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Sexual assault survivor creates specialized yoga to heal

by Ryan Bergeron, CNN

(CNN) -- During her senior year at the University of California, Irvine, Zabie Yamasaki was sexually assaulted by a stranger.

"I blamed myself a lot for what had happened to me," said Yamasaki.

"I was overwhelmed. I felt isolated," she added.

Her life immediately changed. After the attack, she started experiencing flashbacks, nightmares and anxiety. She sought help from professionals but felt that talk therapy and medications weren't providing the kind of recovery she needed.

She felt like a big part of herself was being left out of the healing process -- her body. "I never imagined the years of disconnect that I would feel from my own physical body," said Yamasaki. "I needed something that would allow me to feel like I could regain power and control of my body."

That's when she decided to put more attention towards her physical self and decided to give yoga a try. "Yoga helped me feel safe and comfortable and confident in my own skin. Like I don't have to put pressure on myself to have the words to articulate what I'm feeling."

Yoga not only helped Yamasaki along in her healing but gave her a new sense of purpose. She decided to show other sexual assault survivors how yoga could help them as well.

Empowerment yoga

According to RAINN.org, every 98 seconds someone in America is sexually assaulted. That's an estimated 321,500 people a year.

Figuring that there were probably other sexual assault survivors that also felt uncomfortable or lacked interest in talk therapy, Yamasaki became a certified yoga instructor.

She focused her yoga specifically on how the practice can ease the trauma of sexual assault. "I wanted to create a program that spoke ... the language of the body," said Yamasaki. "So, I developed this eight-week trauma-informed healing program for survivors."

The program, Transcending Sexual Trauma Through Yoga, is tailored to the needs and sensitivity of those experiencing anguish from sexual assault.

"Trauma informed yoga is essentially an empowering yoga practice. I use very invitational and empowerment based language. I would never come over and place my hands on the survivor and say 'This is the right way to do it,' or 'This is the perfect alignment.' It's really about inviting them to move through their body in a way that feels safe and comfortable for them."

Yamasaki's program is now offered at more than 15 colleges and centers throughout California and has helped thousands of sexual assault survivors of all races and genders.

The program not only helps survivors reconnect with themselves but reminds them that they are not alone in their struggle.

"More than anything else, it's an opportunity for survivors to come together in community," said Yamasaki. "We can breathe together. We can move together. It's sort of the shared bond and understanding that's hard to put into words because it's such a felt experience in the body."

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