Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what motivated you to get started in this profession?
My name is Zabie Khorakiwala and I manage the University of California, Irvine’s violence prevention programs. Additionally I am a trauma-sensitive yoga teacher and I teach yoga as healing classes to survivors of sexual violence on campus and in the community.
As a survivor of sexual violence during my senior year in college, I learned firsthand that the journey to heal is a lifelong process. There is no set guidebook or format that tells you how to heal nor is there one specific approach that works for every survivor. We all have our own unique path after experiencing this type of trauma. I quickly learned that my path led me straight to my yoga mat. Because yoga played such a pivotal role in my healing journey, I made a commitment to myself that I would share this gift with others.
How did you get introduced to Yoga?
Given my type-A and very task-oriented, solution-focused personality, I plunged myself into a frantic search to find ways to heal from the trauma. The only thing I really knew was that I needed something tangible. I needed something that allowed me to connect to every sense in my body, something that allowed me to manage the feelings of trauma I felt boiling up through my body with no accessible outlet. I needed a tool that allowed me to feel like I was actually regaining power and control of MY body. I tried to pursue talk therapy but it didn’t feel authentic for me. I constantly felt triggered and re-traumatized by having to share my story over and over again. What I needed was an opportunity to process the trauma nonverbally. I needed to manage the sensations of my limbs, the pain I experienced in in my heart and through every part of my body that at one point felt completely damaged and broken.
Yoga was introduced to me by two of my dear friends Gil and Tonya, and it literally saved my life.
How do you use Yoga to help you and your students?
The most crucial way that yoga helps the survivors I teach is that it is trauma-informed in nature. After my 200-hour teacher training at Core Power Yoga, I attended a trauma-sensitive yoga training hosted at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health facilitated by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D., David Emerson and Jenn Turner. In trauma-sensitive yoga classes, each posture that I cue is an invitation. Survivors are invited to take a personal exploration of the postures and move their body in ways that feel comfortable for them. Additionally there are no physical assists in trauma-sensitive yoga. Placing your hands on a survivor can be incredibly triggering and takes away from the practice being their own. The entire practice creates a safe, supportive, and non- judgmental experience where survivors can cultivate strength and flexibility without force and develop a friendly relationship with their body (Emerson and Turner, 2012).
I also take into account the specific symptoms that survivors often times experience and develop carefully crafted sequences and choose postures to support their healing. For example, survivors experiences a range of symptoms including: dis-regulated breathing, flashbacks, uptight body posture, GI issues, chronic sleep problems, disassociation, difficulty with relationships and intimacy, and depression. Having a thorough understanding of the needs of working with this population allows me to be more present in the yoga room and facilitates my ability to be thorough in the development of yoga sequences.
How does Yoga help in the healing process? Are there any standout moments for you or your students?
Yoga provides a safe and accessible way for survivors to explore their healing internally and uncovers layers of pain to get to the core of who they have always been. It offers them a beautiful form of expression that moves beyond trying to find the words to articulate how they feel. These inward experiences of healing on the yoga mat can elicit positive outcomes and tangible skills that survivors may have been working on for years in cognitive therapy to achieve. Past participants have shared that they were empowered to report to the police what had happened to them because they felt strong and stable in their bodies, others were able to be intimate again with a partner because they felt they could assertively communicate their boundaries, and one participant in particular took complete control of her binge eating because she realized that she did not need to have control in an unhealthy way.
Survivors have also shared that the yoga as healing program increased their confidence and self-esteem, helped them learn how to trust themselves and others, allowed them to develop a strong sense of community, helped them incorporate self-care strategies, and empowered them to seek other resources.
We noticed your Namaste board. Can you tell us a bit about how you use Pinterest?
Pinterest is an amazing way to gain inspiration for classes I teach as well as for the various activities involved in the 8- week yoga as healing series. Pinterest allows me to collect inspirational quotes and readings that I can utilize in various themed classes around safety, mindfulness, acceptance, etc. Pinterest also supports my preparation for classes as I get ideas for new postures and sequences to incorporate each week.
I love my Namaste board! It is a space where I collect inspiration for sequences and quotes, as well as get news ideas for the weekly activities I facilitate. In addition to yoga, we also offer art therapy, self-care workshops, journaling, meditation, and a healing drum circle as a part of the curriculum for the 8-week series. Pinterest is my go to place to help me incorporate fresh new ideas into class. Additionally, the Namaste board is a place where I collect ideas for supplies I can utilize on a limited budget! One example you may notice on the board are safety jars and stones with words written on them. For our themed class on safety, I give each participant a mason jar and ask them to take the jar home and decorate it with items that make them feel happy and safe. In every class they receive an intention rock and they are invited to write down their intention for class. Their safety jar is where they collect their intention rocks and it becomes a physical representation of all of the work they have put into their healing process. The participants love having a tangible item that represents their courage, strength, dedication, and resilience.
What is a piece of advice you can give to people looking to heal, for therapy, or simply for answers?
“Energy held in immobility can be transformed…contrary to popular belief, trauma can be healed. Not only can it be healed, but in many cases it can be healed without long hours of therapy; without the painful reliving of memories, and without a continuing reliance on medication.” -Peter Levine, Waking the Tiger
This is one of my favorite quotes because it helps people recognize that there are other ways to heal outside of standard practices of talk therapy and medication. For anyone out there who has been searching for something deeper or feeling at a loss for where to go next in their healing process, my advice would be to connect with a trauma-sensitive yoga practitioner. There are so many practitioners offering holistic healing options and they would be happy to connect with you if you would like to ask questions or learn more. The Breathe Network is an incredible organization that connects survivors to healing arts practitioners who offer services on a sliding scale. Survivors can search by modality or location.
I am also happy to connect with anyone who is interested in learning more via e-mail at email@example.com or by visiting Transcending Sexual Violence through Yoga
Do you have any new years resolutions or practices you’re looking forward to implement or achieve this new year?
A few projects on the horizon include a book I am co-authoring on survivor-centered yoga with my inspiring friend Alexis Marbach who is also a trauma-sensitive yoga teacher in the Boston area. Additionally I will be offering trainings for yoga teachers who are interested in teaching from a trauma-informed perspective and working with survivors.
As far as resolutions and practices, my goal is to trust in this process and help others believe that we all are truly capable of anything we have ever dreamed for ourselves.
Thank you Zabie for sharing such a personal story and journey with us. To learn more about Zabie, her teachings, or to see what inspires her, visit her Facebook page and Pinterest boards on Pinterest!