After I was sexually assaulted, it was yoga that transformed my life

My news feed provides regular updates on stories that involve allegations of sexual abuse and sexual assault.While it's a relief that people are talking about it, that it's now part of an ongoing national dialogue, we also need to start focusing on how we can support those who were assaulted.

Yes, I am speaking from experience.

Last year, I was assaulted after I left a party, an experience that was devastating and, ultimately, transformative. I'm not going to share the details because the aftermath is what's important.

At first, I acted as if nothing were amiss. It was a period of my life when I was busy with work, training for a marathon and celebrating my birthday, so I pushed away all of the sadness and shock and pretended I was the smiley girl everyone believed me to be.

Denial, of course, was not effective, and I found myself succumbing to fear and anger and depression. The smallest incidents with work, friends or family would leave me in tears and sometimes bedridden.

Eventually, I sought therapy at the UCLA Rape Treatment Center, where I was reminded that people who experience sexual assault frequently report that they feel disconnected from their bodies — it's a way to disconnect from the experience. So, in addition to talk therapy, I was prescribed exercise. I was already a runner — and running helped. But it was yoga that transformed my life.

Four to five times a week I would immerse myself in classes at Hot 8 Yoga and CorePower Yoga in Santa Monica. I became hooked on their yoga sculpt classes, which offer a mix of sequential postures that form a continuous flow of movement (also known as vinyasa), paired with light weights and cardio to intensify each pose while building long and lean muscle. (Did I mention the classes were heated to 95 degrees?) I was attracted to the classes because they are reminiscent of an intense boot-camp workout — with upbeat music and two-to-three-minute sections of sit-ups, squats and cardio. But sculpting offers more than the rigors of boot camp; each class starts with an intention, a hyper-focused meditation of sorts, that is woven throughout the session. That meditation combined with conscious breathing is a critical step on the path to well-being.

Each class was both a mental and physical challenge: Could I stay on my mat and push myself to do an extra burpee — a jumping movement from standing to squatting? Could I switch to a heavier set of weights? Many times, at the end of class I would lie on my mat in corpse pose, my eyes filled with tears, amazed at what I had achieved: a level of athleticism that allowed me to vanquish my doubts. I always left class buzzing with endorphins and a deep sense of calm.

I started to get stronger, with noticeable curves in my waist and definition in my arms and thighs. As my muscles grew, I felt proud of my body and the work I'd put into it. I started to eat better and drink less.

My anxiety also started to ease.

After the assault, I also decided to set my phone alarm for noon each day to remind me to practice my breathing. (Yes, I had a daily reminder to breathe.) It was relatively simple: in through the nose for five seconds, hold my breath for five seconds, and exhale for five seconds.

At first, my breaths sounded as though I was being suffocated, which seemed appropriate — I felt like my life was suffocating me. But I soon discovered that breathing was something I could control and regulate, and I cannot overemphasize the importance of control. I'd lost it and had to get it back.

It became a habit, and any time I felt sad or got stressed at work, I would take in a long inhale, followed by a long exhale, and my stress or sense of helplessness would lessen. I became more comfortable with just being in the moment.

After six months of yoga classes and daily breathing breaks, I began to feel as though I was regaining control of my life. I ended up leaving my job in music and moved to San Francisco to pursue a job in "marketing for good." I also became a certified yoga instructor.

A year after being assaulted, I look at the experience as the best thing that ever happened to me. In times when I feel pressure, pain or fear, or when I feel anything other than the pure simple joy of being alive, I sit on my mat and focus on my breath. I'm here, I'm safe and I'm alive.

health@latimes.com

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on December 26, 2015, in the Features section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "How she took back her body - WELLNESS" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
57°