HEALING THE MIND AND BODY: RAPE CRISIS CENTER OFFERS DANCE, PILATES, BREATHING CLASSES TO PROMOTE RECOVERY
Recovering from trauma of any type is never easy, but for people who have survived sexual violence, the path to healing can be especially arduous.
To help them develop mind/body coping skills that go beyond traditional support, a Santa Rosa rape crisis center is experimenting with classes that include Pilates, mindful breathing, massage, dance and yoga.
Chris Castillo, the executive director of Verity, a Sonoma County sexual assault and trauma center, was thinking about the lasting physical effects of that stress when she came up with a plan to offer free Alternative Healing classes to the community.
For 37 years, the organization has provided a 24-hour crisis line, counseling, advocacy, referral and prevention services. But they wanted to develop more ways to support their clients.
"Trauma gets stuck in a place in your body, and you don't even realize it," says Castillo. "We thought it would be great to combine mind and body healing."
With $4,050 in grant money from the 2011 Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, she was able to launch summer sessions for women, men and teens. Verity is seeking the money to continue classes past August.
By focusing on the mind-body connection in a safe, confidential environment, each session is designed to promote self-care and a more positive outlook on life. The goal is for participants to learn ways to heal themselves in times of stress, or "when a traumatic incident re-emerges, to not allow it to capture them and take over their lives," Castillo says.
"People who have suffered sexual trauma tend to leave their bodies. That's how they survive what they've gone through," says Jae Newman, a 60-year-old Pilates instructor who has been teaching for 12 years. "Doing slow, conscious exercise brings people back."
Like dance and yoga, Pilates helps with balance, core strength, flexibility and posture. But the main intent of these classes is to release tension and stress through stretching, movement and breath. Using a gentle approach, she allows room for a range of emotional expression, including tears.
She is especially sensitive to younger and older women with poor body image or who feel unaccustomed to exercising, Newman believes that when students are given space to remain in control then they don't have to measure up to someone else's standard.
"Pilates is a gentle reintroduction for people to feel good about their bodies and to regain trust and pride. That sense of strength then translates into being able to say no, or going out and getting a job, whatever is up for them in their lives."
"The body naturally wants to be healed and to heal. Moving the body creates the space for that to happen," says Maggie Minervini-Zick, who teaches Verity's dance classes.
Since 2009, the 32-year-old has facilitated a free-form style she calls "a moving meditation practice." It allows people to interpret the dance that works for them, whether that means curling up into a ball on the floor or leaping across the room.