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Anne Esguerra is a certified yoga therapy practitioner (c-IAYT) and group facilitator in Portland, where she offers one-on-one, partner, and group sessions under the banner Integrative Life Therapy. But what distinguishes Esguerra from others in her field is the way her work intersects with recovery, healing from trauma, and restorative justice work.

An affiliate of the Portland trauma-informed yoga therapy group Sea Change Yoga, who trained with the Washington-based Yoga Behind Bars, Esguerra has led yoga therapy and communication workshops with incarcerated young people at Long Creek Youth Development Center with Maine Inside Out. With Integrative Life Therapy, Esguerra’s begins facilitating two distinct-yet-related workshops this week: one the trauma-informed practice “Thrive Women,” and another a men’s group called “Own My Shift.”

We spoke about why yoga, embodiment, and touch can be useful for people navigating this cultural moment.

Can you give me some of the background of how you came to yoga therapy?

Sure. Some directors I work with refer to it as “bringing the body to therapy.” Our body has more knowledge than we give it credit for. I can’t tell you how many times I come across people who say they’re fine, but their whole body is not okay. What’s missing there?

Some of that seems specific to Maine winters, right?

Yeah, in New England, there’s such harsh weather, but it’s also just not a touching culture. I’m a person who likes touch. That’s how I ended up coming to the work. I worked in commercial photography for years and sat behind a desk for 60+ hours a week, so I definitely lacked human connection. We’re beings, that’s what we need to survive, human connection.

Did you feel like that was missing from other yoga practices around here?

Yes and no. I also feel that not everybody should be laying their hands on people. What we really want to be doing is empowering people. What is it like for people to be inside their bodies?

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How is a men’s group like “Own My Shift” embedded in the cultural conversation about masculinity?

The majority of my clientele are men, and men who don’t have a yoga practice. Why is that? Why am I somebody that men are comfortable with? I have two brothers, the majority of my cousins are boys. It’s normal for me to be in a space with men. But for a lot of women it’s triggering. What would it be like to lead a group of men — as a woman of color in Maine — and just say you guys can come as you are? To be willing to look at who you are right now? The more the #MeToo movement was happening, the more I saw men in my life retract. [I’d hear] Well, I don’t wanna piss anybody off, and I don’t want to do or say the wrong thing, and if I’m the face of the person that’s doing the offense, then I don’t even know how to be around that. Can that be part of the practice of learning? We’re all in this transition, how can we be okay with not really knowing what to do?

Is there anything in this work that feels particularly challenging or sensitive to men?

I was sick and tired of seeing men choose to do this sort of work and be placed in a circle of women and literally be the only trigger. To me, it wasn’t fair. How can you be a single man in a circle of 20 to 30 women feeling as if you were at fault, purely just by being a man? Triggers will continue to exist, but they don’t have to be that same one all the time. Doing your work doesn’t mean you have to do all the work for the sake of the gender you identify with. That shouldn’t be placed on one person’s shoulders. Being the single person of color in a lot of these circles, I know what that feels like. It’s exhausting. 

"Thrive Women: 6-week trauma-informed yoga therapy session" | Feb 27-April 3 | Wed 6:30-8 pm | Fort Andross Mill, 14 Maine St, Ste 309, Brunswick 

"Own My Shift: 6-week men's group" | Feb 28-April 4 | Thu 7:30-9:30 pm | Stonecoast Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, 131 Johnson Rd, Portland

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