Submitted by Zoe of the North Island (not her real name)
The sexual abuse of the body started before I turned 4. I say it that way because although it happened to all of me, separating from the body it happened to became a way to survive. I could vanish into the wallpaper or the light shade in an effort to tolerate the intolerable.
By the time I was in my mid-twenties my life was coming unraveled. A fiercely honed intellect wasn’t sufficient for living a fully engaged life. A good therapist accompanied me as I entered into a healing process.
It took several years before I could tolerate much sense of connection with my physical self. In my teens I’d tried starving it away, then exercising it into submission. Now I found a neglected body. I took swimming lessons. In a swim squad one day someone swam over the top of me. It was an accident. But my swimsuit suddenly felt too little protection in the world and it was back to disconnection.
A little bit later I decided to do something about “my fitness”. I found a personal trainer who wrote a programme and I set about becoming fitter and stronger. The problem was that if you don’t pay attention while exercising it is easy to injure yourself. You need to be able to distinguish between the sensation of a muscle working hard and the kind of pain that means you’re hurting yourself. The trainer thought that yoga or pilates or something might help me.
I saw a flyer for yoga classes at a place I already felt some connection with. I rang the teacher and stammered something about chronic pain (a damaged pelvis – you can guess what caused that – and the resulting back pain) and a trauma history and wanting to try a class but not knowing if I could. She invited me to come for an individual lesson.
To begin with I couldn’t lie flat on my back. So we found a different way to begin and with breath found steadiness. She wondered if I could feel all the way round the edges of my feet. A different kind of steadiness comes when you’re really standing on your feet. From the steadiness came movement. Growing taller or longer. I decided to commit to a series of classes.
Steadiness was always the foundation. And ahimsa (non-violence), and satya (truth), the frame within which we practiced. I can’t say why but when I did trikonasana for the first time I had an overwhelming experience of being steadily and beautifully in my body. Yoga had found me.
Yoga is a daily practice now. Probably like many women I experience ambivalence or discomfort about my body from time to time. I move away from mindfulness into busy-ness. But yoga is a place where I can notice that. And gently and persistently return to my self. My whole self. Body and breath, mind and spirit. With truthfulness and compassion.