Ex­hale to In­hale brings yoga to sex­ual as­sault sur­vivors. Learn more about its take on trauma-in­formed class.

Cel­e­brat­ing five years of ser­vice, the non­profit Ex­hale to In­hale brings free, trauma-in­formed yoga classes to rape cri­sis cen­ters and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence shel­ters in New York and Cal­i­for­nia.

Yoga Journal - - JANUARY 2018 - By Brit­tany Risher

First it was her mother. Then it was a friend in col­lege. And an­other friend. And an­other friend. As each per­son told Zo‘ LePage her ex­pe­ri­ence of do­mes­tic or sex­ual vi­o­lence, she was moved by the sur­vivors. “I was fu­ri­ous that my loved ones had gone through this—that some­one had vi­o­lated them like this and made them feel less than. I wanted to cre­ate space for them and other in­di­vid­u­als who had sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ences, so they could do the work of heal­ing,” she says.

Then, in her se­nior year of col­lege, LePage’s women’s lead­er­ship–stud­ies pro­gram tasked her with find­ing a way to change the world. She knew it needed to ad­dress trauma from sex­ual and do­mes­tic as­saults.

LePage thought about how much yoga had helped her with anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion be­tween high school and col­lege. “Yoga gave me a sense of strength and sta­bil­ity that noth­ing else could pro­vide,” says LePage, who com­pleted her first yoga teacher train­ing in 2009. Hop­ing yoga would have the same ef­fect on sur­vivors, LePage founded Ex­hale to In­hale (ETI) in 2013, to bring free yoga classes to peo­ple who’d ex­pe­ri­enced trauma.

The name of the non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion comes from a quote her yoga teacher Jodie Rufty would say: “Some­times you need to let go of that which is no longer serv­ing you in or­der to fill your­self back up.” LePage ex­plains, “In my mind, that trans­lated into, ‘You need to ex­hale in or­der to in­hale.’”

ETI yoga in­struc­tors visit do­mes­tic and sex­ual vi­o­lence shel­ters and rape cri­sis and com­mu­nity cen­ters to teach free, trau­main­formed yoga classes to the sur­vivors and staff there. What a class looks like: The lights re­main on, there is no mu­sic, ev­ery­one is ori­ented to face the en­try and exit point of the room, and the in­struc­tor stays on her mat or in her chair. “Part of that method is so that the stu­dents have some­one to copy, and part of it is eas­ing the anx­i­ety of stu­dents who may be hy­per­vig­i­lant. The idea of some­one com­ing up be­hind them or there be­ing some­one they need to track as they walk around the room is a dis­trac­tion,” she says.

In­struc­tors also use in­vi­ta­tional lan­guage. “We want our stu­dents to have the ex­pe­ri­ence of notic­ing the sen­sa­tions in their body and mak­ing choices based on that,” LePage says. So teach­ers use phrases like, “I in­vite you to try...” and “This is op­tion A; this is op­tion B. Or you can choose none of the above.”

This em­pow­ers stu­dents and helps them re­con­nect to their bod­ies in a pos­i­tive way. “For some­one who has ex­pe­ri­enced trauma, her body has been vi­o­lated. You do not feel safe in it or you feel dis­con­nected from it,” LePage says. “We hold space for peo­ple to be present in the mo­ment, to con­nect to how their bod­ies move in space, and to rec­og­nize how those move­ments make them feel emo­tion­ally and phys­i­cally. When our stu­dents be­gin to ex­pe­ri­ence this, they may slowly in­cor­po­rate that new way of be­ing into their ev­ery­day lives so they can cre­ate the lives they want.”

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