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Meet Zahabiyah Yamasaki of Transcending Sexual Trauma through Yoga

Today we’d like to introduce you to Zahabiyah Yamasaki.

Zahabiyah, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
As a survivor of sexual violence, I never imagined the years of disconnect I would feel from my own body. I wasn’t prepared for the way my past experiences of trauma would sneak up on me and manifest in various areas of my body where painful memories still lived.

I quickly learned that what I needed was something tangible. I needed access to something that allowed me to feel like I could use my body to regain power and control. Yoga entered my life at a time when nothing else made sense.

Yoga became an integral part of my healing journey. I finally had an outlet to process the unsafe feelings that were residing inside of me. I had the choice to move my body in ways that felt comfortable. I gained tools to manage painful experiences. I felt lighter, more grounded, and balanced, and I had a form of self-expression that allowed me to move beyond trying to find the words to articulate what I was feeling.

I finally had control.

It is scary to feel unsafe within the layers of your own skin. This has been a common theme among many of the survivors I have had the honor of working with in my professional world for the past eleven years. Many survivors were looking for something to deepen their healing process. The piece that allowed them to re-engage and re-connect with their bodies again. I knew I wasn’t alone on this journey. The numbers speaks volumes. I wanted to share the gift of yoga with other sexual assault survivors to support them in their healing process.

I decided to enroll in a 200-hour yoga teacher training and attended a 40-hour training in trauma-sensitive yoga instruction. Through a lot of incredibly hard work, learning, healing, trusting, and believing- I started my organization-Transcending Sexual Violence through Yoga. This mission is simple- empowering survivors to heal through the practice of yoga.

The work is so much bigger than me. What started as a small dream of sharing a practice that transformed my life, has grown to working with over twenty universities and trauma agencies in helping them expand the scope of their services for survivors to include trauma-informed yoga as a healing modality. I also teach training’s for yoga teachers and mental health professionals to learn how to teach from a trauma-informed lens and it is connected me with individuals from all over the world. I teach a number of classes and workshops to support survivors in their healing process.

Survivors have said that the program has empowered them to report their experience to law enforcement, be intimate again, and have a healthier relationship with their body and food. It has increased their confidence and self-esteem, allowed them to practice self-love and compassion, taught them how to trust themselves and others, and empowered them to seek other resources like working with a therapist.

The journey to heal is filled with ebbs and flows, and is not linear. Survivors deserve resources that are tailored to their nuanced needs and support them as they navigate what is often times a lifelong process of healing.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Absolutely not. Trauma work is so hard. Working with the body and supporting survivors through their healing is incredibly rewarding but can also be draining if you don’t commit to your own practices of emotional wellness and balance. An inquiry that helps me a lot is, “Are you observing or are you absorbing?” When I notice that I am absorbing the trauma residue of those I work with, it allows me to pause and acknowledge where I need to step back, when I need to ask for help, and how I can listen to what my body is communicating with me about what it needs. It is the only way to move through this journey in a sustainable way. It hasn’t always been easy and I am learning everyday. Another quote I love is, “Your energy introduces you before you even speak.” It has helped me practice what I preach in order to bring my best self to the survivors who trust me with their healing.

I was sexually assaulted in 2007 and spent years committing and re-committing to healing my body. In 2016, I became pregnant with my first son and I tragically lost him to stillbirth when I was 6 months pregnant. I will never forget that day for the rest of my life. My life turned from light to dark the moment the nurse told me his heart was no longer beating. After a long delivery, he came into the world. And my life would never be the same. Grief has ultimately changed who I am at a visceral level. My husband and I found out we were pregnant again 9 months later. And, as I moved through the unfathomable anxiety of that pregnancy, my second son was born healthy and thriving in October 2017. I have learned to ride the waves of healing. And move through the tides of grief at the same time. Each day for me is a balance of the sun and the storm. And as I sit here and write this, with my beautiful baby boy smiling and my business that is thriving- I have learned that resilience is a powerful thing. We have an angel always watching over us and guiding our way.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Transcending Sexual Trauma through Yoga – what should we know?
Transcending Sexual Trauma through Yoga does the following:

– Consultation for colleges/universities, rape crisis centers, and domestic violence shelters on the implementation of a comprehensive trauma-informed yoga as healing program for survivors.
– Trauma-informed Yoga Teacher Trainings (3-day)
– Trauma-informed yoga training for Mental Health Professionals
– Consultation and training for yoga studios on trauma-informed approaches includes trauma-informed training for yoga instructors in your 200-hour or 500-hour yoga teacher training curriculum).
– Self-care, Vicarious Trauma, Compassion Fatigue workshops for staff
– Private trauma-informed yoga classes
– Monthly group trauma healing classes in Culver City
– Survivor Yoga Retreats
– Mentoring for yoga instructors interested in teaching trauma-informed yoga and building holistic healing programs.

I specialize specifically in yoga for sexual assault survivors. I am known for my specialization in training teachers in how to teach trauma-informed yoga and for working with universities who want to expand the scope of their offerings to include holistic modalities.

I am most proud of our gentleness and fierceness and the way we have grown in such an organized way by leading from the heart and from a place of deep belief and compassion. CNN just did a feature on the program and I am still in awe that they reached out! This work is my greatest passion and working with sexual assault survivors has exposed me to the most beautiful forms of resilience.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
My ability to articulate the importance of holding grief and joy at the same time. Of not shying away from speaking about the hard stuff. Of diving deep into the nuances of resilience and trauma healing. And sharing and training from my experience as a survivor and from a place of compassion that always puts the survivor at the center of their own experience. Trauma-informed care has the ability to change the world. And I have committed my life’s work to sharing frameworks that help survivors work towards the goal of finding safety within themselves and truly believing that they are worthy of their own love.

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Image Credit:
Garrett Yamasaki, Sloan Photographers

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