One of my resolutions this year is to practice yoga every day.

Why yoga? Great question!

My 2017 intention was to find balance as a yogi on and off the mat. Reflecting on last year, I learned there will never be a perfect balance in life. I’ve been doing yoga for just over 7 years now and last year I pushed my yoga practice to a whole new level.

Through my work at I Grow Chicago, I watched Shakta Khalsa, founder of Radiant Child Yoga, brilliantly lead yoga classes to preschoolers and police officers in the same day and witnessed the power yoga has to connect us to our selves and others. In April, I completed my 200 hour teacher training through Africa Yoga Project and Baptist Yoga in Kenya, and created lifelong memories and friends through the journey. While in Kenya, I put my body through the most rigorous workouts it had ever been through and also practiced self-inquiry that challenged me more than the on the mat workouts. I learned that I can’t run from myself and my truth.

While my physical yoga practice grew, I learned what off the mat yoga meant for me– finding center in the midst of what’s going on by letting go of the things I can’t control and utilizing my breath to find space to be a platform for hope and healing for myself and others.

At the end August 2017, Baptiste Yoga held an incredibly impactful trauma yoga for youth training at our Peace House. Over the course of the 3 day workshop, I learned just how powerful yoga is in healing trauma. On the last day of the workshop, we got to put our training to the test when there was there was a shooting about halfway down our block. Thankfully no one was hurt in this shooting, but trauma occurred nonetheless.

The drive by that I was in close proximity to on September 8th occurred 10 days after the one during our trauma yoga training. My life changed forever after that day. One thing that I won’t ever forget is I Grow Chicago’s founder, Robbin Carroll, who had been close by a shooting on our block years prior, sharing with me that the trauma I experienced will stay with me forever.

Over the past 5 months, I have experienced symptoms of PTSD.

The first time I was triggered was when I heard someone yelling outside of my house yelling while walking down the street. At one point the man screamed “JUST SHOOT ME.” I immediately laid down on the couch and was prepared to not only dive onto the floor, but also had a plan to pull my husband, Eddy, on the floor with me. I expected the man to be shot and for bullets to fly through my living room window. I had no idea what was happening to me and it took time to realize that it was PTSD.

There have been instances where I have burst into tears while hearing gunshots on TV, knowing full well where the sounds came from, but not having any control over my body’s reaction. Audio from a 911 call on a documentary caused my heart to race and my eyes to water, instantly bringing me back to the 911 call I made after the shooting.

I share all of this because the trauma I experienced is a part of me. In true Erin fashion, I first thought that if I was “strong enough” I could get over the trauma and control the PTSD. If the community I serve, who have heard shots before, seen shootings, or been shot themselves (sometimes on multiple occasions) could get out of bed and show up in the world then I could too. I could put on a brave face. Bravery wasn’t what I needed though, it was love and healing.

In November, yearning for something new, I started doing yoga therapy with Karampal Kaur, an I Grow Chicago board member and co-founder of Sat Nam Yoga in Chicago. She and I worked to help my body process and release the trauma it was holding on to. Through my work with Karampal, I realized that I am indeed whole and complete, something that I had forgotten over the past few months.

I’ve found that since working with Karampal, the experiences of PTSD have decreased. My heart rate still goes up when I am triggered, but when I notice my body tensing I start utilizing my breath and the practices I’ve learned in Kundalini yoga.

I’ve grown as a woman, director, and human because of the trauma I experienced. Breath and nonviolence go hand in hand. That’s my answer to “why yoga?” and that’s why I am committed to practicing it every day. Yoga is my way of choosing myself and my work everyday. Yoga is one of the ways I practice self care and how I can continue to be a clearing for the healing and greatness of those that I serve.