Wellbeing

The Saving Grace of Self-Care

How caring for oneself helped a rape survivor heal, and could help you.

When Zabie Yamasaki was a senior in college, she was raped. After the attack, the Los Angeles woman endured the torture of post-traumatic stress symptoms. “I had flashbacks and nightmares,” says Yamasaki, now 33. “I was hypervigilant. I tried talk therapy, and it didn’t seem to help me.”

She went on to graduate school, studying how to help others recover from sexual assault, working with colleges on campus-safety issues. That didn’t solve her problems, either. “I’d feel fine one minute, then I’d have to pull the car over and sob,” Yamasaki remembers. “The guilt and shame were still overpowering.”

What finally saved her? Her growing love of yoga. “I started to notice that on days I practiced, I seemed lighter, less depressed,” she says. Already studying to be a regular yoga instructor, Yamasaki (photographed above) began to teaching yoga designed just for sexual trauma survivors, and it’s been a world changer for her, and for others. “Often, people aren’t quite ready to talk about what happened, and yoga frees them to just be safe and strong in their own bodies,” she says.Portrait of Zabie YamasakiBesides teaching herself, Yamasaki also trains other yoga instructors in trauma-informed approaches, and says she is always blown away by the results. “Often, my students tell me how it changed their relationship with food,” she says. “Or they find the courage to finally report their assault to law enforcement.” Most importantly, she says, once they begin to recognize yoga as self-care, they may feel empowered to seek additional resources and support.

“That care is important for persons who have experienced abuse or trauma, as it can reinstill a sense of self-confidence and well-being that was taken from them by the abuse,” says Claire Burke Draucker, PhD, an Indiana University mental health researcher.

Some people trip over the word “self-care,” and assume it only means something superficial, like taking a bubble bath or getting a massage. Those soothing treats are helpful, but self-care is much bigger. “Think of it in terms of making an investment in yourself,” says Kaiser Permanente psychiatrist Mason Turner, MD.  How you do that, he says, is up to you. For some, it can be martial arts training, for others, piano lessons, therapeutic theater classes, running marathons, or traveling. “All these things say, ‘You’re a whole person. You are not a victim.’ You should pursue anything that brings you joy,” he says.

Not sure where to start? Try to do something for yourself every day, even if it seems small. Start with things you already know make you feel happy, but don’t be afraid to dabble in something new.  Here are some  ways to nourish your spirit:

  • Step outside for fresh air and a sunnier perspective.
  • Try some mindfulness meditation.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables.
  • Unplug from your devices for 30 minutes or more.
  • Any kind of exercise or activity based on listening to your body, whether it’s a mellow walk, a fun dance class, or a high-intensity workout.
  • Do a little decluttering.
  • Journaling, even if it’s just a few phrases.
  • Find something that makes you laugh.