Introducing our final Inspiring Women of 2022, Emily Dougherty! Emily is the Founder of Embodied Brilliance, which offers Trauma-Sensitive Yoga for self-empowerment and connection.
Tell us a little about what you do?
[R]elatively speaking, I first found trauma-sensitive yoga—found out that it was a thing—in early 2018. That was right at the time [when] I…was certified to teach yoga, which is something I’d been wanting to do for probably a decade at that point… I don’t think this is a coincidence by the universe, by any means, but I was also, at that time, realizing my own trauma. And, in identifying with being a survivor of complex trauma, which I can talk about what that is, and everything developmental trauma… I was coming to a point in my personal life, that met my work-life… [S]o, these two things, personal development and professional development, met at the same time. I just knew instantly…“This is what I want to do”. And, there weren’t a lot of trainings out there, to be quite honest. This is still a pretty new practice, as far as the label of trauma-sensitive yoga. I think yoga in its essence is trauma-sensitive. It just doesn’t always come out that way, particularly in the West…So, I actually think trauma-sensitive yoga is probably getting…back to that essence of what yoga is supposed to be…a practice of healing. Since then, I’ve taken other trainings. Most recently, during the pandemic, I took my 300-hour training…through the Center for trauma and an embodiment. So, I’m now certified to teach a specific model of trauma-sensitive yoga… [and I’m] sort of just emerging now, with this new work. I’ve taught classes, and I’ve done a lot of trauma-sensitive classes, just not with this new kind of model and certification under my belt.
“[Yoga] is really a practice of healing”
Can you explain the different types of trauma that people experience?
So, if you look at the different definitions of trauma, there’s acute trauma or shock trauma. It’s called acute trauma, shock trauma, or single incident trauma, they’re all names for one particular type of trauma, which is one single incident that happens. Trauma can also be defined as like something that happens too much, too fast, too soon. And, it’s the way that it affects your nervous system; your brain’s ability to process what’s happening, it processes it in a different way than if something is not traumatic. So the pandemic is a single incident. But, I think it’s also chronic because it continues to happen… I heard someone explain it as like, shock trauma is you get in a car accident, complex or chronic trauma is you get in a car accident every week, and you just start to know that you’re going to get in a car accident. It’s still shocking, but it’s not out of the blue…Chronic trauma is just long-term trauma that occurs over a period of time. Complex trauma includes chronic trauma, and it can also include developmental trauma, which is when you grow up…in that kind of chronic traumatic environment, where there’s an abuse of power between you and your caregiver…And that’s really where my focus is, with developmental trauma.
“…shock trauma is you get in a car accident, complex or chronic trauma is you get in a car accident every week”
How do trauma-sensitive yoga and mindfulness help with developmental or complex trauma?
[T]here’s a researcher, Judith Herman, and she says the key component of psychological trauma is disempowerment and disconnection. Therefore, what helps to heal that type of trauma is empowerment and connection. So…[with] trauma-sensitive yoga what we now know is that trauma is stored in your body. When something comes into your world via [our] senses—we pick up things from the external world through our senses… If something is metabolized essentially within yourself as a trauma, and it ends up settling in your nervous system, it goes on a different path than like something would normally go through in your brain. … So often, when someone comes in, and they’re a survivor of complex trauma, you lose something called interoception. Or, it might be something that you never gained in the first place… [Its] essentially understanding your internal sensations in your internal world, and then being able to make choices in your life based on those sensations… [So] the idea, again, is empowerment and connection. If someone is working with me, I’m trying to set up a space … [where] they might feel safe and supported enough to start to make choices, and not have to worry about is it the right choice. Then what mindfulness can add is using different techniques like Emotional Freedom Technique, or tapping…, Chinese acupressure philosophy, … positive affirmations…, essentially blending a lot of these practices that, not just learned can be helpful, but have actually helped me.
What is an accomplishment that you’re most proud of?
In my life…I mostly just had jobs before… But, I really do feel like finding this work has been one of my most significant accomplishments, particularly, the last training that I did, the 300-hour training. It was like, the better part of the year, pretty intense learning while simultaneously processing things on my own. … And I would say over the last 10 years, I’ve probably been through a couple of those cycles, a couple…of “dark night of the soul” where it’s just like, “What you’re doing”, “You can’t do this”, “You’re not qualified to do this” …definitely imposter syndrome. … I think there was something about this program because most of the people—I don’t know how many people there were, maybe over 100 people in this program—probably 90% of them would also consider themselves survivors. So you’re sort of simultaneously learning this beautiful practice that can help others and then you’re all kind of supporting each other through it while you’re kind of having your dark night of the soul… So I would say, just connecting to a big group of like-minded people in that way has been one of the most significant, and really healing and empowering experiences so far. I hope not the last one, but I would say so far that’s probably been the biggest thing.
“ I really do feel like finding this work has been one of my most significant accomplishments”
How do you define success?
I would say leading from your heart is my gauge of whether something is successful, regardless of the outcome. Because, one thing I feel like has happened so many times, but it’s a lesson you have to keep learning, is that you can’t do things based on your perceived outcome of what should happen. And so, I don’t think success is about the outcome, it’s about the journey. It’s about doing the thing in every step of the way, versus just getting to that outcome that is going to supposedly define your success. I think leading from your heart regardless of the outcome would be my dictionary.com submission for it.
If you could go back in time, what wisdom or guidance would you share with your younger self?
So, it was so foggy for me back then, but I think even amidst all the fog I would try to encourage myself to trust my gut. To trust that inner voice. Because I see so many times where I didn’t and whether that was because I was trying to people please…or just whatever it was…at this point, I’ve given myself grace for it… [So] I think, even through all of that, there was this voice that was trying to guide me and I just couldn’t hear it. So now…a lot of the spiritual practices I have are just to keep things quiet enough, where I can hear that voice. And, it doesn’t steer me wrong. That’s what I would tell my younger self.
Learn more about Emily Dougherty’s mission and connect with her on social media:
Nominated by Jennifer Vitak
“Emily inspires me deeply with how calm and gentle her spirit is. She is such a loving, kind, generous soul who knows how to put up boundaries to protect her sacred energy. She is a one-of-a-kind yoga teacher and healer. She is a gem of a friend to have and I want to be like her when I grow up!”
Why Emily Dougherty is On this List
“We adore Emily! Emily has connected with most of the BrandSwan team at some time or other and we’ve all benefitted from her yoga classes and wisdom. She also inspires us with her kindness and desire to help people process and overcome their trauma.”
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