When I asked Exhale to Inhale’s Executive Director, Kimberly Campbell, to share a bit about the nonprofit’s roots, her voiced immediately sparked as described Zoë LePage, Exhale to Inhale’s founder. Zoë was a senior at Barnard College when she created Exhale to Inhale— a nonprofit that utilizes yoga as a means to heal survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Kimberly said the main question the organization receives is, “Why yoga?”.
A question the organization is “proud to answer”, a lifelong practitioner of yoga, Zoë had a handful of friends who had experienced intimate partner violence and sexual assault — she wanted to help them reclaim their lives and bodies with the healing, grounding practice of yoga. The name Exhale to Inhale came from Zoë’s belief that, “sometimes we need to exhale that which is holding us back in order to open ourselves up to new possibilities.”
After completing her yoga teacher training, Zoë partnered with teachers eager to give back to their community — teachers like Exhale to Inhale’s President, Amy Tobin. Today, the organization’s team includes leading women in New York’s yoga and advocacy communities, trauma-informed teachers, and local partners.
Fast-forward two years and Exhale to Inhale now offers approximately three-hundred classes a year at twenty partner facilities. Year-to-date, four-hundred women have attended the classes offered at domestic violence shelters and community organizations throughout New York City, upstate New York, Long Island, and Connecticut. Many of these students return, in 2015, eight-hundred students signed in for Exhale to Inhale’s classes. Kimberly said, “it makes us feel good that people are carving out time for this and coming back” — especially since a majority of these women currently live in a transitory, unstable environment.
Exhale to Inhale sees yoga as a life-skill — a foundation for creating an empowered life, full of holistic, healthy choices. The women attending the trauma-informed classes learn to reconnect with their bodies — they learn to make their bodies a safe place again though listening to its messages in a protected space.
“[Our students] learn to stay in the moment and breathe. [When they] have to go to court and face their abusers, they breathe and it centers them enough to get through that moment…”, Kimberly shared.
Exhale to Inhale’s classes are specially designed for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault — they are not the same as classes offered at public yoga studios. Lights are always left on during practice and the instructor is cognizant of the environment during pre-class set-up to ensure everyone can see a door and mats are positioned against a wall, if possible. Teachers use invitational language — for instance, “if it’s comfortable for you, reach your arms over head.” The instructors do not offer adjustments and they stay on their mat or at the front of the space, unless announced.
In addition to providing classes and advocacy for the survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, Exhale to Inhale is focused on sustaining and caring for the staff and volunteers that work in the field. Given the sensitive and emotional nature of their work, Kimberly said, “we want to expand in a really smart and effective way… it’s really tough work… to go into a shelter and hold space in that way… we want to make sure our teachers feel supported.”
Kimberly also shared she was excited to go speak at a high school’s Feminist Club meeting in the next couple of weeks — whether it’s through yoga or high school classroom, raising awareness with survivors and beyond is Exhale to Inhale’s mission.