough for us to simply acknowledge our trauma – to fully heal, we must work through it and that is often impossible alone. We need a place to heal in community, and that is what Woman Warrior provides, as demonstrated in the quote below from Robin, who joined our Woman Warrior workshop in Washington, D.C.:

"The Woman Warrior workshop was an incredibly amazing experience. I never imagined that being in a kind, loving space doing yoga and breathing exercises with other women survivors would have such a deep impact on me. I signed up for the workshop without expectations, and it provided me a sense of self love that I didn’t even realize I needed. I am so grateful for the tools that I now have to help navigate my life."

One in four girls experiences sexual abuse before she turns 18. One in three women experiences sexual violence and one in five women is raped.[1] Women of color experience sexual violence more often than white women and Indigenous women are two times more likely to experience sexual assault compared with all other women in America.[2] What’s more, women who live in underserved and under-resourced communities have much less access to the healing services that they need in order to be able to move beyond their trauma.

When survivors don’t receive the services they need to heal, the cost is heart breaking:

·         30% of women who are sexually assault experience PTSD months after the assault.

·         Survivors are 6 or more times likely to use cocaine or other major drugs.

·         38% of survivors experience work or school problems, which includes significant problems with a supervisor or colleague.

·         37% of survivors experience significant relationship problems, including getting into arguments more frequently than before, not feeling able to trust their loved ones, or not feeling as close to them as before the assault.

·         79% of survivors who were assaulted by someone they knew experience professional and/or emotional issues, including moderate to severe distress, or increased problems at work or school.[3]

Of course, yoga and meditation are not perfect solutions and each woman’s healing journey is different. But, as the following pages show, we know that both yoga and communal healing can significantly decrease the effects of post traumatic stress for survivors.

There are over 3,000,000,000 women on this planet – if one in four of them experiences sexual trauma, that gives Women Warrior a potential reach of 750,000,000 students. We know that not all survivors will want to do yoga or attend a Woman Warrior workshop… But many do and will – the number of women stepping up and showing up to confront their trauma is growing by the day.

And yoga and meditation are quickly growing in popularity. Between 2012 and 2016, the number of people who practice yoga in America increased by 50% to over 36,000,000; and 72% of U.S. yoga practitioners are women, which means that at least 26,000,000 women have practiced yoga in America alone – and that number is growing.[4]

Furthermore, research is proving what we know from experience – yoga and meditation are potent tools for healing trauma. A growing body of peer-reviewed research shows that regular yoga practice:

  • Helps women overcome a feeling of disconnection to their body that is common among survivors of sexual violence; restores neurological pathways in a region of the brain that processes emotional awareness and tends to decrease in size among female trauma survivors (Georgetown University, 2017)

  • Increases activation of the medial prefrontal cortex and the insular cortex in brains of women with profound early childhood trauma, helping to improve emotional wellbeing (The Body Keeps the Score, 2014)

  • Significantly reduces PTSD symptomatology, with effects comparable to well-researched psychotherapeutic and psychopharmacologic approaches; improves the functioning of traumatized individuals by helping them to tolerate physical and sensory experiences associated with fear and helplessness (The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 2014)

 Survivors need a place where they feel safe and comfortable in order to heal. They need to be able to breathe deeply and allow their nervous systems to rest, restore, and reset. Most people with unprocessed trauma have nervous systems that are constantly in “fight or flight” mode – they are hypervigilant and a part of them is always scanning the room for the next attack (we see this often with Woman Warrior students.)

Thus, Woman Warrior workshops use targeted breathing, movement, and meditation techniques designed to allow students’ nervous systems to balance and heal so that we can start spending more time in “rest and digest” mode. Raman, a Woman Warrior student from San Diego, explains this experience:

"Out of all the years I’ve practiced yoga, the Woman Warrior workshop has been one of the most impactful and healing classes I’ve taken thus far. I was in awe at how fast I felt comfortable in that space. As a survivor of sexual assault, my body tends to always tense up regardless of how much I try to calm myself. Woman Warrior allows students to truly take in the surroundings to feel safe and comfortable.”

Once women’s bodies start to rest, their minds can begin to process their experiences and they find new insight and perspective on their own life experiences, including their trauma.

Each Woman Warrior workshop is rooted in trauma-informed yoga, a practice that invites students to participate rather than forces them to do so. Workshop language is invitational so that all students have full autonomy over their bodies throughout each moment of class.

Finally, Woman Warrior workshops use the power of community to support and deepen each woman’s healing experience. Both wisdom and research show that joining in beloved community is a critical part of any healing process. Being in community allows us to support and uplift each other by our very presence; it allows us to escape shame and instead experience acceptance. Elle, a Woman Warrior student, describes her experience of communal healing in our Washington, D.C. workshop series:

“I really appreciated the opportunity to just BE and to just BE around other people who knew this one issue about me. I feel like for all these years it's been something to hide. I never felt I could be me if I wasn't ALL of me. This was the first time I've felt that way.”

Given all this, it’s no wonder that 88% of women who join Woman Warrior workshops report feel “very satisfied” with their overall experience and 100% report that they would join another Woman Warrior workshop.[5]

We want to be connected with each other, and the miracles of videocalls, social media, online video sharing, and even email newsletters have created unpresented opportunities for survivors to join in community. Thus, Woman Warrior is being birthed in the right space at the right time.

In his seminal book “The Body Keeps the Score,” Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk documents the myriad of ways in which traumatic events are stored in our minds and bodies – these events almost become trapped inside of us, or, more accurately, we become trapped in these events. When we use yoga movement and meditation intentionally, we can start to unlock and release some of the trauma that is stored in our bodies and minds, in a gradual way and at a pace that we choose. This is the power of the Woman Warrior experience.


[1] https://www.nsvrc.org/statistics

[2] https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence

[3] https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence

[4] https://www.yogajournal.com/page/yogainamericastudy

[5] Data from Woman Warrior evaluative student surveys