“No matter what your life looks like, you have been through a lot, and you deserve the space to let go and release the weight to move through your day a little bit lighter.”
That was the mantra that Emily Paluba, a senior English major with a minor in gender, sexuality and women’s studies, began the yoga session in. She sat on her yoga mat in front of the other participants, and the calming music flowed through the room. The music fit the calm energy of the multipurpose room in the Student Recreation Center, tucked away in the corner of the building.
‘Writing Women Safe, a Writing Studies and Gender, Sexuality, Women’s Studies’ (a course in the writing studies and gender, women’s and sexuality studies departments) has been leading events all month to raise awareness for and to support sexual assault survivors. A premise of the class is community activism, so students are tasked with planning events on campus for a variety of causes as a means of building support through a sense of shared community.
Included in these events are the yoga classes that were led by Paluba. Yoga for Sexual Assault Survivors took place on April 13 and April 25 in the Student Recreation Center. The slow flow class was a mix of yin and restorative practices intended to calm the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps the body to feel calm, safe, and grounded.
Paluba began class with a seated meditation and focused breathing, while ambient music filled the space with an air of tranquility. Her opening mantra set the tone of inclusivity and healing.
Following the class, after much melting and releasing, Paluba facilitated a discussion where each member shared their experience of the session, as connecting and sharing with others is an essential part of healing trauma.
Spencer Crines, a junior gender, sexuality, and women’s study major with an LGBTQ+ minor, who is a member of the Writing Women’s Safe course, shared that yoga has been a lifelong practice for him.
“I felt like I needed some kind of outlet for all the kind of tension I have been holding onto recently, and I think it definitely did help,” Crines said.
Crines spoke on why he felt initiatives like these yoga sessions were needed.
“I just want people to realize they are not alone in any way, shape or form when it comes to this kind of thing,” Crines said. “People need to know that no matter the trauma, they have each other and they will support each other to get the help they deserve.”
Crines also gave his perspective on how yoga can help heal trauma from sexual assault.
“It can help them to get in touch with their body and to identify where they are holding it in their body, especially if it happened years ago and someone is still trying to process it,” Crines said. “It can be a good way to release and to express one’s emotions and to feel.”
Monica Taylor, the director of the gender, sexuality, and women’s studies department gave her insight on the program her student was running.
“Events like the Trauma-Informed Yoga for Survivors of Sexual Assault provide survivors an opportunity to both have agency to address their experiences of trauma in an embodied way, using breathing, meditation, and yoga to release pain, fear, and anxiety, as well as to be seen and heard in community with other survivors,” Taylor said. “Too often survivors either feel invisible, dismissed, or blamed. Using embodied practices provides them some empowering tools, so that they can take back the control of their bodies and being in the context of other survivors can feel validating knowing that others have had similar experiences.”
Belinda Bohrman, a senior English major and participant in the program, explained why yoga was a great way to heal from sexual trauma.
“I think that when it comes to talking about sexual trauma, a lot of the time people assume that it has to be this serious, almost miserable conversation,” Bohrman said. “But really it’s about healing and about love and surrounding yourself with people who support you and this was just a very centering, calming experience.”