“I knew you weren’t shy,” he growls in a way that makes every hair on my neck stand on end while pushing me up against the wall. Pulling away is misconstrued for playfulness and saying “no” lost its effectiveness after the hundredth time.
Panicked, I look into his eyes for refuge, hoping to find the gentle green irises I had stared into like a love-struckschoolgirl over dinner. The emeralds have been replaced with darkness and an animalistic rage I’ve never seen before. Fighting is futile. I freeze, cover my eyes with my hands and wait for it to be over.
This doesn’t happen to girls like me. I’m the Mother Goose of my friends. I’m the responsible one. I stay in and dance around to Ray Lamontagne in my underwear on Friday nights. I’m old fashioned. I have a college degree. I have a good job. I’m a twenty-something independent woman.
I’m the victim of sexual assault.
That night broke me down to a place I didn’t know existed. I spent the next day taking scalding hot showers that left my skin a painful shade of scarlet and shame. I threw my clothes away, I cut off my hair, I bleached every surface of my apartment and I washed my bedding enough times to upset the crotchety older woman waiting in line in the laundry room. Once there was nothing left to clean, I felt more exposed and filthy than ever. All of my knowledge regarding sexual assault echoed in my head during my cleaning spree: Don’t shower. Call someone. Go to the hospital. I didn’t want to gather evidence or admit to a slew of doctors and nurses what happened to me. I didn’t want to put myself on display in stirrups while a stranger told me it was going to be okay. I just wanted to pretend it didn’t happen.
Over the next month, I kept the details of the assault from my friends and family, afraid that talking about it would only bring me back to that place I was trying so desperately to escape from. My life quickly started to unravel before me in the form of panic attacks and depression.
I stumbled upon Bhav Brigade one evening while on Facebook. I read about their mission and saw the numerous events that were within walking distance from my home. I quickly recalled my one and only experience with yoga years ago at a community center: struggling through every pose, comparing myself to those around me, wondering how anyone could stand to do this multiple times a week. I vowed never to return to a yoga class that made me feel like a complete failure.
My cursor hovered over Bhav Brigade’s “interested” or “going” options for the sunset yoga class for what seemed like a lifetime before deciding I would go. What did I have to lose?
I’m not sure what ultimately led me to the Pagoda on that hot summer evening. I walked angrily to the dock, unrolled a towel, and plopped down in a way that arrogantly proclaimed, “This isn’t going to help me.” I rolled my eyes at the girls in Lululemon sports bras and perfectly braided hair. I scowled when a flirtatious man sitting next to me tried to make small talk and shake my hand. My chest began to tighten and my heart started to race. My anxiety was at an all time high and I was ready to run.
Not a moment to soon, a petite blonde named Jessica struck a match and lit an incense stick that permeated through the crowd and flooded my mind with memories of growing up in the Catholic Church. She emitted energy of calmness and light that left me mesmerized. I glued my eyes to her and watched her gracefully wind between the mats of yogi masters and yogi infants who waited on bated breath for her guidance into the first pose.
Entranced by the energy of this group, I followed those around me into Savasana and let Jessica’s words take me away.
Jessica spoke of travels to Italy and recalled a visit to a sunflower field. She explained heliotropism and how no matter what, sunflowers always turn and grow towards the sun and that this is a practice also available to us as human beings. I listened intently as beads of sweat melted off my sun-kissed forehead. I so desperately wanted to be a sunflower amidst the darkness that encompassed my life. I wanted to turn towards the sun and find the light again. With fluidity and grace, I moved through the poses and experienced an overwhelming sense of calmness flood my body that left me feeling weightless. I left class and walked aimlessly along The Hague and found a bench on the Lock Bridge. I drew my knees in close and began to cry as I watched the sun set over the water. For the first time in months, I felt safe.
With Bhav Brigade, I found myself again. I returned week after week to the safety of my yoga mat and slowly started to immerse myself into this beautiful community. I learned how to breathe again during a time when panic attacks left me paralyzed. I learned how to find peace and purpose by simply being still. I learned that I am in charge of my body in its entirety: every breath, every movement, every emotion. Most of all, I learned that my body is beautiful and is capable of doing wonderful things despite what happened to me.
The beautiful thing about Bhav Brigade is that they are able to touch the lives of people from so many different walks of life. They create an environment of acceptance and safety where college students, medical professionals, businessmen/businesswomen, and even the “Lost Boys” of life can practice side by side. Once on the mat, our titles melt away and we are left with the common goal of spending the next hour completely dedicated to ourselves in the present moment.
Despite my rocky start with yoga many years ago, I now have a deep sense of appreciation for those who dedicate their free time to this practice. I no longer feel like a failure when I step onto my mat every day. Within those four rubber corners I am safe, I am at peace, I am successful.
The light in me will forever see the light in you. Thank you, Bhav Brigade.
For more of Bhav, follow them on Facebook.
For those who are interested in attending Bhav Brigade’s yoga classes:
Pop-Up Yoga at Stockley Gardens
601 Stockley Gardens Norfolk, Virginia 23507
Sunset Yoga on The Pagoda Pier
265 W. Tazewell St. Norfolk, VA 23510
For more information and support for those affected by sexual violence:
YWCA South Hampton Roads
Hotline: (757) 226-9922