How Yoga Helped Me Heal After I Was Sexually Assaulted

Written by Mandy Martini

Photo by Mandy Martini

I was sitting in my therapist's office at the UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica, California. The doctor had just explained to me that my anxiety, panic attacks, and fear of sudden movements were all the result of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

I had been sexually assaulted by a stranger—which is unfortunately very common in today's society—and I had no idea what kind of impact this event had actually had on me. By the time I was diagnosed with PTSD, I was barely able to get out of bed most days. I was unable to remember if I had eaten throughout the day, and was startled by the smallest things. A door closing was enough to set me off. Even driving was a hazard, as I was having frequent blackouts throughout the day.

My therapist suggested I try antidepressants.

It was clear that I needed treatment, and my doctor pointed out that antidepressants were always an option. But I've always opted for more holistic, natural options—yes, even before trying yoga —so I asked for an alternative. She suggested simple touch-and-breathe exercises throughout the day to build some awareness in my body. She also suggested taking up yoga.

My first yoga class was a disaster.

I still remember my first yoga class so clearly, and it's been almost 10 years since. Today I can laugh about it, but the time it was anything but funny.

Photo by Mandy Martini

I came to class with socks on, and ended up getting a lecture about why socks on the mat were a terrible idea in front of the entire class. I was mortified! I ended up watching the clock the entire class, counting down the minutes. I was so weak both mentally and physically that even downward facing dog was a struggle. My arms were shaking. They were like toothpicks about to break. I remember the teacher telling the class, "downward dog is your resting pose" and thinking to myself, yeah, right.

Because of my lack of knowledge of yoga at the time, I ended up going to power yoga classes with teachers who barely focused on breathing and didn't offer any insight into the philosophy of yoga or why we practice. Being in fit, trendy Santa Monica, California, people attending these classes were more focused on getting a good workout in than any kind of internal work.

It probably would have been more beneficial for me to go to another studio in my quest for developing my yoga practice, but I stuck it out. I fell in love with the physical practice of yoga, and I started noticing small improvements in my life. I felt stronger and more in control of myself, but I still felt that I was only scratching the surface and had a lot of work laid out for me.

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So I took my practice to the next level.

All of sudden these "aha" moments popped up for me. I was introduced to such a wide range of paths and tools that exist in the world of yoga. I learned that there is yoga for absolutely everyone, no matter who they are or what they're going through. And no matter how cheesy this sounds, happiness really is an inside job.

Through pranayama and breathing exercises, I was able to calm my anxiety and panic attacks. By taking a step back and relearning the poses while paying attention to my breath, I was able to gain a sense of control and focus over my body and mind. It created relief for my mind, away from horrifying flashback and blackouts.

Photo by Mandy Martini

I found contentment in the fact that while I couldn't control the things going on around me, people causing me pain, or situations that kept happening out of my control. When I was on my mat, it was just me and no one else. I was in control of my body, my movements, my breath, my mind, and my happiness. Soon enough, I learned to apply that same practice off the mat, going about my day-to-day life. I can't even explain the joy I felt the day I realized that I was no longer waking up in the middle of the night with haunting memories and panic attacks.

Even if you can only relate to a small amount of my story, recognize that no matter what you are going through, there will always be a way for you to work through it. So find a teacher, class, or style that works for you. Just like all of our journeys in life, yoga is not a "one size fits all."

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