Healing with EMBER - Survivor Story 2

Looking back, I don’t think there was anyway I could have known how powerful the EMBERseries would be for me. The freeing emotional release I experienced moved me in ways traditional therapy hasn’t in years. I was amazed to begin a process of re-discovering my body, and what it means to be really in it. After spending so much time zoned out from my body and my life, the power of the restorative poses has healed me in ways words cannot adequately describe. To engage with the idea that I can create feelings of safety and comfort for my own body speaks to a level of self-empowerment I have only dreamed of before. Michele has an innate capacity to create a safe place from which healing grows.

While participating in the series, it was as if the things I was talking about in traditional talk therapy were coming to life. I could use my body to really experience the concepts of mindfulness and grounding. I developed a sense of being present, and an increased ability to remain present, even when I felt strong emotions. Having a safe and supportive space to explore body sensations that were calming, and having control over how much I pushed myself physically, gave me a sense of control. As a survivor, having previously experienced years of trauma, the ability to develop the skills learned in EMBER has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my journey towards healing.

Anonymous is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and has tried various therapy approaches including Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. The recent addition of body movement, mindfulness and emotion regulation through the EMBER series has improved her ability to reduce dissociation and anxiety associated with the past traumatic experiences.

Please visit our website here for upcoming EMBER classes -- Yoga on High Foundation scholarships are available for students with financial need to attend this series.

Healing with EMBER - Survivor Story 1

My first experience with EMBER Yoga was over a year ago. I asked the Ember yoga instructor, Michele, kind of tongue and cheek, if she would teach me how to do a headstand. It was at that time that my whole life had changed. I know, I know, this sounds too cliché. My life now is learning to embrace being present through yoga movements. With this presence, I am also learning to cope with past traumas, and I am now looking forward to a future. I never thought I could live a life that I would enjoy.

With the EMBER series and Ashtanga Beginner class, I noticed that I felt included. Michele always ask us if we had any questions, comments, or concerns. Well, yeah. We’re doing yoga, right? I would practice what I learned in class, but couldn’t do it like I did just a couple hours beforehand. I was told patience, everybody is overwhelmed, and learning yoga can take lifetimes. My questions weren’t ignored or not heard. Different. Like, I mattered.

Okay, now the tough part. The triggers. I remembered specifically that Michele said that yoga is sometimes weird. I think at that particular time she was talking about the Ujjayi breathing technique. I admitted to her that I felt I was not able to stay present hearing this breathing. She said that voicing my concern was appropriate and she would help me stay present and would give me some reminders on how I could do this on my own.

During my struggles to stay present, I noticed that within these classes I felt safe. This took some time. At the end of each class, when we would do the Savasana, I am not sure why, but in both of these classes, sometimes, tears would roll down my cheeks. This was a pretty new experience for me. Didn’t understand how this was to be, the absorption of what I just learned had turned to tears.

As in other parts of my life, I started to make goals, challenges, for a yoga future beyond the six weeks series. I really did want to learn to stand on my head. Michele sent me an article on how to build up strength by doing the dolphin pose after teaching it in class one day. I read the article and looked at the pictures and got on my mat. I got my butt up in the air and I immediately broke down and started to cry. It was at this very time I learned about acceptance. I finally accepted the sexual assault. I accepted that I was not strong enough to do a headstand NOW, but I would work on this endeavor so maybe in a month or so, I could be closer to having my feet up in the air.

I can now talk about what happened to me. I don’t have to be strong enough. I don’t have to be anything enough. I just…be present.

Laurie R.

EMBER at Tapestry: update

On June 25th, we taught the final class in our 12-week EMBER trauma-sensitive yoga and meditation curriculum to our first group of students at Tapestry, an extraordinary therapeutic community at the Ohio Reformatory for Women. The 11 weeks leading up to that class had been lively, sometimes sobering, and always moving. Most powerful of all was witnessing the sensitivity, tenacity, and courage of the twelve participants, who proved themselves willing to share, be honest, and take risks. 

At the heart of trauma-sensitive yoga is the practice of reclaiming the body. Many of our students had histories of overwhelming experience that left them vulnerable to intense and unpredictable agitation. Often, in response, they had learned to "numb out". In class, students progressed through gentle movement sequences that encouraged them to explore the ebb and flow of physical sensation, to feel and respond to the body's cues. The aim of the sessions was to help them develop a tolerance for a range of sensations, so that they could ultimately find steadiness and poise in the face of discomfort – and with that the capacity to take compassionate action to ease somatic and psychic distress.

Perhaps the most stunning aspect of the class was the students' eagerness to take that journey, even - sometimes especially - when it proved challenging. While practice in class could be fun and light-hearted, it was also grounded in painful reality, in the women's zeal to find effective means of responding to what was often unimaginable stress. In their generosity, insight, and hunger for change, they taught us - as yoga teachers, as mindfulness practitioners, and as human beings - at least as much as we taught them.

You can read their comments, and those of the Tapestry staff, on our "Testimonials" page. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to all twelve of the women and to the brilliant Tapestry staff, whose support and enthusiasm for EMBER inspired us throughout. We are looking forward to returning to Tapestry, and to a second group of students, in September.

 

 

Why Ember

Here is some informal feedback we've received over the past 7 weeks.  The ladies have expressed the following as resulting from their EMBER training:

Decreased symptoms of depression

Decreased symptoms of ADHD

Increased ability to relax

Increased ability to feel (not "numb out")

Learning skills to deal with challenges

Learning tools to create space around intense feelings

Noticing self-destructive thoughts

 

Who is your hero?

What is the meaning of heroism? That’s a question that Michele and I were left pondering recently when we spent the day behind high walls and barbed wire at the Ohio Reformatory for Women. Our hosts were the staff and women of Tapestry, a therapeutic community that offers intensive residential treatment for inmates with a history of addiction. It’s at Tapestry where on April 9th we’ll be launching EMBER, our twelve-week course that uses the tools of mindfulness meditation and trauma-sensitive yoga to develop emotional resilience.

 

Tapestry is a sisterhood, a community where women live as a family and learn not just from clinical staff but also from each other. Our introduction to the structure of the program came from five of its current participants, who sat down with us to explain their journey through Tapestry’s five phases: from phase one, where they receive their initial orientation and assessment, to the final “cadre” phase, where they act as models and mentors to other inmates and assist staff with the program’s implementation and even its design. Through that gradual accumulation of responsibilities, the program works to build each woman’s capacity for self-awareness, problem solving, and skillful action. At its most effective, the program produces far-reaching and fundamental transformation, as participants deepen their ability to forge connections with others and to face the world in a spirit of honesty and trust.

 

The final hour of our day-long immersion was spent observing a group therapy session, where thirty women addressed the question “Who is your hero?” Each woman stood and read an account of the person whose heroism had touched her most deeply. What was striking about their intensely emotional stories was that the heroism described was not earth-shattering – not the sweeping, world-changing actions of a Mahatma Gandhi or a Martin Luther King. The heroism that mattered to them was simple and intimate: elderly grandmothers and teenaged nephews who stepped up in times of crisis, men and women who believed in them when they themselves couldn’t, and who, despite all their wrong turns and destructive behavior, were willing to sacrifice on their behalf.

 

What they described was unconditional love, and the heroism it prompted was indisputable. But as I listened, I was struck by another kind of heroism: a willingness to start over, no matter how difficult; a refusal to be defeated, no matter how bleak life seems. What permeated their stories – what made the atmosphere in the room so electric – was the sheer energy of that gritty, impassioned determination. It was a heroism borne of suffering, of having no choice but to look squarely at the demons that have shattered one’s life.

 

Joining the Tapestry program takes courage. Every woman who signs up to it commits to a rigorous schedule (wakeup call is 6 am), severe constraints on her freedom of movement, and round-the-clock monitoring by staff and peers. Above all, she commits to unflinching self-scrutiny and self-regulation. Through a daily regimen of encounter groups, topic-based seminars, and manual labor, members of the sisterhood learn to see, and to alter, patterns of self-sabotaging thought and action. It takes time, and patience, and, at times, superhuman strength.

 

In many ways, the Tapestry program aligns with basic tenets of yogic philosophy. In his Yoga Sutras, Patanjali sets out three foundations for purposeful (or, one might say, heroic) living: tapas (which literally means fire), svadhyaya (the study of self), and ishvara-pranidhana (surrender to the divine). Tapas means will, determination, the power of self-discipline. In Tapestry, it is present in the program’s emphasis on rigorous scheduling and disciplined labor. Svadhyaya means the cultivation of self- knowledge. In Tapestry that forms the core of daily routine, in the therapeutic groups that encourage each woman to examine her habits, behaviors, and thoughts. Ishvara pranidhana means trusting in a higher power, be it God, or nature, or the universe, or the enveloping force of human kindness. In Tapestry, it means letting go of defenses that no longer serve you. It means learning to build a capacity for trust, in the understanding that some things in life are beyond your control.

 

In bringing EMBER to Tapestry, our aim is to use the tools of meditation and yoga to deepen each of those foundations. The very structure of the EMBER curriculum provides the discipline of regular practice: twelve 90-minute weekly classes, with practical and written “homework” in between. That curriculum consists of asana practices and guided meditations that offer the women a novel form of self-scrutiny: the minute observation of physical sensations and of the physical properties of emotions and thoughts. Above all, EMBER emphasizes surrender – a deep and profound acceptance of whatever sensations arise in each moment. In encouraging that attitude of acceptance, we aim to strengthen each woman’s capacity for resilience: her ability to ride out discomfort, to trust in her innate, basic goodness, to understand that whatever unpleasant feeling she is experiencing will eventually fade away.

 

The women of Tapestry face many obstacles: incarceration, addiction, and, very often, a history of abuse and trauma that makes it difficult for them to feel truly safe. Our goal with EMBER will be to help them develop a sense of safety. The first step in that direction will be learning to recognize what safety feels like. From there, they can build up a personal “tool kit” of practices that help them to cultivate safety within themselves. To us, every woman in Tapestry is already a hero. Our hope is that we can play a part in helping them embrace that fact for themselves.