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7 Principles Ashtanga Taught Me About Healing Effects Of Childhood Abuse

7 Principles Ashtanga Taught Me About Healing Effects Of Childhood Abuse

Healing the Effects of Childhood Abuse

I sat in the room on the wooden floor together with about 20 other students. I did not know what to expect, my mind was restless: Why was I sitting here? Why did I have such a stupid idea? I have always been skeptical about spiritual things. I heard my late mother’s voice in my head, “You are crazy to believe in this crap.” However, I felt magically drawn to give it a try. The sun was softly shining through the windows. At the front was a small Buddha statue. The instructor stood at the front with a warm smile on her face. She said: “Welcome to Ashtanga – you have chosen the most strenuous form of Yoga, you can do.” While her message did not sound very encouraging, her energy was. I awkwardly followed her instructions.

Over the following years, my practice accompanied me throughout three countries, Germany, Spain, and Canada. I cannot tell you why I stuck with it. It just felt like the right thing to do. It transformed me. My practices helped me find important principles that supported me in my healing the effects of childhood abuse.

I am not sure where you are on your journey, but I would like to share 7 principles Ashtanga taught me about healing the effects of childhood abuse.

Principle 1: Start where you are

When I started with Ashtanga, I did not know what to expect. I had never tried Yoga before and my body felt rigid and stiff. I awkwardly moved from posture to posture. Sometimes, I needed to drag me to the studio because I felt scared of being judged. After each session, I felt a sense of inner peace I had never experienced before. If I had never started practicing, I would never have known how much I could change. If we have experienced childhood abuse, we may not know where to start and what it means to heal. Our minds may tell us to ignore our past and just move on. Social stigma may want us to stay silent forever. Let’s face it: healing is uncomfortable. However, if we never start, nothing will ever change. Instead of overthinking, take the first step and start where you are. Trust your intuition and look for healing modalities that resonate with you. Be skeptical but give it your best try.

Principle 2: Be Uncomfortable

When I started Ashtanga, I felt uncomfortable. Everything was new to me. I was scared to make a mistake. Each posture felt weird to me. Over time, I started to get more comfortable with some postures. However, the journey never ended. Practicing Ashtanga is not about doing it perfectly but become better. I came to accept that discomfort is part of growth. During our healing journey, we will not feel comfortable. While we find in environments where we feel safe and supported enough, sharing painful stories is probably always outside of our comfort zone. Growth doesn’t happen without feeling uncomfortable. If we want to develop our full potential as human beings, we need to get out of our comfort zone.

Principle 3: Be Gentle with Yourself

While Western philosophy is often based on ignoring our body and focusing on our mind, Ashtanga taught me to respect my body and be gentle with myself. While my mind sometimes wanted me to be faster or more flexible, Ashtanga taught me to be gentle with my body and respect its limits while not giving up on improving. During our healing journey, we need to learn to be gentle with ourselves. Healing cannot be forced. It happens at its own rhythm. Healing is about developing self-compassion with those parts of us that are hurt, angry or wounded. Healing the effects of childhood abuse is also about being gentle with our fears while not allowing them to overpower us.

Principle 4: Stop comparing, focus on yourself

When I started Ashtanga, I looked at the people in the room. I was wondering whether they were better than me. However, these thoughts kept me stuck and did not allow me to progress. It would have been easy to convince myself that it was not worth the effort. I decided to stop looking at others and to focus on my practice. Suddenly, I started to feel happy about the progress I made. As survivors of childhood abuse, we may feel broken. Society often gives us this ideal picture of how our childhood should have been like. I am not sure about yours, mine never was. We may look at others as if they are better than us. However, what do we know about other people’s lives? Each person has an individual burden to carry.  We are complex beings with many layers. Every one of us is work in progress. No matter what our burden is, the main question is how we can grow and become the better version of ourselves.

Principle 5: Challenge the limitation of your mind

One of the closing postures of Ashtanga is Utpluthih, a posture where you lift your body up while sitting in lotus. The first time I saw it, my mind told me that I would never be able to do it. One afternoon, I decided to challenge my mind. I sat down calmly in my living room and sat down with my legs crossed. I connected with my breath and tried to push my body up… Nothing happened. I continued breathing and focused on my core. I tried again. Suddenly, I felt a slight upward movement I never had felt before. I stayed calm and tried again… All of a sudden, it worked. I was able to lift my body from the ground. If we have experienced childhood abuse, our minds may have many negative thoughts. We may believe that we can never create a more joyful or more authentic life. Our painful and difficult experiences shape our reality and we may see everything as dark and hopeless. Nothing can change the facts about what happened to us. However, if we choose to heal, we can transform these negative perceptions, release painful emotions and learn to discern what is good for us and what is not. While the facts cannot be changed, we can transform our emotions around them.

Principle 6: The Importance of the Breath

Ashtanga Yoga uses a specific breathing technique, Ujjayi breathing. The breath builds the foundation of the practice and guides me throughout the different postures. It helps me focus on the present and be connected with myself while reducing stress and anxiety. Throughout my healing journey, I faced difficult memories and painful emotions came up. The calm voices of my fellow group members reminded me to breathe. It reminded me that I was in a safe space and allowed me to stay present in my body while facing those memories.  On our healing journey, we may experience intense emotions. Reminding us to breathe can help us to not get overwhelmed by our experience but stay present with our emotions and release them.

Principle 7: Commit to your process

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois who developed Ashtanga Yoga stated that it is “99% practice, 1% theory.” While the theory is one aspect, what matters is the action. While I can read about how to do the “perfect” posture or watch endless youtube videos, I need to practice Ashtanga so that my body may ever get there. How does this relate to your own healing process? You can read about it. Maybe you know all the theories about it but nothing will change if you do not take action towards healing. Nobody else can walk this path for you. While you were not responsible for what happened to you as a child, you are the only person who can heal the effects it had on you. Nobody else can take the pain away. Nobody can walk this path for you. This doesn’t sound fair, does it? I hear you, however, I invite you to consider a different perspective. What if you could finally be free from your past? I cannot promise you how long it will take you but healing is the path that leads to freedom. How would it feel for you if you were finally free?

If you want to find freedom from the effects of childhood abuse, I am here to support you. Check out my services:

Image by Wim De graaf from Pixabay

Pathways to Healing for Survivors of Childhood Abuse

Pathways to Healing

When I started my healing journey, I often had doubts about whether healing was possible. Social stigma told me that I was forever broken and deterministic worldviews imposed on me that I would never recover. Most research I read told me what was wrong with me but did not tell me how I could change it. While these voices left me hopeless, I also found true stories from people who had recovered. I also read books by experts who believed that recovery was possible. Those voices inspired me to go through my healing journey. Overtime, I found my individual pathways to healing.

I guess there will always be some people who don’t believe in healing for  whatever reason. However, full recovery is possible, even if each healing journey is unique and different. Some methods will work for you, while others won’t. Unfortunately, there is not the only methodology that will solve all your problems. It does not exist. While it is frustrating if things don’t work out, it doesn’t mean that you are a hopeless case. There are many pathways to healing. It just means that it wasn’t the right tool or professional for you, and it is time to look for a new one.

Here are some pathways to healing that you may find beneficial for your healing journey as an adult survivor of childhood abuse:

Owning your story

The first step to overcoming negative childhood experiences is to acknowledge what happened to you and making sense of how the past influences the present. It includes that you explore your childhood experiences with curiosity and that you reflect how they influence your current experience Based on your reflections, you work on breaking those patterns. Furthermore, it means that you explore which unconscious decisions you made concerning survival in this work.

Healthily connecting with your emotions

Healing doesn’t mean that the facts change. For example, if you have experienced sexual violence, it has happened to you. Healing means that you own the emotions related to the incident, work through and release them. Since we often learned as children to numb our emotions since we weren’t equipped to deal with them, we need to learn as adults to connect with them again. This process takes time and you will find your rhythm to go through it.

Become a loving adult for your inner child

Inner child work is a loving concept to nurture those parts of us that were hurt by childhood abuse. The more we can create a compassionate and honest relationship with our disowned parts, the more we will connect to others meaningfully. It may help us to heal painful emotions due to abandonment and rejection. Inner child work can be an important foundation for your healing journey because it allows you to understand the impact your experiences as a child had on your past and present and to make peace with it.

Meditation

There are many different meditation styles available: Zen meditation can help you to improve your relationships and create self-awareness. Mindfulness has proven to improve our attachment styles. As survivors of childhood abuse, we may have insecure attachment styles that influence our relationships in a negative way. Mindfulness together with therapy can help you to transform your relationship style and create an earned secure attachment style as an adult.

When we are faced with unprocessed childhood experiences, it often may appear very overwhelming to deal with them. However, healing does not mean that you need to rush through the process or force it to happen. It means that you learn new skills that you can work through those experiences in a safe space and confront them when you are ready for this. You do not have to do this alone, counselling will help you to work through it. While healing might be an uncomfortable process, it will help you to transform your life.

Find out what services are available for you.

 

“It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”

Tom Robbins

Image by lefteye81 from Pixabay

Do You Know What Freedom Is?

On a warm night in September when I was just 19 my mother died after a life-long battle with cancer. I woke up and I knew that she was gone. I walked down the stairs. My stepfather had locked the house, and hid the telephone. He told me that I could stay but only if I behaved the way he wanted me to.

I somehow managed to phone my sister. The moment she came, my stepfather was on top of her, trying to beat her to death. I froze. Please don’t let this be my family. We escaped. I stood outside of the fence. The police came and said that they don’t intervene in family affairs. My mother’s doctor came. She said that my mother was finally free. I had no clue what she meant. I only knew sadness and violence. By the energy of her words I had a sense that freedom must be something wonderful. That day, I grabbed a bag and left. I promised myself to find freedom… Over the years I have found it.

For me, freedom has three essential components:

Freedom is choosing something different

My family was shaped by hatred, blame, discrimination, and violence. My parents never took responsibility for their behaviour or to heal their pain…. They were never happy.

I chose something different – I learned to trust – I chose to heal myself.

Today I know that no matter what happens to me, I have choices: I either allow it to destroy me or to make me a better person.

Freedom is standing-up for myself

I made a career change. I became a counsellor. One day I attended a large training for one hundred therapists and social workers. All was silent. In front, next to a therapist, a client sat with her head down. She sat next to the therapist, her head down.

The therapist asked: “What were the incidents in your family?” She replied: Sexual abuse and violence. Her voice broke. A shocked murmur spread.

I shrugged. For how many years had I felt stigmatized by the generic judgment of being a hopeless case? For how long had I allowed other people’s opinion to define my worthiness? … My answer was, for too long. I looked at her and ask myself: How does this murmur make her feel? She shrank in her seat. She was a picture of myself years ago.

Suddenly, the counsellor next to me said: “Poor thing, she’ll never recover.” I opened my mouth, and I wanted to tell her, it is possible to heal, but I didn’t find the words to tell it to her. I felt like a failure. I felt like I betrayed the woman on the chair.

That day I decided to write my memoir. I wrote it for the woman in the chair. It is my way to tell her that she is not alone. It is my way to tell her that I disagree with my colleagues. It is my way to express my hope that, one day, we will live in a world where people can share their stories without being judged.

Freedom is following my dreams

My dream has always been to create a sanctuary for cats that are different. When I was volunteering at a colony for feral cats in Barcelona, a shipbuilder brought a little box. Inside the box, I saw a kitten with two huge bandages around the back and another helper at the colony said he would die that night. I brought him to a vet. He said that it would be a miracle if the kitten were to survive. I called him Angel, visited him in the clinic and gave him Reiki. I told him that he had a home with me if he wanted to live without back legs. Five weeks later, I brought Angel home. Today, he runs and fights just like any other cat.

Living in Canada has always been my secret dream. In 2013, I arrived at the Vancouver airport with one suitcase and my three cats.

My dreams have always been the fuel to overcome my fears and search for freedom. Freedom means to choose something different, to stand up for myself and to follow my dreams.

I hope you find your version of freedom as I have found mine.

Thich Nhat Hanh said:

“Freedom is not given to us by anyone; we have to cultivate it ourselves. It is a daily practice…”

Learn more about Thich Nhat Hanh and his Mindfulness Practice Center Plum Village.

In Wholeness, We Meet

Love is a mystery and has many faces. This love poetry aims for explaining how love can grow in a relationship.

In wholeness, we meet.
I am I, and you are you.
In wholeness, we meet.
Two balloons, flying together.

I see you, and you see me.
We are as we are, perfect with our imperfections.
In wholeness, we meet.
Two balloons, touching gently.

I carry mine, you carry yours.
I don’t save you, you don’t save me.
I don’t change you, you don’t change me.
In wholeness, we meet.
Two balloons, caressing gently.

I see your beauty, and you see mine.
I see your strength, and you see mine.
I love your defects, and you love mine.
In wholeness, we meet.
Two balloons, growing together.

With honesty we speak.
We dare to show up, just as we are.
Nothing to hide, nothing to fake.
I honor you, you honor me.
In wholeness, we meet.
Two balloons, shining brightly.

We choose to fly together.
Two balloons, touching slightly,
Two balloons, caressing gently,
Two balloons, growing greater,
Two balloons, shining brighter,
Through our gentle touch, we fly together.

In wholeness, we meet.
Love is the bond, and gratitude the motion.

 

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The Greatest Gift

Greatest Gift

When I was healing from the effects of sexual abuse and violence, I faced many different reactions. Some were damaging, others helped me to heal and connect with my full potential. The poem is dedicated to Olga, a dear friend who gave me the great gift of non-judgement. I am deeply grateful for receiving her present and her dedication for her non-profit organization, SOI – Street Heroes of India:

I have experienced things you didn’t.
You are terrified.
Poor thing,
Pity shines in your eyes.
You’re broken,
You say aloud.
Whatever you do, it’s up to you.
I am not broken.
I have scars,
Haven’t you, too?

All I know is this:
We all are human,
We all feel the same,
Caused by whatever reason.
My shame is your shame.
My pain is your pain.
My anger is your anger.
My joy is your joy.
My love is your love.
In our emotions,
We are all equal.
In our emotions,
We are all the same.

The causes are
Different.
One worse than the other?
I don’t know.
I can’t compare.
You carry yours.
And I carry mine.

Today I ask you for this:
Just for a moment,
Look at me and remember.
My soul is full of light.
Your soul is full of light.
In this precious moment,
Smile at me and say:
I see you, I don’t judge you.
Just for a moment.

Thanks for making a difference.

Do you want to read more? Check the post In Wholeness, We meet.