This morning I was up early (with my one year old) devoting some time to my sadhana, or my own personal spiritual practice. I was working my way through a warrior sequence when, as I reached my fingertips up and arched my back into the Warrior 1 posture, I caught myself doing something troublesome – holding my breath.

Normally I love pranayama (breathing) exercises. I enjoy the crisp April air, taking it in through my nose to fill down to the depths of my lungs. But just as I occasionally catch myself gritting my teeth or tensing my muscles, today I found myself cutting off the prana, the life force, to my body.

“Yoga” comes from the Sanskrit “yuj,” which means “to unite” or “yoke.” I’ve been reflecting today on just what it might be that we are yoking together. Today, the union I needed was between my breath, and my body.

As an assault survivor, often the unions that get most neglected is between the body and the mind, or the body and the present moment. I was explaining to a writer recently that it becomes easy to dissociate – that is, to disconnect – your mind from your body. To see your body as an entirely different entity than you. Something that is bad; something that causes hurt, pain, and trouble.

To reconnect, however – to re-unite the body and mind, to reconnect the body to the here and now – can initially be difficult. It is, however, an important process in finding the present moment and being in it. Not being in the past, where trauma has dug in its roots; not being lost in the future, where anxiety haunts us. It is in the present moment that we find gratitude, serenity, and that peace for the mind exists.

Yoga can do that for us. Pranayama can, too. Like cool air for the lungs, we can breathe in peace, and feel it fill us, down to the depths of our soul. That is a blessed union.


When I was younger and studying taekwondo, we used to perform judo demonstrations for various events. My sensei enjoyed lining us up from shortest to tallest, then asking the crowd to pick who would do the demonstration. They inevitably picked the smallest – that was little old me – and the largest, usually a grown man. I always got a kick out of this. I’d jerk my hip into his side and use his own weight to flip the man over my shoulder with a thud on the mat, and cheers from the spectators.

It isn’t a matter of strength; it has to do with leverage, transfer of weight, and the angle of your body. The effect is a small, young girl is taking on a grown man; a flaxen haired David toppling Goliath. It is not a show of muscle power, but knowledge, and power of the will.

What is it about feats of strength that are so interesting to us? We love to see the capability of what humans can do. Tiny bodies bearing tons of weight; yogis who can wrench their ankles behind their necks or seem to fly.

Strength doesn’t have to belong to men, and it is not necessarily masculine. In Indian culture, the word for strength, power, or empowerment is “shakti,” from the Sanskrit “shak” (meaning, “to be able”). In Hinduism, Shakti is a goddess energy, the great divine mother. Strength and empowerment is distinctly feminine. Shakti is considered the primordial, feminine energy of Shiva – the female side of the divine.


To me, strength is not about lifting weights (or people), or having rippling, flexible muscles to show. There are many kinds of strength, both masculine and feminine energies. There is great strength in:

– being a mother or father

– fighting an illness

– asking for what you need

– saying no

– surviving any kind of adversity

– overcoming trauma.

Strength is using your mind, your tools, your leverage. Strength is knowledge and power of will. And in your practice of yoga, you don’t need to touch your toes to your forehead or master hanumanasana. Strength comes in valuing your health wellness enough to start, one foot after the other, on the journey up the mountain.

And that is worth flipping over.

Registration is now open!

Trauma Sensitive Yoga and Sacred Movement Workshop for Assault Survivors

In this two-part workshop designed for survivors of sexual assault and their allies, focus is on reconnecting with the body in a meaningful way. Learn how to be present in the moment and in yourself through comfortable, gentle methods of yoga, dance, movement, and meditation.

Part One (April 29, 3-5 pm) will lead you through an hour of Trauma Sensitive yoga, followed by an hour of basic martial arts movement, and concluding with a guided meditation. Discover some essential self defense maneuvers and connect with your inner source of power.

Part Two (May 27, 3-5 pm) will feature an hour of Trauma Sensitive yoga, followed by an hour of sacred belly dance movement and meditation, to be present in your body, delight in the communal connection to other women, and begin to reclaim your sexuality.

This two-workshop series is presented by Julie Grossman. You may attend one or both dates.

Please visit for more information, or click here to register.