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Your Resource for ACES Prevention and Georgia Resiliency
  • Writer's pictureRaquel Issenberg

Helping ‘Warriors’ Reclaim Their Spirit

Updated: Aug 20, 2023

Vitarka = applied thought, deliberation, argument. By Raquel Issenberg

In the realm of adversity, there are stories of extraordinary resilience and hope that serve as beacons of inspiration for others. One such remarkable tale is that of Jonalyn Lavarias, a yoga teacher who has transformed a traumatic past into a force for healing and empowerment.

Painful experiences can leave lasting imprints on our minds and bodies, creating a disconnection between our physical and emotional selves.

Lavarias, the voice of the month, found in yoga a transformative tool for addressing trauma-induced disconnection after surviving domestic violence. Now, she has emerged as a symbol of strength, dedicating part of her life to creating awareness and helping women who need support.

One of Lavarias’ poignant remarks during her recent TEDx Savannah talk was: “It is my mission to help victims, survivors and others heal from similar experiences with yoga and meditation. You see, women are often unable to share their stories because of shame, fear, or safety concerns. Connecting with others in a compassionate way can help us build love and compassion toward ourselves again.”.

During our conversations together, Lavarias’ radiant eyes were constantly receptive, emanating warmth and empathy. She has a natural willingness to listen intently and to selflessly share hope on sensitive topics such as physical and emotional abuse. This is her story.

“Yoga was introduced to me by my coworkers in 2006. I joined them one day during our work lunch hour. I had no idea what to expect, but I was hooked from the very first practice. Yoga challenged me in all the right ways, but it also gave me a sense of peace and calm. I originally started practicing to relieve stress from my then job, but as I continued to practice, I found myself drawn to the challenging poses and was eager to learn more.”, she recalled.

A certified yoga instructor, Lavarias has become a driving force who offers empowerment through yoga within the walls of women's shelters and other community settings.

“It wasn't until later in life that I realized yoga was so much more than just a physical practice. It helped me overcome and heal from some of the most difficult and traumatic experiences in my life. It taught me to be more resilient and grounded and always return to my breath when I needed to find peace.

“It became a way of life for me, transforming not just my body, but my mind and spirit as well. Yoga has helped me tremendously through the years and I wanted to share this incredible practice with others, so they too can experience all that yoga has to offer.”, Lavarias explained.

Originally from Eagle River, Alaska, Lavarias' first journey started in 2017, when she embarked on a spontaneous road trip down south without any fixed plans or expectations.

“It was a big decision to leave my hometown in Alaska, but I couldn't handle another long cold winter. I knew it was time for a change. I had just received my yoga certification and was excited to start teaching. After years of working in accounting, I needed a mental break and some time to focus on my personal growth. I didn't have a specific destination in mind, but I knew I wanted to live somewhere warm. I was also excited about exploring Lower America and reconnecting with friends and family during my travels.”, she remembered.

And so, Lavarias ventured deeper into the unknown, a wanderer with an open heart, embracing the uncertainties of life.

“I decided to explore the East Coast and found work in the area, while also teaching yoga whenever possible. It was fortunate that I had family in Florida and Georgia to stay with at first. During this time, I met someone and we traveled together to work at various country clubs following the golf season. Unfortunately, the relationship did not end well.

“I was trapped in an abusive relationship with someone I loved who emotionally and physically abused me. After a year of domestic violence, I ended up in a women’s shelter in South Jersey where my life completely turned around. After a month at the shelter, I was able to get a restraining order and leave the state. Although my family was in Alaska, I didn't want to go back to the cold. So Savannah was my next choice since I knew some people that lived there. They welcomed me into their home which started the healing chapter in my life.”, Lavarias shared.

As the open road narrowed, yoga became a significant tool to help Lavarias’ healing process and other women overcome traumatic experiences. She recognizes that the journey turned into one of finding inner strength through harrowing circumstances and, ultimately, self-discovery.

“My journey through yoga has been nothing short of transformative. When I was with my abuser, I didn't realize how disconnected I became from my yoga practice until I ended up at the women’s shelter. While there, I re-discovered my love for yoga again and really embraced meditation to help get me through. The practice helped me find strength in my mind and body. It was a crucial part of my healing process, and it continues to be today.”, she highlighted.

Today, as a certified Trauma Sensitive Yoga (TSY) teacher, Lavarias has been teaching at local women’s shelters aiming to shed light on the ways in which yoga serves as a compassionate companion on the path to recovery.

“My experience with domestic violence has only reinforced my belief in the power of yoga to help people overcome challenges and find inner peace. I’m passionate about sharing this practice with others so that they too can experience the life-changing benefits of yoga. My dharma (life purpose) is to continue my work of teaching yoga and meditation and speaking about domestic violence awareness. If my story can help even one person find the courage to heal and grow, then I know I’ve made a difference.”, she voiced.

On May 25th, 2023, Lavarias offered a compelling talk for TEDxSavannah about her path, the challenges she faced, and the pivotal moment that sparked her mission “to spread healing and awareness through yoga and meditation. Domestic Violence is a topic that deserves more attention, and I hope to shed light on the signs of abuse so that others can recognize and escape it.”.

During her conference, Lavarias demonstrated how she utilizes the “Warrior” yoga sequence allowing the participants to restore their connection of mind and body as they move through these postures.

“My personal experience has taught me that sharing our stories can inspire and give hope to those who are going through the same struggles. That's why I jumped at the opportunity to apply for TEDxSavannah, where I can reach a larger audience and make a more significant impact. This year's theme is Connection, which perfectly aligns with the work that I do.”.

A Filipino-American woman, Lavarias’ vision for the future is to provide a nurturing environment for survivors to rediscover their strength, reclaim their lives, and embrace a future filled with hope.

“My vision is to make a positive impact on people who have suffered from domestic violence. Everyone has the potential to heal and move forward, and I strive to help individuals find their way to a healthier and happier life. With my company Zenjonalyn, I provide one-on-one guidance/coaching and incorporate holistic wellness such as trauma-informed yoga and meditation, because life after domestic violence can be hard to navigate. My goal is to empower my clients to overcome their past and embrace a brighter future.”, she finalized.

Lavarias is part of the instructors that serve the Savannah Trauma Sensitive Yoga Program and Coalition by Safety & Resilience Programs at Chatham County Net Planning Council, where she has also offered compassionate yoga at the hospice and local high schools.

Jonalyn's story serves as an example of the profound impact one can cause on many through yoga and conscious intention and stands as a testament to the indomitable human spirit.

Reach out to local trauma-sensitive yoga programs or support groups to find a nurturing community on your healing journey. Together, let's stand strong with survivors and build a foundation of hope, strength, and resilience. Ask Jonalyn questions via email, learn more about her projects on Linkedin, or follow her on Instagram @zenjonalyn

If you or someone you know are experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233 or chat with confidential support on their WEBSITE. Speak up!



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