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Yoga for Survivors of Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence

One in four women will experience some form of domestic abuse in their lifetime. The term ‘domestic abuse’ includes a wide range of behavioural patterns, from physical and sexual violence to psychological, emotional, financial abuse, threatening behaviour, stalking and harassment.

Umbrella Yoga has been fortunate enough to receive funding from the Mayor’s Safer Communities Fund.

The funding is being used to provide 80 trauma informed yoga (TIY) sessions to some of the most vulnerable women in the community - survivors of sexual abuse, rape, and domestic violence. Many participants are from Minoritised communities. We aim to support recovery and healing, promote confidence and build resilience.

The program will allow women to participate in group yoga and movement sessions in a space that is brave, inclusive, and non-judgemental, allowing them to reconnect to themselves through befriending their bodies after experiencing sexual violence or domestic abuse. We are working in collaboration with Pennine Domestic Abuse Partnership (PDAP) and Kirklees, Calderdale and Wakefield Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre (RASAC).

The yoga sessions involve slow breathing and gentle movements designed to regulate the nervous system, with a sensitive approach to the physical and emotional trauma participants have experienced. They are a fantastic way to build agency and choice for participants and to bring the women together to build a stronger culture of support for one another.

Umbrella Yoga has already been working with survivors of sexual violence and domestic violence and more broadly with women suffering low mental health since our inception. We have had positive impacts already based on feedback from both participants and staff, influencing both mental and physical health of participants.

Why is TIY with these women impactful?

‘It makes me calm and sleep better that day’

Trauma-informed yoga is less about how poses are executed and more about the feeling of embodiment (being within your body) within a pose. Establishing presence and finding a sense of grounding can help participants connect to their mind and body in a way that feels secure.

Many abuse survivors disconnect from physical sensations and emotions. This is an effective survival response: the experiences they have gone through have been intolerable, so the body/brain connection disconnects as a safety mechanism. Yoga practice can calm the nervous system and gradually allow participants to re-tolerate physical sensations. These yoga classes will also allow participants to have a sense of safety, facilitate agency and choice with their bodies whilst moving and allowing participants to connect back to themselves.

The yoga classes have the potential to impact positively on both physical and mental domains. In these classes participants will learn ways to self-manage stress and foster relaxation, through breathing practices and stretches to relieve muscle tension and this is particularly important in fostering awareness of sensations within the body and learning to observe them as best one can. Over time, yoga can be a way for survivors to befriend their bodies again, and slowly start the healing process.

Through yoga we can create safety, enable empowerment, promote confidence and self-worth, and encourage clear, healthy boundaries. As the participants begin to feel more in control of their bodies, their self-esteem, and resilience to external events and stimulus, will improve. The safe group environment is an excellent way of building confidence and community spirit in the participants.

From a survivor's own words… “As a survivor, the feeling of disconnection of my mind and my body has been - and sometimes still is - overwhelming...

...Through my personal journey of Yoga and Trauma Sensitive Yoga, I have taken my power back, knowing that making a choice with my body is my right...

Through Yoga, I have learnt that noticing sensations in the body, becoming curious and learning to love my body all the ways it can move (or not!) in a class has brought the gap between my mind and body a little closer, and helps with making things outside of the class seem less overwhelming."

These classes simply are life-changing for those that are ready to take that step to affect survivors in an impactful way.

What’s Next … We will be closely monitoring engagement and impact, and hope to develop this program to reach more people in our community that could benefit from TIY. Collaborating with other service providers and offering information and insight to other groups is an important part of our work. If you’d like to get in touch please do contact us, or register for a class here.

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