Thesis Part 2: Research Begins–Expect the Unexpected

This evening, I had my first class at the local domestic violence organization. For most of the students, it was their first class too–ever. Some had heard of yoga but none knew what it was or what to expect.

I understood their mindset all too well. I remember when I left my abusive situation and started taking yoga classes at Southwest Institute of Healing Arts (SWIHA). Though I come from an Indian heritage with plenty of active years in ashrams and yoga classes, at that time, I was lost and confused. I was alone.

I remember asking the receptionist several times about all sorts of things from, “will the teachers be understanding?” and “will you tell them about me?” to “which class should I take?”.

I kept saying “I’m not new to yoga and but can hardly walk these days”. It took me a few days to get started, because I wasn’t sure if I could afford it.

As a newly separated single woman going through divorce, I was trying to figure out my finances. SWIHA offered some really great monthly and 6-month deals, but even then, I wasn’t sure. They let me try it out first; I think I went to 3 classes before I decided that yoga would be a good thing for me.

I could afford it because not only did I have the financial means (thanks to a good education and a great job at Junior Achievement of Arizona), I had plenty of hours to fill in the evenings. Plus, yoga paid me back in kind: it relaxed me, restored me, rejuvenated me, and connected me back to my true self.

I was scared too, because I didn’t know what to expect. What if I couldn’t make it through the class? What if the teacher wasn’t nice? What if I didn’t want to be pushed?

Eventually, I was pushed– enough to get certified to teach! And that is why I came back to this community now, for my master’s thesis.

Research with this group is a little tricky: just like the students don’t know what to expect out of yoga class, you don’t know what to expect in terms of the class. The nature of domestic violence causes the population is transient.

Ever-changing, you never know how many people are going to show up, or whom they will be. You don’t know what they’ll be going through in that moment.

However, armed with plenty of copies of surveys, I actually found a research assistant in a young girl who wanted to join the class. Ten-year old Amelia* stapled surveys, folded journals, and greeted students for me–allowing me a few moments to destress and recenter myself.

A research assistant always helps a researcher. They can take care of the little details that allow you to start doing a few other things, such as planning, observing, and getting to know the human subjects you’ll be dealing with.

We had a large sign up (over 30) but not quite as many showed up. Though the class turned out to be small, it paved the way for a casual introduction and survey time, allowing students to complete the paperwork leisurely, and to ask me questions. Some students told me that it would be better to have questionnaires in Spanish (with the help of the shelter, I will get this done soon!)

Since it was a beginner level class with students of all ages (10-60), and at least one person mentioned stress reduction, I decided to make it fun. I tried creating little scenes and stories, like cats chasing butterflies, to help move from one pose to another. At the end of class, I asked for verbal feedback, and heard that students wanted to learn more poses. So I gave them a quick quiz and asked them to recall the poses from the evening. Together, they got about 6 or 7 out of 25 or so.

Not bad for a first class!

*psuedomyns will be used to protect the students’ confidentiality.

9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lester
    Sep 02, 2010 @ 02:51:18

    Great start, Sowmya – thanks for doing this project, and for sharing it.


  2. Jane DeLong
    Sep 02, 2010 @ 04:50:43

    Very interesting to read Sowmya. This will be a fantastic project!!


  3. Vickie
    Sep 02, 2010 @ 05:08:58

    Hey Sowmya,
    Congrats! What a terrific experience for the ladies from a terrific person. =)
    I am so proud of you.


  4. Hari Kaur
    Sep 02, 2010 @ 08:32:04

    KUNDALINI YOGA TRAINING PROGRAM starting in NYC this October!! Join internationally renowned yoga teacher Hari Kaur Khalsa, author of A Woman’s Book of Yoga (Penguin), for a nine-month intensive program that will transform your life, deepen your practice, and open up new career paths. This is an amazing opportunity to study with a master! For more info, send email to


    • sowmyaayyar
      Sep 02, 2010 @ 11:27:42

      Namaste. I am so grateful for your visiting my blog and thinking about yoga. You know, because you are a Kundalini teacher yourself, how important it is that we start thinking, breathing, and living yoga.

      I am actually going to publish a post this weekend requesting recommendations for classes, courses, studios around the world…. Is there anyway I can wait to approve your comment? (I am new to blogging so I’m not 100% sure about how everything works–however I have a great community support group!). (I am actually not sure why i have to approve all the comments).

      Smiles! 🙂 sowmya


  5. Nicole
    Sep 02, 2010 @ 12:02:14

    You are amazing, Sowmya 🙂


  6. WON
    Sep 03, 2010 @ 04:08:43

    Vanakam Sowmya,

    Thanks for the great piece of write up. Indeed it is fascinating.


  7. Nancy Van Pelt
    Sep 06, 2010 @ 06:47:48

    Sowmya, I am enjoying your blog and imagining you and your class.
    Glad you are healthy and happy and still sharing your fabulous gifts with all of us.


  8. Donna Bartos
    Sep 09, 2010 @ 18:56:42

    Way to go, Sowmya! After reading your blog it is clear that you have found your calling. What a beautiful gift to give to so many who deserve and need a boost of peace, healing and hope!!! Awesome!


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Word of the Week

Namaste. This section will begin to explore sanskrit terminology associated with yoga. First word: Namaste. This is a salutation, "I salute the light within you that is within me also."
For more information, see:

News on Domestic Violence

Since I've been blogging about yoga and domestic violence, I thought I would share Dr. Phil's stories as well. The television icon is asking people to break the silence!
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