Leading LifeForce Yoga in a Domestic Violence Shelter, by Joanna Johnson
My name is Joanna and I have the privilege of teaching Yoga at the domestic violence shelter, Safenet, in Claremore, OK. I am a registered 200hr Yoga Teacher stemming, the Anusara lineage and a Level 1 LifeForce Yoga Practitioner. I am both a teacher and a student, a follower, and a guide. In 2019, I took the Level 1 training in Tucson, Arizona with three wonderful teachers. Someone commented at the end of the weeklong training, “wow, you look so different.” I felt different too! I felt uplifted, confident, and grounded. I had not realized how much these feelings were missing in my life. Their reoccurrence let me know how powerful these new practices were. I learned that I am able to call in that which I seek because I have experienced them before. There is already a blueprint in my body and heart for confidence and presence. The anxiety or depression I may experience can cover up this intelligence, but those feelings are not the truth of who I am.
I felt uplifted, confident, and grounded. I had not realized how much these feelings were missing in my life. Their reoccurrence let me know how powerful these new practices were. I learned that I am able to call in that which I seek because I have experienced them before. There is already a blueprint in my body and heart for confidence and presence. The anxiety or depression I may experience can cover up this intelligence, but those feelings are not the truth of who I am.
I see this mistrust with the clients I work with as the Family Advocate at shelter and Yoga teacher. The abuse they have experienced has left many feeling on high alert mixed with the fog of depression. They experience difficulty making decisions, short term memory loss, insomnia, poor physical health, agitation, worry, and fear. The average length of stay at the shelter is three months and while they are here, they are still in trauma response. The trauma does not simply go away once they have chosen to leave. The most dangerous time in a victim’s life is when they choose to leave their abuser; being at the shelter often brings everything to a head. They are asked to rebuild their lives, find jobs, find childcare for their kids, and a new place to live on top of continually making the decision whether to stay away or go back to their previous situation. We offer counseling services, advocacy, and groups to walk with the families as they navigate this part of their lives.
Insert LifeForce Yoga
Insert LifeForce Yoga and the lucky addition of our new Director who is also a Yoga teacher; she was all aboard making Yoga an official group. When I first started to work for Safenet, I would teach the women whenever there was a free moment for anyone that wanted to try. Our shelter is wonderful but the commons area where I taught was not private enough. Now I teach in a large conference room that allows beautiful natural light to filter through, plenty of space, and privacy. I also have a regular day and time. One of the most critical pieces for me as the teacher is to ensure that I have created a sacred container and this private space allows me to do that.
I teach clients that Yoga is accessible to all, and these practices can become tools in their toolbox as they heal. They tend to think that Yoga is all about standing on your head or sweating it out in a hot yoga class. I thought this too when I first started practicing. I am happy to show them how accessible it can be; when we are mindful we are practicing yoga, when we are chanting we are practicing yoga, and when we are actively pursuing ahimsa (the yogic principle of non-violence), we are practicing Yoga. I am also happy to dispel the rumor that you have to practice for an hour to qualify. We work on two things that they can practice throughout the week. They choose these two practices, the amount of time they are likely to practice, and take notes on any changes in mood. I teach them that my own routine, when I feel like I do not “have time” for Yoga, lasts 15 min and does not require me to leave my bed or chair. I do a breath practice for five minutes, chant for five minutes, and do movement or meditation for five minutes. They take this 5-5-5 routine and make it their own.
LifeForce Yoga Practices
Some of the most powerful LifeForce practices the women have given me feedback on is Yoga Nidra, a favorite of mine as well, moving the breath, back breathing, Breath of Joy, simple postures and movement, and the chakra clearing meditation. During one practice, a woman began to cry when we were in mountain pose. She said anytime she stood up tall and strong, that was when he hit her. In that same moment she also saw how important it was for her to practice making this shape so that she could stand tall and strong for herself and her kids.
The changes that one woman saw in me after the training are the same changes I see in the women, even after one session. I feel so thrilled and honored after each group. My hope is to build the holistic side of services at the shelter and continue to grow the yoga classes offered.
Thank you to my teachers and to this practice.
If you would like further information of the services offered at Safenet in Claremore, OK you can call 918-341-1424 or email me at Joanna@safenetservices.org. I currently teach Thursdays at 2p.
Joanna currently lives in Claremore, OK with her husband of three years, their two cats, and dog. She love being outside, unsweet tea, and laughing really deeply.