Yoga program helps victims of domestic violence

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Survivors of domestic violence have a leg up on their life challenges thanks to a program made available through Madison County Victims of Violence.

Victim Advocate Emily Khazaee has established a twice-weekly program to help survivors of spousal abuse recover their emotional and physical health through the yoga disciplines.

The course is offered Wednesdays and Thursdays through May 7 at Liberty Resources at 118 Liberty St. in Oneida. The Wednesday session is from 11 a.m to noon and the Thursday session is from 10 to 11:30 a.m. The Thursday session is less formal and is composed of an hour-long yoga exercise followed by a half-hour of group discussion.

The classes are provided free of charge.

The yoga routine combines physical poses, or asanas, that stretch and relax the body with breathing exercises. “Yoga helps you get in tune with yourself. It keeps you focused on the present,” Khazaee said. “Those who experience domestic abuse become hyper vigilant, or tense, because they are aways afraid something bad is about to happen. The yoga disciplines help you relax.”

Older forms of yoga have encouraged their adherents to, in a sense, temporarily escape reality and find a reflective state of mind. Modern forms of yoga embrace what is happening in the present.

“We want our students to be in the present,” Khazaee said. “While dealing with their memories and emotional wounds victims of domestic violence tend to let their minds wander because of all the bad memories, trying to deal with everything at once. So yoga also helps you focus.”

Yoga also holds benefits that aid in long-term life recovery. “The yoga discipline is an alternative to some of the behaviors that domestic violence victims hide behind, like drugs or alcohol or overeating,” Khazaee said.

Domestic abuse is a problem across the country — as well as in Madison County. In 2014 residential shelters housed 15 adults and 17 children. The county aided 307 adults and 75 children in non-residential programs. The county hotline received 487 emergency calls.

“Being in a rural area like Oneida presents its own unique challenges,” Khazaee said. “The isolation that occurs during domestic abuse, when a partner forces you into isolation and away from friends and family to control you, is made worse because homes tend to be spaced further apart. There’s also the time factor, when police take longer to get to an emergency because the location is often farther away.”

After receiving received her master’s degree in educational leadership and policy studies at Iowa State University, Khazaee relocated to New York when her husband took a job at Colgate University. A longtime practitioner of yoga, she gained experience and began work as a private contractor. She taught yoga at Zen Den Studio in Hamilton.

“Yoga has become an important part of my spiritual journey,” Khazaee said. “I began watching an instructor on YouTube and learned on my own. After being credentialed and teaching for awhile I found it would be helpful in the recovery process of domestic violence survivors.”

The program began in 2013 and has had a consistent number of participants. “The number of people in our group is up and down,” Khazaee said. “Sometimes we’ll have five or six and other times we’ll have one. But even helping one person is worth the effort.”

Yoga participants have seen immediate benefits as they move on from abusive situations. Laurie, who asked that her last name not be used, said the yoga disciplines have helped her get back in touch with her recovery.

“Yoga helps me with things I repress, things I need to address,” Laurie said. “You can carry around things you don’t realize you are carrying around. With yoga you recognize those things and deal with them.”

The classes also give Laurie a sense of well-being.

“I have found an inner peace through yoga,” Laurie said. “You won’t get this kind of peace from the world.”

Laurie’s fellow classmate Patty, who declined to give her last name, has also grown through the classes.

“I have severe anxiety and yoga helps take care of it,” Patty said. My anxiety is part physical and partly because of what I went through. Yoga helps me remember to breathe, which helps me out when I begun to strew out. I love Emily and the program.”

The program will be offered again at a later date.

Domestic Violence against men is an underreported problem that does not always get properly dealt with. Khazaee said Liberty Resources also has programs for men in abusive situations.

Yoga’s history predates written records. Drawings dating to 3000 BC show figures in Yoga poses, and some scholars believe the practice first developed during the Stone Age.

Yoga’s history can be divided into four eras. They include the Vedic, Pre-Classical, Classical, and Post-Classical.

The Vedic period is so named because of the emergence of vedas, or sacred hymns to a higher power. These hymns are designed to overcome the limitations of the mind.

The Pre-Clasical Period marks the creation of written scriptures including the Bhagavad-Gita. Also known as the Lord’s Song, the Bhagavad-gita is the oldest known yoga scripture. This period stresses the importance of overcoming evil.

During the Classical Age vedas and written scriptures combined to yogic doctrines. These doctrines include yama, or social and ethical values; niyama, purity tolerance and study; the asanas, or physical disciplines of yoga; pratyahara, the sense of withdrawing from oneself before meditation, dharana, concentration, dhyana, meditation, and samadhi, ecstasy/happiness.

The Post-Classical Age started in the early 1800’s as Yoga was introduced to western culture. By the 1930’s yoga was a popular as a means to better health and by the 1960’s its use had become widespread. The period introduced Transcendental Meditation, which became popular in the 1970’s.

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