A Healing Journey
Yasmine Aker, an actress and activist, singer and songwriter, now based in LA, was born in Dubai to Iranian parents and later moved to Canada, experiencing trauma and breakdown along the way. Here, she shares key aspects of her healing journey
Reading time: 6 minutes
Iranian-American actress and grassroots activist Yasmine Aker is passionate about women's rights and human rights, as well as the environment and mental health advocacy. A survivor of sexual and physical abuse, and an example of resilience, she has used yoga and other trusted wellbeing practices for years to light her path along a healing journey after trauma and breakdown. A keen yoga and meditation practitioner, here, she says sometimes our struggle and our suffering can often turn out to be one of our greatest gifts.
Can you tell us about your early days growing up?
I was born in Dubai, before it became the renowned travel and business hub it is today. I was the youngest of five children, living in a small two-bedroom home with additional rooms upstairs for guests and my mother’s home hair salon.
Since my parents had me later in life, much of my care was entrusted to a live-in nanny. While my parents focused on their careers and had already raised my older siblings, I spent my days mostly with the nanny, exploring the neighbourhood, our kitchen and home, or watching soaps on tv.
Although I had a close bond with my biological family and shared meals and religious events with them, my nanny, Zarineh, from Pakistan, played a constant role in my life. She was unable to have children herself and supported her husband and his other wife and children in her hometown. My nanny was a source of joy in my childhood; I adored her pleasant disposition and humour A series of unfortunate events unfolded, leading to my father’s unlawful detainment in Iran due to his Baha'i faith, which eventually resulted in our immigration to Canada. Sadly, we had to move without my nanny, and I have longed to be reunited with her ever since. I was never able to locate her or speak to her again.
What was the trigger point for your breakdown and subsequent healing journey?
A series of events, including an MS misdiagnosis, my father's death, my divorce, and the news of the loss of my nanny, led to a nervous breakdown. This marked the start of my healing journey, where I explored various modalities like yoga, meditation, therapy, and alternative medicines. My therapist told me I had been ignoring my feelings and had to “feel my feelings,” but I had no idea what that actually meant. Not knowing I’m on the autism spectrum and denying my ADHD diagnosis made it that much more difficult to fully understand my feelings.
I had been living my whole life avoiding the painful trauma of being physically abused, being molested as a child by a member of our religious community when I was five, losing my nanny at nine, being unintentionally abandoned by my parents at 14, and experiencing sexually assault as a teenager and again in my twenties. My unwillingness to process the impact of all that had happened caused my physical body to get sick. And this is when I started my healing journey, in my 30s.
What did you learn then that could help others experiencing challenges?
Find your people. More than anything in the world, find your people. Find supportive people who inspire you, who feel safe, who relate to you, who celebrate you, and who find your presence a gift rather than an obligation or bother. Flowers grow best in fertile soil, and we are all flowers; our environment and friends are our soil.
How did yoga and meditation play a part in your wellness journey?
I left no stone unturned. My quest led me to various forms of yoga, therapy, meditation and alternative medicines, including reiki certification, TRE (trauma release exercise) classes, mindfulness practice, music therapy, Ayahuasca and psilocybin ceremonies, silent retreats, becoming a Zen Buddhist and more. I did yoga daily — from your regular garden variety yoga, to hot yoga, moksha yoga, acro-yoga, kundalini yoga, and delved into all kinds of meditation, from simple visualisation and body scans to Vipassana and walking meditation, among many others.
There is no silver bullet and no two people are the same, so I recommend trying various modalities to see what works best for you. For me, the most powerful therapies included: TRE, singing and chanting, Zen meditation, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) and TMS (transcranial stimulation). I share my experiences openly and even offer workshops that integrate multiple healing approaches such as sound, movement, meditation, and mental health tools to help empower others to actively participate in their wellness.
You have mentioned that suffering can turn out to be a gift. Can you elaborate on this?
My suffering is a gift; it is the catalyst for my offerings. While unfortunate events are not caused by us, how we choose to navigate and transmute our suffering is within our control. Viewing suffering as an invitation to heal and subsequently sharing that healing with others, can lead to transformative growth not just for ourselves but to those around us. My suffering is my gift to the world around me.
Any tips for people who may be struggling with their own trauma or other challenges?
I urge you to be gentle with yourself and treat yourself with compassion. Creating safe spaces and boundaries is essential for healing. Seek safe people and environments and trust in yourself. During the darkest hours of hopelessness, remember to pause. Pause and ask for help. Your future self will thank you.
Radical acceptance can be cultivated. Being on the autism spectrum, I often find myself faced with a myriad of textures, sounds, tastes, and environments I do not prefer. Life doesn't always align with our preferences. So, my favourite mantra to say to myself to help me radically accept the present moment is, “Heech Chiz Beh Joz Een Neest” which is Farsi for “there is nothing else but this, this, is all there is”. This reminds me to allow whatever is happening to happen and to find a way to experience that moment without avoidance, denial, or escape.
Yasmine Aker, an actress and activist, singer and songwriter, now based in LA, was born in Dubai to Iranian parents and later moved to Canada, experiencing trauma and breakdown along the way. Here, she shares key aspects of her healing journey.
Follow Yasmine Aker on Instagram @iamyasi