People know yoga can help them stretch and strengthen. What they may not realize is that it can also help them heal—emotionally, spiritually, psychically.  

Nikki Adams is a certified trauma-informed yoga teacher who specializes in working with survivors of sexual assault. While she also teaches traditional yoga, Adams knows firsthand how yoga can help heal those who are coming to terms with sexual assault. 

“Yoga has been the center of my healing journey for the last three years,” she says. “I wanted others to experience this.”

In a yoga class with a trauma focus, the teacher understands the impact of trauma on the body and brain. “I prioritize the survivor’s lived experience,” Adams says. She uses gentle and invitational language and is aware of her music choices as well as potential sensitivities students may have to certain smells. “Anything that could retraumatize a student we don’t do,” she says, noting that even her position in the room is a critical choice.

Beyond helping people heal with yoga, Adams also wants people to know that it’s okay to speak out, that internalizing the shame and stigma they feel around their sexual abuse is a silence they can break. “When I was younger, I was looked at as unmotivated, lazy, messy and troubled. All of this behavior was looked at as choices by adults,” she says. “Unknowing to the adults, I was enduring a horrific trauma. So I internalized those words and believed those things about myself. What I know now is that trauma has a major impact on the brain and body.” She ticks off potential psychological effects caused by sexual abuse—PTSD, shame, loneliness, disassociation.

Adams knows breaking the silence can be difficult. She was 12 the first time she broke her silence about the sexual abuse she was enduring from a parental figure. “I retracted the first time because of the many reasons you don’t share and the stigma around it. I was 12 when I first told my story,” she says, “but because of feeling I had ruined my family and seeing everyone fall apart in front of me, I retracted my story.”

Adams, now 37, next broke her silence when she was 18. She had left home when she was 17 to move in with her father. Her father’s girlfriend could tell something was bothering Adams. “There’s something about being a survivor of this type of abuse that other survivors can sense. She kept asking me questions,” Adams recalls. “She told me this happened to her, too. It validated my whole experience. She helped me bring this forth to my mom.” Adams’ abuser was ultimately sentenced to 15 years in prison. 

For the last two years, Adams has been vocal about her experience. “I have been standing in my power,” she says. “I want to destigmatize speaking out. First it shines a light on the many pathways we need to heal. We need to heal by breaking silence, by finding that movement in our bodies that we love, by finding a therapist. Breaking your silence might not be the first step because it’s really hard. Not everyone will understand and it may trigger others. But it helps with your healing process and lets others know that it’s okay to speak up. Other people need to hear that.”

Each day in May, you will meet a new face and a new lived experience, because #LetsFaceIt there is no one-sized fits all when it comes to our wellbeing. View past posts here.

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