A Soft Place To Fall
By . Zabie Yamasaki
This body has survived sexual violence. It’s grown two little boys over the span of a year and a half: one angel who stayed for six of the sweetest months I’ll ever know, and one rainbow who came into the world in the most peaceful of ways last October. He re-wired the immensity of trauma I had been carrying within my body the moment he laid on my chest…thriving, breathing, and beautiful.
This body has also known the most remarkable love and consistently felt held, lifted, and supported. I’ve struggled to love this body through loss, but this body is healing. This body holds light and dark. The past decade has been a series of highs and lows that have undoubtedly shaped the struggle that is resilience, growth, and healing. This journey has been one of deep work to uncover the layers of trauma within every cell of my body to find my way to the light. Of being connected with many resilient souls and survivors who have helped me navigate the darkness and showed me that I have never, and will never, be alone. It’s taught me to have the courage to embrace the most vulnerable moments of pain, to let myself feel it all, and to never lose sight of who I am and everything I’ve envisioned or dreamed of in this life.
Living through Loss: The Visceral Experience of Grief
I will never forget the moment on June 26, 2016, when the nurse looked at me with tears in her eyes as she reached for my hand and said, “I am so sorry sweetheart. His heart is no longer beating.” I was 26 weeks pregnant.
I felt the pieces of my heart shatter inside of me. My heart felt far too small to carry a pain so large. I fell into my husband’s arms. The tears turned to numbness. I felt worthless. Our baby boy had died. And I would have to deliver him. The journey to motherhood had wrecked me. This was compounded by the way in which I moved through the world as a survivor of sexual trauma. Consistently feeling a loss of control, carrying feelings of shame and blame, and feeling like my body had betrayed me.
In the months that followed the passing of my first son, I cried enough tears to fill an entire ocean. I stretched, made art, rested hard, did nothing, sat in silence, felt the sun and let it thaw my grief, let the ocean heal me, read, journaled through pain, went for long walks, held my doggies, asked for help, took many things off my plate, learned who really loved me, let go of guilt, let go of my constant need to over achieve, let myself be taken care of, held my husband tighter, witnessed true heartbreak in my parents’ eyes, embraced my pain and vulnerability, and more than anything, I learned about the depth of a mother’s love.
I’ve learned so much from my complex relationship with grief. Grief is palpable. It is heavy. When you let it in instead of suppressing it, it teaches you things about yourself that you never knew. My grief has revealed the depth of my heart. This pain has shown me that I can put my pieces back together differently, and that that is okay.
My grief has softened me. It’s helped me learn the preciousness and beauty of life. My grief travels with me on my yoga mat and makes its way into each intention I set. It tests me and shows me my strength in the most intense moments of despair. My grief is with me when I smile and when I have innocent moments of joy and of peace. Grief taught me that it could exist in my body simultaneously with joy. It reminds me of what I’ve lost and my capacity to work through. My grief has taught me that healing has no timeline. My grief has taught me great love. It’s taught me that both can exist deeply in my heart. And that both are essential to surviving.
There’s no getting over. There’s getting stronger. On one particularly difficult day when I didn’t feel like I could go on, I took a pregnancy test. The two little lines stared at me. With pee still on the stick, I ran to the living room to share the news with my husband. Both of us filled with joy and excitement as well as anxiety and fear.
When There is Rain, Look for Rainbows
I will never quite know how I survived my subsequent pregnancy after stillbirth. Somedays it was learning how to breathe minute to minute. What I do know is that as I moved through the unfathomable anxiety. I trusted, believed, hoped, loved, and surrounded myself with those who truly made me feel seen.
The moment my second son came into the world was the first day I had taken a real breath in a very long time. My husband placed a lavender cloth on my forehead. Three pushes later, with Somewhere Over the Rainbow playing in the background, Hudson made his entrance into this world. He is almost nine months now. Every day I look at him and think, “Is he really mine?”
He is my dream come true and my healer. As I reflect now on the very early postpartum days I remember vividly the cherished nights that turned into days, and the days that turned into nights with him falling asleep only on my chest. I would rock him, stare at him, and tears would roll down my face and fall on him because some moments I just couldn’t believe he was actually here. I would spend entire days in my bathrobe—face planting on the couch at 9 pm, exhausted, sleep deprived, and hungry, only to wake up five minutes later and gaze at photos of him on my phone while he slept. He has the most scrumptious and precious little smile that has truly expanded the edges of my heart and brought the joy back into my life.
I experienced something I can only describe as magic when feeding Hudson from my own body. Breastfeeding has been a tremendously healing and restoring experience for me. My past traumas have challenged my worthiness, my sense of control, and have made it difficult for me to see my body as a safe and sacred place. There are days I don’t really know what coming home to my body looks like, when it has been a vessel of betrayal. The memories are visceral, but he helps me move through the numbness, the lack of connection, and the feelings of blame. He affirms the magic and awe of feeding and nourishing him from this body. The one that has experienced unfathomable pain, but is strong and capable of developing new frameworks that are grounded in healing, growth, and resilience. He has helped me reshape this journey. He allows me to realize what my body can do even when it feels weak. And most importantly, he has given the pieces of me that have been pierced new memories.
The Body Remembers: Reclaiming Healing through Trauma-Informed Yoga
I carry my most painful and traumatic experiences in my body. The body remembers. There are still some places that are so fragile and tender that they require extra nourishment, support, and intentionality. Each day is a recommitment to loving myself more fully and paying attention to what my body is communicating to me about what I need. Living with trauma can make it really difficult to access parts of ourselves that may feel frozen, numb, or even too painful to explore. But our inner wisdom is powerful. It speaks loud and it’s hard to ignore. When I listen and appreciate the beauty of my needs—that’s when the magic happens. Yoga has been instrumental to my journey of trauma healing.
As a survivor of sexual trauma, I spent years searching for a panacea. I suffered quite viscerally from the impact of my trauma. It manifested in overwhelming anxiety, GI issues, flashbacks, nightmares, toxic relationships, overworking, the list goes on. It wasn't until arriving to the practice of yoga that I realized that reclaiming choice with my body was going to be an ongoing process for the rest of my life.
It was within the four corners of my mat that I began to realize I could protect my energy and my peace, and I gradually began to embrace pockets of relief in joy—no matter how fleeting. My practice helped me find words for my feelings and also gave me permission to move forward when words could not do justice. The practice allowed me to feel lighter, more balanced, and grounded. It allowed me to take control of my healing in profound ways. It empowered me to find a therapist that was a good fit for me and to continue to develop practices and rituals to support my healing.
Yoga can certainly never take away anything that has happened to me, but it reminds me that I am worthy. It reminds me that I can grieve and thrive simultaneously. That I am so much more than the things that have been done to me. That my light is far brighter than my dark. As a woman of color and a survivor, it has taken me years to truly see myself and believe that my voice matters. This has all been a part of my practice.
Turning Pain into Passion: Transcending Sexual Trauma through Yoga
A large portion of my professional roles in higher education settings have entailed giving presentations on sexual trauma. I have intersected with thousands of survivors in my decade, plus of doing this work. There have been some themes that have come up consistently. Many survivors have shared that they were looking for something tangible. Something that allowed them to process the painful experiences and triggers that were arising every single day. Many survivors also shared that they did not feel comfortable with talk therapy. Due to things like stigma around seeking mental health services and cultural barriers, it is critical we increase accessibility and create different entry points for survivors to seek support.
I knew I wanted to develop a soulful program that spoke to the language of the body. Something that allowed survivors to truly be seen for their diverse identities and experiences. Transcending Sexual Trauma through Yoga started as a small vision and has now grown in ways beyond my imagination. I am now working with over twenty colleges campuses and trauma agencies in helping them infuse trauma-informed yoga into the scope of their work with survivors, training yoga teachers and mental health professionals across the world in teaching from a trauma-informed lens, and teaching yoga to survivors in a variety of different settings. I am continually amazed and humbled by this work.
Healing in Community: The Journey through Postpartum as a Survivor
What I know for sure is that we are not meant to navigate through this life and the many storms we will inevitably incur alone. We are not meant to survive from trauma or navigate motherhood alone.
Trauma makes it really easy to isolate ourselves. To close off and hide from the world because sometimes there just doesn’t feel like another way. But powerful things can happen in community. When we lean in and reach out for the support we need. When we begin getting comfortable asking for what we need and relishing in the beauty of caring for ourselves. When trusting in the fact that we are doing our very best and that we are worthy of connection and reminders that, in the words of Brittin Oakman, “Even on our lonely days, we are not alone.”
I remember when in the midst of the fog, overwhelm, joy, and magic in the early weeks of Hudson’s life, a dear friend of mine texted me. She told me that I was allowed to experience all of the normal feelings, emotions, and challenges of what it means to have a new baby despite the loss and all I had been through. I remember just seeing the words and stopping in my tracks. I burst into tears. I finally gave myself permission to be gentle with myself in the intensity of all that mothering entails.
I really see the permission to return to ourselves and our innate needs as a greater framework to showing up and living more fully. When we suppress what we truly feel, our body responds. And by rejecting our inner voice, we tend to get sick, we feel small, we might engage with people or work environments that do not serve us, etc. What might happen if we didn’t confine ourselves and our voices to systems and situations that are not for us? I think the beauty of women roaring would be heard and felt across the world. So, go ahead, give yourself the permission. To be you exactly as you are. And to know that you are enough— today and always.
Zabie is widely recognized for her care and intentionality, soulful and zenful activism, undeniable passion, and hard work and dedication to her field. She has created a model therapeutic yoga program and curriculum, Transcending Sexual Trauma With Yoga, which is now being implemented at 20 colleges campuses and agencies including the University of California, Stanford, USC, and Johns Hopkins to name a few. By focusing on a holistic approach, Zabie is helping to change the way our world responds to trauma and provides support to survivors at various stages in their healing.