Exhale to Inhale

year 2, week 26:  this week i'm gonna... support healing through yoga

At a domestic violence emergency shelter in the Bronx, seven women enter the room dressed in jeans and T-shirts. They choose a yoga mat and certified yoga instructor Tara Tonini crosses the room to deadbolt the door.

For the next hour, Tonini guides the women through a 60-minute trauma-informed yoga class. Exhale to Inhale classes are different than a typical yoga class -- the three main goals of any ETI yoga class are choice making, simplicity, and safety. In keeping with the Exhale to Inhale methodology, Tonini uses invitational language and offers options for each form. She doesn’t play music, she leaves the lights on, she doesn’t offer physical adjustments, and she teaches from her mat. ETI classes provide students a safe place to connect with their bodies, recognize how movements make them feel emotionally and physically, make choices for themselves based on these feelings, and act on those choices.

While many of us take the idea of being in tune with our bodies for granted, this is a feeling that may be difficult for trauma survivors.

“It is a privilege to see how nourished these women are by yoga,” says Tonini. "We create a clear, quiet space for women who basically have left their old lives and are at the shelter seeking to establish a new life. The shelters are places of high risk. We lock the door and for one hour they are able to experience a sense of safety."

The women have sought refuge and safety at the shelter, fleeing homes where they have been victims of abuse. Many have left with only the clothes on their backs. But, thanks to Exhale to Inhale, a New York City-based non-profit, for one hour a week, the shelter offers yoga instruction and provides babysitting services for their children so that they can find relaxation and center themselves.

Tonini, now the program director for Exhale to Inhale, was one of the first to volunteer to teach yoga classes through ETI. She is no stranger to the heightened states of anxiety, sleep disturbances, and isolation that linger for survivors of domestic violence.

Tara Tonini

Tara Tonini

At age 26, Tonini discovered yoga as a means of recovery from a violent relationship. “I was in a terrible relationship where eventually he went to jail,” she says. “I discovered the practice of yoga and its healing power to make me whole again. Yoga was my lifeline.”



Exhale to Inhale (ETI) empowers those affected by domestic violence and sexual assault to transform their lives. ETI uses the healing practice of trauma informed yoga to empower survivors, while helping communities to develop skills and knowledge to support them. Exhale to Inhale brings yoga to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in New York, Connecticut, and Los Angeles through free weekly classes at shelters and community-based organizations. They believe that survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault can feel strong and safe in their bodies, and when they do, they can help to end the cycle of violence in their families and communities.

Please watch the video below to learn more about Exhale to Inhale.

Exhale to Inhale got its start on a college campus. Passionate yoga practitioner and instructor Zoe LePage, a student at Barnard College at the time, brainstormed the idea for part of a social action project she was conducting through the college’s Athena Center for Leadership.

Zoe LePage

Zoe LePage

“The project’s mandate was ‘to go affect change in the world,’” says LePage, who now works full-time as an organizational consultant. “I knew I wanted to do something with yoga because of how much it made me feel strong and safe and beautiful in my body. I had a family member and a few friends who were domestic violence survivors, and I was so shocked by the horrible things that were done to these women I loved the most. I realized it could happen to anyone, and this just seemed an opportunity to give back from what yoga had done for me.”

LePage reached out to fellow yoga instructors at Yoga Works in Irvington, NY and before long, yoga instructors from throughout Westchester County and New York City were signing up to offer classes. All teachers volunteer their time.

LePage says, “We’re here to help women shift their perspective from victim to strong survivor. We tell them, ‘You are still here. You are strong and you are beautiful.'”

Tara Tonini recounts the power of an ETI class: “A woman came to the yoga classes for about five weeks using a cane, and on the sixth week, (she) walked in without her cane. Women who have been hurt by abuse have no idea how hurt they are on all levels. We give them hope to heal.


Notes for this week:

  • June 21st was International Yoga Day!
  • Our collective givetwig donation will sponsor a month of yoga classes for survivors.
  • For more information regarding Exhale to Inhale, please check out their website.

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