The LP Fisher Public Library offered a free self-defense class followed by Yoga for Trauma.
In October 2017, as women were bravely tweeting #MeToo to draw attention to the ubiquitous experience of sexual harassment or assault of women all over the world, of every race, nationality, education level and socio-economic background, we were busy planning a special corresponding event here at the L.P. Fisher Public Library in Woodstock, NB.
Sisters in Spirit
The Sisters in Spirit campaign, founded by the Native Women's Association of Canada, was designed to draw attention specifically to the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada, of which there is presently a national inquiry.
Every Oct. 4, a vigil is held in their honor. We decided to unite these two causes by creating a women-centric (or female-identifying) program to support those in our community dealing with these traumas and losses. We reached out to the local First Nation Communities (Woodstock First Nation and Tobique First Nation) to join us.
First, we held a free one-hour self-defense workshop. Two instructors volunteered (and brought their own grappling mats!) from the local Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) Club to teach a number of self-defense techniques, including making boundaries and barriers between you and a potential assailant, how to assess the level of threat and use the corresponding amount of force, and how a smaller, weaker person can overtake a heavier, more powerful person.
We had a female BJJ practitioner (and librarian — yours truly!) on hand, and the women paired off with each other so no one was in the position of needing to train with a male partner in case they felt uncomfortable. We also provided a self-defense handout for participants to take home.
Following the self-defense course, I taught a Yoga for Trauma class. (People who didn't want to stay after self-defense were welcome to leave.) We dimmed the lights, put our hands on our hearts and our bellies, and honored the parts of ourselves that had been violated, either physically or emotionally (often, sadly, both). We held safe space for our wounds, whether they were old traumas or fresh memories, while we moved through a series of gentle poses, allowing whatever emotions that surfaced to just be.
It was a very special experience, and I was deeply grateful to share the mat with the beautiful spirits of these women in my community. It was a no-cost program for us, since the volunteers supplied everything, and we already had yoga mats (and I was the yoga instructor on staff). But you could easily hire a trauma-informed yoga instructor in your own community and borrow/rent mats from them or a local studio if you don't have your own. Contact your local martial arts academies to find someone to teach self-defense.
There was discussion with the BJJ club following the program of creating a special self-defense class just for women at the gym. There is clearly a want and a need. We also made a corresponding book display of materials about domestic abuse, self-defense and dealing with trauma.
It was a successful and profoundly impactful library event that we plan on offering again this October, until hopefully — someday —we won't need to anymore.