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.