Survivors on the Yoga Mat
Stories for Those Healing from Trauma
An inspiring collection of essays that reveal the healing power of yoga, Survivors on the Yoga Mat is an ideal companion for trauma survivors and yoga teachers alike. Weaving together stories from her classes, travels, and workshops, author Becky Thompson shows the brave and unique ways that survivors approach yoga: the creative ways that they practice, the challenges they face, and the transformative experiences they discover. Thompson skillfully draws connections between yoga and social-justice activism, demonstrating how a trauma-sensitive approach to yoga makes room for all of us—across race, class, gender, religion and nationality.
Survivors on the Yoga Mat offers stories, reflections, and meditations for people who are healing from a wide range of traumas—sexual abuse, accidents, child abuse, war, illnesses, incarceration, and other injuries. The book consists of 90 true stories—alternately funny, surprising, and irreverent—that together provide a roadmap for survivors on their journey to wholeness. Organized into six sections, the book explores the challenges of beginning a yoga practice; the unique strengths of trauma survivors; the circuitous path of healing; yoga’s value as a lifelong practice; the special role of teachers; and the potential of yoga as an avenue for activism. Also included is a description of Pantajali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga, a list of resources, an appendix explaining the different styles of yoga, and a beautiful photo glossary with over 100 photos of the yoga postures mentioned in the book.
About the Author
BECKY THOMPSON, PhD, RYT-500, is a poet, scholar, activist, yoga teacher, and trauma survivor whose work focuses on trauma and healing. Professor and Chair of the Sociology Department at Simmons College, she has authored several books on social justice including A Hunger So Wide and So Deep: A Multiracial View of Women's Eating Problems and A Promise and a Way of Life.
—Angela Davis, activist, yogi, and author of Women, Race, and Class and The Meaning of Freedom
“Survivors on the Yoga Mat demonstrates beautifully how yoga can provide a pathway from pain and isolation to wholeness. Stories from a multiracial, inter-generational, cross-cultural group of people reveal the healing powers of yoga as widely accessible.”
—Sharon Salzberg, author of Real Happiness at Work and cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society
“Written in the voice of a poet and trauma survivor, this thoughtful book offers support, hope, and infinite understanding … through the lyrical language of self-awareness, Thompson takes us beyond words and the stories we tell ourselves about our lives to a deep understanding of our ultimate wholeness.”
—Amy Weintraub, author of Yoga for Depression
“Whether one practices yoga or not, this book should be read by everyone. Painful and inspiring, sobering and uplifting, Survivors on the Yoga Mat reveals not only how yoga can make trauma victims whole but how it can make our society whole, in the face of the daily traumas of violence, injustice, and materialism.”
—Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination
“This is the book I've been waiting for: a raw, real, and wonderful collection of stories to inspire all those who are on the pathway from trauma to transcendence."
—Nikki Myers, yoga and somatic therapist and founder of Y12SR: The Yoga of 12-Step Recovery
“Most people assume that those of us that practice yoga are naturally calm and centered and have happened into equanimity in the same way that we might find a hundred dollar bill on the foot path. The truth is, many of us are drawn to yoga because of deep, seemingly intransigent wounds and traumas that have not been resolved even after years of therapy. As Becky Thompson and her brave contributors relate, it is by entering into the world of body sensation, breath, and attention that we can move through and beyond the limited identity of a survivor into the truth of our boundless self. This book offers both recognition of the reality of trauma as well as a resource of hope and inspiration for moving beyond it."
—Donna Farhi, author of Bringing Yoga to Life
“A truly inspiring, informative, and important book! It is not one day too soon to address the subject of trauma with yoga teachers and practitioners. The process of meeting oneself at ever-deeper levels requires us to listen and follow our inner voice, taking courage to dive into our own personal journey through our practice. It means meeting and befriending our past traumas long buried in the very cells and tissues of our bodies. Becky Thompson shows us how to do this with sensitivity, clarity, and heart, demonstrating how asana, breath-work, and meditation are helping trauma survivors recover their power, their boundaries, and their joy in living fully and creatively.”
—Angela Farmer, world-renowned yoga teacher
"For survivors and those who love us: This book brings to light the patterns of entrapment that we all get tangled in. The secrets we bury into our flesh, the anguish we carry. Survivors on the Yoga Mat documents that our pain, trauma and wounds can be spoken, cleansed, sweat out, and released. This book breaks the delusion that we are freaks and alone. Survivors brings deeper understanding to the journey through hell into power. May we all learn to Walk in Beauty.”
—Ana Tiger Forrest, author of Fierce Medicine
“Telling truthful stories is an essential act of activism … this book is full of them.”
—Matthew Sanford, president and CEO of Mind Body Solutions and author of Waking
“Yoga is for every body—young and old, Black as well as white. In this lovingly rendered book, Becky Thompson shows us that there are no limitations on who needs this ancient healing art and who can benefit from it.”
—Jan Willis, author of Dreaming Me: Black, Baptist and Buddhist—One Woman's Spiritual Journey.
“It is rare to open a book and find stories that depict trauma as a great equalizer in the human experience. Survivors on the Yoga Mat does just that. With the sterling voice of one who has been there, Becky Thompson has gifted us with fragrant balm for healing the soul. Through their stories, Thompson and the other contributors take their seats as trauma survivors with elegant courage and refreshing realness. Whether or not we see ourselves as survivors of trauma, this book is a heartfelt guide to living awake in this body. At the end of a traditional Zen temple meal, we chant in gratitude, “May we exist in muddy water with purity like a lotus, thus we bow to Buddha.” I bow to Survivors on the Yoga Mat, a garden of lotuses blossoming.”
—Ryūmon Hilda Gutiérrez Baldoquín, Sensei; editor of Dharma, Color and Culture: New Voices in Western Buddhism and cofounder of Two Streams Zen
“Survivors on the Yoga Mat gives voice to those who, despite overwhelming odds, are choosing to return to Source moment by moment, breath by breath. These are stories of liberation in the deepest sense from extraordinary "ordinary" folks who are using the ancient technology of yoga to transform their inner landscapes and step more fully and courageously into their lives.”
—Keval Kaur Khalsa, associate professor of the Practice of Dance & Theater Studies and director of the dance program at Duke University
“Everyone who has experienced tears and emotions on the mat will recognize themselves in this lovely book. Becky Thompson’s tone is invitational; her language is soothing and clear; the wisdom she offers is affirming and validating. Survivors on the Yoga Mat will help students, teachers, and practitioners of all types of integrative therapies understand the impact of trauma as well as the healing powers of a complete yoga practice.”
—Kyczy Hawk, author of Yoga and The Twelve Step Path
“In this genuine and personal account, Becky Thompson offers a variety of practical suggestions for using yoga as a companion to treatment for trauma.”
—David Emerson, author of Overcoming Trauma through Yoga
“I come from Sri Lanka, a land fondly remembered by its visitors as Paradise Island, but torn to pieces by thirty years of civil war and natural disasters such as tsunami. Our dream is for harmony, reached through understanding and forgiveness. Reading Becky Thompson’s Survivors on the Yoga Mat opens new horizons for my imagination, on how to live and work with the multiple survivors in my country, struggling to reach wholeness, but burdened with trauma. In Survivors, there is a thirst for holiness and wholeness, written by a human being with a heart for the universe, grounded on this ‘common ground.’”
—Sister Canice Fernando, Sri Lanka