Introducing Holistic Healing Arts at the National Sexual Assault Conference 2013 – Part 1

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Introducing Holistic Healing Arts at the National Sexual Assault Conference 2013 – Part 1

Introduction by Molly Boeder Harris

The Breathe Network recently shared its vision for empowering survivors of sexual violence through the holistic healing arts as co-sponsors of the “Wellness & Self-Care” track at the National Sexual Assault Conference (NSAC) in Los Angeles. NSAC 2013 offered 3 days of training opportunities for advocates, activists, educators and survivors, as well as many other professionals working to prevent, intervene and support the healing journey after sexual violence. This year’s conference theme “Inspire a Movement, Invest in Change, Imagine…” was “focused on providing cutting-edge information, effective and relevant practices, content that incorporates culturally appropriate outreach and services to historically under-served communities and those with limited access – all aimed at demonstrating how we can build the world we want to live in.” (NSAC 2013)

Our practitioners facilitated 4 workshops at the conference, each with a unique focus on embodied approaches to healing that integrate the body, mind and spirit. As an organization, we are invested in increasing accessibility for healing by ensuring sliding-scale and trauma-sensitive services for survivors. We also believe integrating the holistic healing arts into our standard care for survivors represents a change in that we are intentionally attending to healing the whole person. With this holistic care, we can not only imagine, but can also feel a future, a movement, where healing is accessible, possible, and likely more sustainable for all survivors of sexual violence.

Given this year’s themes, we thought this opportunity to co-sponsor was a natural match. Yet, we still did not know how attendees would respond to the way we approach our work with survivors. Would people attend our workshops? Does the phrase “embodied healing” resonate? Can we make a discussion on the chakras accessible in this context? How do you introduce yoga when powerpoint is often the main teaching tool? Can we create a space where we not only offer our perspectives on the specific benefits of the holistic healing arts for sexual violence survivors, but more importantly, allows for folks to experientially discover their own breath, sensation and embodiment within the context of our workshops?

I am so grateful to have been able to answer all of these questions with an enthusiastic YES! In fact, our workshops were standing room only. Participants reported that being guided inwards via tuning into their breath, lead physical movement and sensing inside, allowed them to fully “land” in the space and in their bodies. Others described a sense of relief that we could talk about the flow of energy, about our spirits and our spiritual lives as it relates to surviving sexual violence – that we could finally be open about things not necessarily seen, but very deeply felt!

I was excited to watch the lines form after each presenter concluded as participants wanted to go deeper with their questions and curiosity one-on-one with the presenter. Any doubt about the level of interest was erased by the reality before our eyes. Our colleagues in this movement, our fellow survivors – we are craving innovative insights into embodied healing, we want to reclaim our identities as both activists and survivors, and be able to embrace the interconnected relationship of our roles as both healers and as individuals who are very much still exploring their healing journey. We desire the space to give voice to both the wounds of our spirits as well as to celebrate our resilience. Ready and resourced, we want to pull the conversation – or rather, the exploration – back down into the lived experiences we hold in our bodies, our hearts and our spirits. We recognize the need to bring this movement, the roots of our activism, back into the core of our experience – to uncover the site of the trauma(s), and from there, to begin to discover the infinite space inside, our innate capacity for healing, and the breathtaking possibilities that can begin to unfold when our body, mind and spirit are aligned.

Our presenters took risks, and shared themselves and their experiences so honestly and so humbly with their audience, and I am forever grateful for the energy they gave to the conference participants. I was fortunate to be present for each one (and managed to stay “present” for my own – due to a special combination of lavender oil, deep breathing, smiling faces and mostly, the effortlessness that comes with being invited to tell the truth of your own experience!) but, I wanted you all to also have a sense of what we discovered at these unique workshops.

While the ideas and impacts are still fresh in our practitioner’s minds, I touched base with each of them to reflect on their experience presenting and learning in that space. The presentations offered included: Meditation and Energy Healing Support for Assault and Abuse Survivors and Their Care Providers with Lisa Erickson, A Practical Guide to Healing Sexual Trauma through Yoga with Zabie Khorakiwala, Biofeedback: More Than Just Deep Breathing with Dr. Eugenie Pabst, and Embody to Empower: Building Resilience through Embodied Approaches To Healing with Molly Boeder Harris.

This week’s interview is with Lisa Erickson, who lead a workshop entitled, “Meditation and Energy Healing Support for Assault and Abuse Survivors and Their Care Providers.” I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!


The Breathe Network: The themes for this year’s National Sexual Assault Conference, were – Inspire a Movement, Invest in Change and Imagine – can you describe how your modality and/or your presentation related to any or all of those topics?

Lisa Erickson: I was personally inspired by the amount of interest there was in all of the modalities that The Breathe Network group presented in their workshops. As in all healing fields right now, it feels like there is a seismic shift occurring in terms of the increasing interest in exploring alternative and complementary healing methods. In my own presentation on mindfulness meditation and energy healing for sexual assault and abuse survivors, I tried to focus on the research that has been conducted to support the value of incorporating these techniques into the healing process, and also on the reality that everyone heals in a different way – everyone will need a different suite of modalities and experiences to help them process what has happened and shift into a healthy place.

TBN: I was delighted, and not totally surprised having known the way you all include the whole person into your approach to healing, that each of you integrated an experiential practice of embodiment into your session, including breath, guided meditation, and movement – can you talk about your decision to make this a part of your workshop?

LE: I actually wish I’d had time to do even more of this! I felt it was important, because it emphasizes the accessibility of meditation and mindfulness. Anyone can do it, and (as you said in your own presentation) – it’s free! I think counselors, social workers, advocates and healers should feel empowered to introduce breathing and mindfulness exercises into their work with clients, and they will feel more comfortable doing so once they have experienced it for themselves. So for me, including practices in the workshop was partly about wanting to demystify them. Of course when working with individuals who have experienced trauma, it’s important to teach it in a trauma-sensitive way, but really, most of the people at this conference were already very sensitive to that. So hopefully this helped them feel more comfortable with trying this out – both for themselves and with clients.

TBN: It was so lovely to see how all of you intentionally showed up for each other’s workshops, and I know you also attended a few on your own, can you tell us what workshop/s stood out for you, or perhaps, share an insight from something you learned or were reminded of during a workshop you attended?

LE: I was very inspired by Faye Washington’s speech in the opening session, as she really shifted the entire room into a very empowered place. When I experience people whom can do this, I realize how important and contagious hope and inspiration can be. It travels from person to person. From an energetic perspective – the way I tend to view things – this is a very tangible and powerful thing, and it’s the root of all change in the world (and in each of us as individuals.)

I learned so much from each of the 3 Breathe Network presentations as well. Molly, your willingness to share your own personal healing process, and how different things benefited you at different phases of your journey, really solidified for me the importance of valuing all modalities and approaching every person’s healing process as unique. I also resonated with your statement that the healing process isn’t linear, and with being able to view the reoccurrence of ‘triggers’ as messages, rather than a sign of going backward. I think this is something so many people, especially those working through trauma, need to hear.

I loved Zabie’s and Eugenie’s presentations as well. The details Zabie shared about how she created her yoga program, how integrated trauma-sensitivity is to it, and how well participants have responded to it was really wonderful. And I knew very little about biofeedback before attending Eugenie’s presentation – I found it so interesting and relevant. The interaction between mind, body and subtle body is so interesting to me, as well as the ways we can change old patterns, so the biofeedback model of approaching emotional patterns and habits physiologically, and working to change them at that level, really resonated for me.

TBN: Has having attended and presented at NSAC, along with fielding many questions from those working in various capacities within the sexual violence movement changed, influenced, or impacted how you see your specific modality serving this population?

LE: It has left me motivated to do more with this population. The interest was so much more than I expected, and I have definitely realized this is a need, and I want to be a part of addressing it.

TBN: Having introduced what were largely new topics within the format of this annual conference, there was a lot of new information for folks to digest and consider. It may have also been challenging for you as a presenter to have limited time around how to orient people to your modality, however you all did such a fantastic job! Yet, if you could add one last take away piece of information to your presentation, one more insight you want people to consider, what might that be?

LE: I was not able to focus as much on the importance of self-care for the caregivers themselves as I had hoped. From an energetic perspective, we all share emotions and thoughts all of the time. For anyone working with assault and abuse survivors, self-care and healthy boundaries becomes even more important – no one is served if you become burned out. So part of my goal in introducing meditation and energy healing modalities was for the caregivers themselves.

I also wanted to share that from an energetics perspective, we are all linked, and one person’s healing journey contributes to the healing of all. I personally feel this is especially true when it comes to the healing of sexual assault and abuse, which are crimes born of long repressed cultural imbalances and energetic structures of disempowerment and violence. Thankfully, these are shifting, and each survivor who works to heal herself or himself, and everyone who helps them, contributes to this shift. That may sound cliche, but it’s true!

TBN: Thank you Lisa for your time and for the incredible work you do to support survivors in their journey to heal – mind, body and spirit! Learn more about Lisa’s Meditation and Energy Healing practice, as well as her blog, workshops, and upcoming offerings at her website Mommy Mystic or check out her Breathe practitioner page here.

To continue reading our 3 other installments of reflections on NSAC 2013 from this 4 part series, please see Part 2 with Zabie Khorakiwala (trauma-sensitive yoga) and Part 3 with Dr. Eugunie Pabst (biofeedback) and Part 4 with Molly Boeder Harris (holistic healing and trauma resilience)