Tea Takes with Zabie Yamasaki
"I’m on a journey to finding more rest in my life, more space, more ease, more breath, more gentleness."
We are always inspired by the women we meet as we build Alaya. In the coming months, we'll be sharing their stories to widen this community of women who are redesigning their lives to be kinder to themselves, and to those around them.
We had an opportunity to speak with her about her work, her pursuit of balance in a frenzied world, and her favorite ways to unwind.
Alaya Tea: Why were you passionate about putting these ideas into words?
Zabie: As a survivor of sexual assault, I struggled for years with the physiological impact of trauma on my body. I knew I wasn't alone and I wanted to create a program that spoke to the language of the body, was soulful, intersectional, and culturally affirming at its core. Writing this book allowed me an unlimited number of pages to speak to the nuance and beauty of this modality.
I wanted to be intentional about supporting survivors in what can oftentimes be a lifelong process of healing. I also felt passionate about providing a compassionate framework for healing professionals who want to integrate trauma-informed yoga into the scope of their work.
A: What has the last ten years of working in this space taught you about healing from sexual trauma?
Z: The capacity of the human spirit to heal amidst the unfathomable is something that continues to take my breath away. I have been blessed to work with incredibly resilient survivors over the course of my career. They have been my greatest teachers in holding space in compassionate and tender ways. There is so much power in truly seeing people and empowering them to make choices that best serve them. The yoga as healing program has been an intersection of both of my worlds as I have been propelled on this journey to learning how powerful yoga can be as a tool for healing trauma.
Because of the impact that trauma has on the body's physiology, I feel that we do a huge disservice to survivors by leaving the body out of the equation. Following this path has also allowed me to trust the power of my voice. As a survivor and a woman of color, it has taken me years to believe in myself. I never imagined in a million years that my trauma-informed yoga curriculum would be implemented at over 30 college campuses and trauma agencies and that I would be writing a book on this topic! Never let anyone tell you you are not capable of everything you have ever dreamed for yourself in this life. You are worthy of it all.
A: Can you explain how your style of yoga differs from, say, simply practicing yoga?
Z: I take into account all of the ways trauma impacts a student’s mind, body, and spirit and offer intentionality and sensitivity into the way that I teach. I honor each student's pace, remind them that their choices are celebrated, offer many variations of each posture, integrate invitational language, trauma-sensitive breath practices, and co-create with them. We are not having uniform experiences and I remind students often that their lived experience is their greatest teacher. As yoga teachers I believe we have an obligation to be mindful of the way trauma shows up for our students, the same way we are around physical injuries.
I specialize in working with survivors of sexual assault and I feel that so much of my work entails helping to ground survivors in their own worthiness and remind them that they are enough just as they are and that they deserve to rest. I think a lot about various fitness spaces and so often students are affirmed in class when they are only in the most advanced version of the posture. This adds to the daily messages that we should be pushing harder or doing more. We already receive these messages constantly in the context of our hurried world. Our language is a powerful tool that we can offer when teaching yoga to affirm that rest is one of the most productive choices we can make for ourselves.
If you’d like to read more, here are some examples of what makes a trauma-informed yoga practice, trauma-informed.
"As a survivor and a woman of color, it has taken me years to believe in myself."
A: What are some of your personal daily rituals that you abide by on a regular basis?
Z: I used to think of self-care as something I would do at the end of my day when I already reached the point of exhaustion and overwhelm. As a survivor working in the trauma field and also a mother to the most precious 3-year old, I have had to reframe the way I care for myself and I see my daily rituals as something that are integral to my survival, health, and well-being. We deserve to fill our cups constantly and intentionally. A few of my rituals include:
- Walking in the grass barefoot
- Energy protection meditations and mantras
- Walking meetings
- Not checking headlines or email upon waking. Replacing with movement or resourcing tools.
- Taking time at the beginning of zoom meetings and throughout the day to practice a tool called resourcing. If you are a manager, you might begin staff meeting by inviting folks to notice their feet on the ground, to feel the support beneath them, to gaze around their space to find something that brings them joy or a sense of ease or well-being, to take a drink of water, and find an anchor in rest. Many folks are in back to back meetings and jumping right in to the next thing, without honoring the space they need to pause and process the continued painful climate.
- Mid day naps
- Boundaries and honoring my no
- Keeping my zoom camera off
- Mental health days
- Larger margins in the day and space between things
I’m on a journey to finding more rest in my life, more space, more ease, more breath, more gentleness.
To anyone who needs the reminder: you deserve to honor the fullness of your truth, your journey, your value, your care, and your needs. Your well-being matters.
A: What changes/improvements would you like to see in your line of work?
Z: I would really like to see trauma-informed frameworks more widely adapted into yoga teacher trainings. For yoga teachers, this would mean offering the same care and attention to experiences of trauma that we do to physical injuries. We have such a powerful opportunity to create more inclusive and compassionate spaces.
A: What’s your ideal way to enjoy a cup of tea?
Z: I am in love with my clay tea pot which I have had for over ten years! After we put our son to bed, my husband and I enjoy winding down with Alaya Tulsi tea lattes with frothed oat milk! My hubby calls it our mindful tea moment and we look forward to it every night!