A childhood friend recently posted a picture on her Facebook page of a woman who was meditating with a red X crossing the entire picture and the caption: “yoga is not safe!” It reminded me of what I heard years ago—yoga and meditation clear your mind but are dangerous because evil spirits come and dwell in you. I was warned not to become susceptible and weak-minded. I was astounded when I realized that my friend, who is a very successful professional woman with strong ties to Catholicism, still misunderstands what yoga is about.
I remember when I was presented with the idea of doing yoga for the first time. I refused to be present in that class. I thought, “I am Latina, I‘d rather do Zumba and dance to the rhythms that are embedded in me.” There was only one statement that I appreciated in my first Trauma Sensitive Yoga (TSY) class, “Feel free to do whatever you like.” My deviant self decided to follow those instructions to the letter, so I just sat on that mat doing nothing.
Little did I know that for the first time, I was allowing myself to really do what my body was telling me. TSY has many aspects of healing; one of them is doing what feels right in that given moment.
The first time I heard “Listen to your body,” I looked at my body thinking my mouth talks, not my arms or legs, what are these people talking about? It was a foreign concept that I came to understand as I allowed myself to participate in a TSY class. The first few classes I remained a skeptic, but the back pain I had for months disappeared.
The TSY class progressively became a place where I could calm my mind and that is when I started to notice changes. I was invited to pay attention to my breath, to concentrate on the simple act of feeling the air as it comes and leaves my body. I was not instructed on what to do; I was invited to make choices, to move only when I was ready, to feel free to come out of a pose, and to adjust myself as I pleased.
I began the journey of the true meaning of yoga: I began feeling a union with myself. Other participants in the class were probably as amazed as I was as they realized that TSY provides a safe place for healing, becoming aware of your body and befriending it.
A year later, after having had that experience and having participated in several TSY groups with people that look like me, I have become a Certified Yoga Instructor. I aim to share with everyone that yoga does not jeopardize your belief system as my friend believes and as I once thought. Yoga is simply a series of exercises and techniques that allow you to connect with yourself.
I was proud to be able to present along with two friends at a national conference the following year, speaking about the benefits of practicing yoga to befriend your body. Yoga is not only a practice that opens up your lungs, allows you to become stronger and stretches your muscles, it is a practice that enhances the ability to look within yourself and to connect at a deeper level and free your mind.
The benefits of yoga are boundless. It has the ability to captivate those who try it and it provides the gift of feeling safe within yourself and the world around you.
Claudia Ortega, MSW, RYT* 200
Counselor and Paralegal, DCCV