As most of my regular readers know, I am currently completing my 200-hour yoga teacher training. There are several components of this training, one of which is a “Karma Project.” Our Karma Project can be any service work that meets the required number of hours.

For my Karma Project, I decided early on that I was going to teach a restorative yoga class for women who are survivors of sexual abuse. I reached out to the support group that I belong to, passed a background check, and set a date to teach. Because of the amount of props used in restorative yoga, I had to get permission to hold the class at the yoga studio where I am doing teacher training. Needless to say, it’s been a work in progress for the last two months!

Well, today was the day! I would finally be getting to share restorative yoga with people who have been through things similar to what I have been through!

I had spent weeks procrastinating on planning the class. Yesterday, I finally sat down to pick out the music I would use. My playlist consisted of amazing, emotional music that is near and dear to my heart. Things like Irish Tune From Country DerryOctoberAdagio for Strings, and Horkstow Grange were included. If you have never heard these pieces, I urge you to find them. Composers include Percy Grainger and Eric Whitacre. Just the music alone for today’s class was filled with so much meaning.

Last night, I created a sequence. Five postures: Recliner’s Pose, Reclined Twist (left and right side), Side-Lying Pose (left side), Legs Up The Wall, and Savasana. I had my husband take pictures of me in each pose using just everyday pillows and blankets – no special yoga props. I created a handout showing how to set up each pose at home, with a written description of the poses and their benefits. Every participant got to take one at the end of class so that they can practice restorative yoga at home.

I waited until today to pick my theme for the class. As most of my readers know, it’s been a very difficult week for me with my trauma stuff. The quote I selected really resonated with me today:

Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.
-Thick Nhat Hanh

Freedom is what I crave in my life – freedom from flashbacks, memories, sensations, and anxiety. I was hopeful that my participants today would be able to relate to it as well.

My class went so great. I made one change to my sequence. Instead of doing legs up the wall, we did Stonehenge. Because no one in the room had ever done restorative yoga before, and there were five participants, I felt it better to keep things simple this first time. Throughout class, I talked about breath work. I talked about using a three part breath. I talked about counting inhales and exhales, and the benefits of lengthening exhales. I talked about cleansing breaths. And I watched. I watched as my students used the tools that I gave them. I paid attention to their breathing and their movements. I offered tools when I felt like they may need them.

After class, everyone talked about how wonderful it was. All of the women said it was the most relaxing thing they have probably ever done. And then, there was a lady who told me that today’s Stonehenge pose was the first time in decades she had willingly laid on her back. Because of her traumatic past, she never chooses to lay on her back. I could tell that she was really proud of herself. My heart hurt for her because I know that feeling. I know exactly how it feels to be so afraid of the flashbacks and the past that I can’t lay flat on my back. This woman showed so much bravery and courage by taking the risk in class today. I watched her start to squirm in the pose and I offered her cleansing breaths. I offered eye pillows for her hands and a sandbag for her shins. And then I saw her soften. It’s ok. You’re safe. 

Because of her reaction in this pose, I decided to offer three different versions of Savasana. I offered a traditional, basic relaxation pose, but I also offered a reverse Savasana and Side-Lying Pose again. A trauma-sensitive class is about offering choices. It is about empowering its participants. Today, I felt like I was very in-tune to what my participants were feeling, and I was able to meet those needs through breath work, mantras, and options.

Being able to share the gift of restorative yoga today with these women was truly incredible. It literally brought tears to my eyes. I cannot believe am in a place where I am able to help other people find peace – even if it is only for a little while. My whole heart feels happy right now. One day, I would love to just do this – teach restorative yoga to women who struggle with the same things I struggle with.

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