Grace Poon Ghaffari

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Grace Poon

“Grace Poon Ghaffari is a 200-hour certified yoga teacher through Core Power Yoga and successfully completed her certification as a trauma-sensitive yoga teacher through Transcending Sexual Violence through Yoga. Additionally, Grace has successfully completed Off the Mat’s Beyond Duality: Yoga & Social Justice teacher workshop series and holds certifications in Mental Health First Aid and as a Rape Aggression Defense (R.A.D.) Systems for Women Instructor. Due to her personal and professional passion and experiences in addressing issues of sexual violence and social injustices and attributing yoga to her healing process as a survivor of sexual violence, Grace firmly believes in advocating for a more socially just world where survivors can feel empowered to heal, violence is eliminated, and all identities are valued.”

Contact Information:

Email: gracepoonyoga@gmail.com | Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Grace-Poon-Yoga | Practice Location: Irvine, CA

Practice Information

About Grace Poon Ghaffari

Grace Poon Ghaffari received her B.A. in Economics, with a specialization in International Issues, at University of California, Irvine and received her M.A. in Higher Education and Student Affairs at New York University. Grace is the Assistant Director of UCI Fraternity & Sorority Life, where she advises the UCI fraternity and sorority community in the areas of multicultural affairs, diversity education, and collaborates with UCI Campus Assault Resources and Education (CARE) to coordinate on-campus programs related to sexual assault, dating/domestic violence, and stalking. She is constantly inspired and strengthened by the resilience and grace demonstrated by each survivor with whom she has had the opportunity to learn from, support, advocate, and build relationships.

Experience

Within my role at UC Irvine, I drive the development and advisement of the fraternity and sorority community through sexual violence prevention and intervention initiatives. Due to a larger number of high-risk behaviors and practices within the fraternity and sorority community, my specific role provides much needed support to decrease risk for sexual violence within an at-risk community. I am able to execute this through my partnership with the Campus Assault Resources & Education (CARE) Office. Through this collaboration, I advise the Violence Intervention & Prevention (VIP) Program, which is a national best practice and a program that trains student representatives from the UC Irvine fraternity and sorority community in issues of rape, sexual assault, dating and domestic violence, and stalking. Along with CARE staff, mental health professionals, and sexual violence experts, I train these student representatives to provide education, implement campus-wide sexual violence prevention programs, and act as resources to their fraternity and sorority peers.

In addition to the implementation of the VIP program, I work with campus sexual assault professionals to coordinate effective responses to incidents of sexual violence in the fraternity and sorority community. This includes creating educational workshops, providing advocacy and research/assessment, giving direct support to survivors, strategic prevention planning and education, and implementing measures to address alleged perpetrators and survivors that are affiliated to a fraternity/sorority.

Throughout my graduate work at New York University, where I completed my M.A. in Higher Education and Student Affairs, I conducted research and facilitated intergroup dialogue around gender and sexuality within the Center for Multicultural Education and Programs. When I graduated from NYU, I worked at UC, Berkeley as a Resident Director where I oversaw a residential community of 1500 students and supervision to a student staff of 30 Resident Assistants. Specific functions of my role that relate to my work with survivors involved coordinating sexual violence prevention initiatives and programs, serving as the first point of contact for incidents of sexual violence within the residential community, and serving on the Violence Prevention Coalition that involved campus partners from across the university. While at UC, Berkeley I worked with the Gender Equity Center, which addressed campus sexual violence issues, to provide effective programs and responses to alleged sex offenses and become trained as a Rape Aggression Defense Instructor.

Lastly, I teach trauma-sensitive yoga to UCI students who identify as survivors of sexual violence once a week at the Center for Living Peace located in Irvine, CA. As part of the UCI Yoga as Healing program, these drop-in yoga classes provide additional opportunities for survivors to practice on a weekly basis. Due to the partnerships with the UCI Counseling Center, Victim Advocate, and Campus Assault Resources & Education Office, survivors are able to get referrals to my trauma-sensitive yoga classes as a piece to their holistic healing process. In Winter 2016, I will be conducting a 5-week series that aims to utilize trauma-sensitive yoga intentionally to educate, empower, and develop the healing of a cohort of survivors in a safe and shared environment. Recently, I also got state-certified as a sexual assault crisis counselor through the Coalition for Family Harmony.

My Interest in Working with Survivors

Grounded and fueled by my personal experience as a survivor, my undergraduate co-curricular involvements, my professional work at UCI and beyond, and my healing process through yoga, I am passionate about creating a more socially just and safe world that is free from violence and hate/bias. As a member of Alpha Chi Omega Sorority, I have been able to engage in several efforts to address and support the fight against domestic/relationship violence due to it being the organizations’ national philanthropy. Previously as an undergraduate student at UCI, I volunteered with Human Options, which provides safe haven and life changing programs to help domestic violence survivors, their children and families rebuild their lives – and works with the community to break the cycle of domestic violence. Additionally, due to Alpha Chi Omega membership education, I gained a better understanding of relationship abuse which later led to the realization of the abuse within my own relationship at the time. Due to the philanthropic efforts and education, I was able to get the support I needed and in turn learn how to engage in providing support to others. Because of this, I wish to utilize my personal experiences and education to provide support to others (as many others had done for me) who may have shared experiences as survivors. I wish also to work with survivors because I firmly believe in the power that people have to influence and support one another in order to heal the world.

As previously mentioned, I worked at UC, Berkeley as a Resident Director and currently I work at UC, Irvine to address sexual violence in the fraternity and sorority community. Throughout both of these professional experiences, I have the privilege of engaging with sexual violence prevention and provide direct support to survivors. For many survivors, the healing process is a long, challenging, unpredictable, and lonely path. Through my personal experiences working with survivors and identifying as one myself, it is apparent that many wish to feel safe, empowered, validated, accepted, whole, and loved. Those that reach out to family, friends, professionals, etc. wish to feel all the above especially while on their healing journey forward but unfortunately many are rejected, minimized, marginalized, blamed, and pushed aside when reaching out to others. If I am able to be the one person or one additional person in a survivors’ healing journey, I would be honored not only to be a part of supporting their process forward, but to simply just be there to say, yes – you are safe, you are beautiful, you are valid, you are believed, you are whole, you are accepted, you are loved – every step of the way. If I could turn my darkness into light for others in order to be a light in a dark path, I could only hope that my light would inspire the inner light of other survivors. That is why I wish to work with survivors.

Modality

My treatment modality is trauma-sensitive yoga. In teaching trauma-sensitive yoga (TSY) to survivors, my intention as a yoga teacher is simple and consistent for every practice – to create an experience that is survivor-centered and empowering. In order to teach to this intention, there are several ways in which I teach to create a safe, empowering, and comfortable environment for survivors. This includes: creating a safe environment, empowerment-based language, integration of choices, having supportive presence, providing no physical assists, focusing upon breath, and integrating themes to aid in healing, which will be explained as follows in the subsequent paragraphs (Transcending Sexual Violence through Yoga, 2015).

How Yoga Holistically Addresses the Impacts of Sexual Violence

According to my trauma-sensitive yoga training through Transcending Sexual Violence through Yoga, a survivor’s experience of trauma impacts all aspects of human functioning – physical, mental, behavioral, social, and spiritual. Trauma is a somatic reaction, and therefore survivors register trauma as bodily reactions and sensations. These sensations may include anxiety, insomnia, migraines, numbness, sweaty palms, and dis-regulated breathing. Because the effects of trauma involve one’s body, mind, and spirit, it is important to incorporate techniques that allow survivors to re-establish comfort within their own physical body, empower the innate capacity to heal, and non-verbally process without the confinement of language (Transcending Sexual Violence through Yoga, 2015). Hence, trauma-sensitive yoga provides survivors the opportunity to engage holistically in their healing process by incorporating all aspects of human function and by connecting all aspects into fluid motions of breath to movement.

As a trauma-sensitive yoga teacher, I strive to create a practice that allows survivors to re-establish a sense of comfort within their physical bodies and nonverbally process any thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Therefore, survivors can use the practice of trauma-sensitive yoga to aid in self-discovery as they regain wholeness and strengthen their resilience and grace.

My Approach to Trauma-Informed Care

To provide trauma-informed care means to provide care that is survivor-centered with a supportive presence and the use of invitational language. It means that every day is different and every survivor is different. It means practicing mindfulness and always being a life-long learner so that I can always do my best to provide any support that each survivor outlines as the definition of supportive for them. It means empowerment and healing. In providing trauma-informed care, it means that it’s never about me, it is always about the healing process of each individual through the intersections of their identities, culture, and experiences.

Modifications for Survivors

There are several ways that I teach trauma-sensitive yoga to survivors in order to increase safety and accessibility, which are key components of the Transcending Sexual Violence through Yoga program. This includes: creating a safe environment, empowerment-based language, integration of choices, having supportive presence, providing no physical assists, focusing upon breath, and integrating themes to aid in healing, which will be explained as follows.

When creating a safe environment, it is important to create a space where survivors feel a sense of control. This starts the moment I set up the practice space by being cognizant to remove props (i.e. straps) and ensuring that there is appropriate lighting (i.e. no candles as they can be linked to triggering traumatic incidents; no darkness). It is also important to ask students whether the temperature, lighting, music, etc. is comfortable for their practice at the beginning of each class. Additionally, when choosing music for a trauma-informed class, I choose music with no lyrics in order to not potentially trigger or negatively distract survivors.

In using empowerment-based language, my intention is to always invoke a sense of comfortability, accessibility, and safety through my language. It is important to always remind survivors of the choices they always have in their bodies and to be flexible in the cues I provide so that survivors may feel empowered to explore their practice in ways that feel authentic, healing, and empowering for them.

Integration of choices and providing every posture as an open invitation to explore authentically is an important aspect of TSY. By using words in verbal cues, such as “notice”, “feel”, “explore”, “experiment”, and “maybe”, survivors always feel in control of their practice and empowered to make choices that feel best for them. By integrating choices and invitations to explore, a TSY class does not necessarily have each individual practicing the same poses at the same pace. Rather, a TSY teacher guides a class where individuals feel comfortable exploring different poses and moving at their individual pace, regardless of what their neighbors are doing next to them.

Providing a supportive presence is always my intention for teaching a TSY practice. This includes integrating safety and choices by providing space for survivors to challenge themselves only when they are ready, be visible at the front of the room throughout practice, and provide a consistent/predictable experience. I also strive to always show up authentic, caring, and genuine. Additionally, it is important to recognize my personal boundaries as a TSY and be knowledgable about local referral resources in order to best support survivors. I am also always open to feedback and practicing non-judgement. Lastly, it takes so much courage to make it to their mat, and therefore I always strive to support each survivor to feel comfortable through a lens of gratitude and appreciation.

As a TSY teacher, I choose to not offer physical assists. This is because it takes away from the present moment and distracts from the personal practice. Additionally, by providing physical assists, it takes the control away from survivors to move authentically and set boundaries. Offering physical assists also removes the potential for students to discover and practice their own capacity to self-regulate and heal through the varying degrees of pain in the body and heart.

Focusing on breath is a huge part of trauma-sensitive yoga because breath can be linked to triggers that are associated with trauma. For me, its important to not cue controlled breathing (i.e. ujjayi pranayama, holding of breath, accelerated breathing, etc.) as these types of breathing may be linked to traumatic experiences. As a TSY teacher, my goal is to utilize the breath to focus on grounding in the present experience and connect back to their physical body. This is illustrated through my cues to bring awareness to the breath and invitations to breath in ways that survivors feel comfortable and natural as I guide survivors through physical postures. The benefits of focusing on the breath include but are not limited to: increased awareness of breath patterns, calming and energizing, connection to physical body, and decrease in anxiety and self-regulation.

The integration of themes can be a powerful way to provide tangible tools and strategies that survivors can learn through the practice of TSY and later on integrate into their daily lives off their mats. The connection of themes to the experiences of survivors is the opportunity to intentionally create a practice that challenges and supports the healing process of each survivor so that healing can be sustainable and transcend the physical practice of yoga. Themes in a TSY for survivors may include: safety, mindfulness, intention, boundaries, assertiveness, strength, trust, and acceptance and community.

Additional Information

As a first-generation Chinese American growing up in an immigrant family, I have lived through experiences of racism, stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination based upon the color of my skin, my perceived ethnic identity, and race. As a female-identified individual, I have also lived through gendered experiences that have intersected with my racial identity. Through my lived experiences, I have become a life long advocate for a more socially just world, which I have practiced throughout my undergraduate/graduate career, yoga journey, and professional work.

Due to my personal identity as a Chinese American, I have sought to support and develop the Asian Pacific Islander American (APIA) community. During my graduate work at NYU, I conducted research for two years on Asian Pacific Islander American populations as it related to the higher education landscape. This was illustrated through my involvement as a research intern in the National Commission on APIA Research in Education (CARE) and focusing my research papers upon APIA identity development and student leadership experiences. During my time at UC, Berkeley, I advised the Asian Pacific American Theme House Program where I coordinated the development of a living-learning community of 30 APIA students and facilitated a year-long seminar focused upon identity development, social systems of power and privilege, and APIA advocacy. For the last 3 years, I have also been involved in national associations that address the needs of APIA professionals working in higher education to provide further support, advocacy, and mentorship. Recently while at UC, Irvine, I also facilitated a leadership seminar for APIA students to explore the intersections of race and leadership. This past year, I have facilitated workshops at national conferences (NASPA National Conferences in 2014 and 2015) that provide opportunities for other student affairs professionals to learn more about specific issues that APIA women and new professional of color face within the field of higher education. In the future, my hope is to pursue a doctoral degree in researching a topic surrounding the intersection of APIA populations and sexual violence. I am also exploring opportunities to bring TSY to APIA populations and how to intentionally create a model of TSY that addresses the culturally specific needs of this population. In general, I am also passionate in supporting communities of color.

As a believer in professional development, I have also completed Off the Mat’s Social Justice and Yoga professional workshop series (Part 1 and 2) in order to gain a better understanding of how I may bridge yoga and my passion for social justice. My interest in bridging these two passions together has been a result of my professional expertise in social justice and sexual violence work and my yoga teaching journey and I believe that the process of learning, advocacy, and dialogue can not be confined to just one part of ones’ life. Hence, I hope to bridge my passions together as a student affairs professional and trauma-sensitive yoga teacher by creating spaces where the empowerment and healing of survivors would be facilitated by flowing grace and breathing hope with every yoga practice.

Payment Options

I am able to provide sliding-scale services to clients.

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