Lots of fit-minded folks seek out yoga for its calming, restorative benefits, but when Lexy Stauffer and her volunteers with the nonprofit Exhale to Inhale teach poses to local victims of domestic and sexual violence, they are seeking to help them feel safer in their bodies.
Exhale to Inhale began in New York City in 2013 when Zoe LePage, then a Barnard student with a personal history of trauma, began teaching yoga to survivors of intimate partner violence. Lexy, a Darien resident and longtime yoga practitioner, brought the program to Connecticut last year, after taking Exhale to Inhale’s intensive teacher training. Now she and a small group of volunteer teachers offer free yoga to students at the Greenwich YWCA’s Domestic Abuse Service, Domestic Violence Crisis Center in Stamford and most recently, The Center for Family Justice (CFJ), which serves domestic and sexual violence victims.
“I knew I was doing something of value when a client told me she was not afraid to go to sleep anymore,” says Lexy, who hopes to expand the program throughout the state.
Classes are taught by instructors trained in yoga adopted for trauma survivors. Since respecting personal boundaries is paramount, instructors never touch clients to correct poses. “These are not competitive classes,” says Lexy. “We go slowly. Trauma is something we hold in the body, and we are helping victims find a healthy way to release it.”
“Our clients are learning an approach
to wellness that can stay with them for a lifetime,” says Debra Greenwood, president and CEO of The Center for Family Justice. “It’s an essential part of helping them transform from victims to survivors.”
To find out more about fundraising events at local yoga studios visit exhaletoinhale.org
Lexy Stauffer of Exhale to Inhale says anyone can benefit from the program’s gentle approach to a more mindful yoga experience. Here are some tips for bringing calm to your practice.
Breath is the key to calming the mind and body
“When people experience trauma their breath is really shallow,” notes Lexy. If you simply take the time to mindfully spell out the words “inhale” and “exhale” as you breathe in and out deeply, you can slow the process and achieve calming benefits.
Give yourself permission to be distracted
“It’s okay for our minds to wander,” says Lexy. So, if during class your thoughts turn to your grocery list or that work project that’s due, “it doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong.”
Know each body is different
Every yogi brings a different set of experiences and capabilities to the mat. “Our bodies can’t all do the same things and that’s okay,” says Lexy. “While it’s hard to not place judgment on ourselves, you’ll get more from practice if you accept your unique abilities.”