Emma Hill-French is a yoga teacher offering classes for refugees in London for Tools for Inner Peace. Here is an extract from her blog, Simple Gentle Yoga, where she describes her first time teaching a group of refugee women
The restorative techniques that people at the frontlines use to minimise stress
To release stress, it is often enough to move and stretch our tense, strained bodies while focussing on the breath. The practice of yoga postures or asanas helps develop strength and flexibility, improves balance, and calms the mind. It also has a positive influence on the nervous, immune, digestive and hormonal systems. Practised with subtle awareness, the simplest asanas bring peaceful equilibrium to the body and mind. The effect is calming, energising and grounding. In the words of Swami Satyananda, asanas are “techniques which place the physical body in positions that cultivate awareness, relaxation, concentration and meditation.”
Following the asanas, pranayama or breathing techniques pave the way to relaxation and meditation, bringing the mind to a state of calm alertness and introversion. The breath profoundly affects the state of mind and emotions, as well as physical health. The various techniques, such as abdominal breathing, full yogic breath and classical pranayama, work on the nervous system to bring about vitalising, harmonising or tranquilising effects. Breathing slowly and deeply is the easiest way to activate the rest-and-digest system. The effect can be felt immediately – pranayama soothes frazzled nerves and quiets the anxious mind. With regular practice it works at an even deeper level, reestablishing healthy breathing patterns and teaching us to relax consciously and systematically.
Yoga nidra is a form of relaxation and meditation that allows one to access the deepest realms of consciousness. Scientifically based, it induces a state of deep relaxation that leaves the body and mind refreshed and energised. Half an hour of yoga nidra is equivalent to two hours of conventional sleep. Complete relaxation is a learned skill, especially for people who are often stressed. In yoga nidra, one learns to relax consciously. During the practice, students assume a comfortable posture and remain awake while following spoken instruction. Yoga nidra is a guided technique that helps to release the inner tensions of the body, emotions and mind, helping with managing symptoms of stress, including insomnia. Yoga nidra also relaxes the mind enabling the practitioner to let go and release mental tensions. It removes mental blocks and past conditioning. Eventually, the continued practice of yoga nidra opens and awakens the individual mind and awakens the faculty of intuition. This awakening of inner potential leads to enhanced creativity.
The meditation techniques learned at a Tools for Inner Peace retreat aim to develop the ability to observe thought patterns and feelings without being caught up in them. Meditation brings greater self-understanding, reduces tension and increases clarity of thinking. It is a pathway to inner peace.
Grempoli Retreat – a haven of yoga and simple living. Nestled in the Tuscan hills, Grempoli is a place where people can retreat from busy lives and experience stillness. Retreats in Grempoli involve cooking, gardening, trekking in the surrounding hills and communing with nature. Grempoli is a hamlet of traditional farmhouses where people have been living self-sufficiently for hundreds of years. The property has its own large organic fruit and vegetable gardens and 200 olive trees, which provide much of the food during retreats. Grempoli is located 45 minutes from Florence airport, and 30 minutes from the centre of Florence (easy bus ride from Pisa airport).... read more.
Ahimsa has coordinated weekly classes for war veterans in Australia since 2004. Ahimsa also taught women refugees from Afghanistan, Bhutan and Myanmar, and has worked one-to-one with individuals seeking recovery and healing from the deep pain of trauma. Prior to teaching yoga Ahimsa worked in the media, including in publishing and television. With her interest and experience in writing she began publishing articles and books on yoga. Her latest book, titled Hope: How Yoga Heals the Scars of Trauma, draws on her work with war veterans who have served in Vietnam, the Middle East and other conflicts.
Bryan served as a United States diplomat for 28 years, retiring after postings in Asia and Europe as consul, political officer and deputy chief of mission. In three decades of work in international affairs, he has observed the corrosive effects of stress and trauma on the overall well being of many diplomatic, consular and military colleagues, counterparts in multi-national organisations and NGOs, relatives and friends working in crises and conflicts around the world. He has long benefited from yoga for wellbeing and managing stress; in January 2016 he completed a four-month training at the Bihar School of Yoga in India. He now lives in Vermont with his husband.
Lynn Mooney (Lalitatirtha) teaches yoga to refugees in the Liverpool area. She immersed herself in yoga and spiritual life in 2010 when she went to live at the Anahata ashram in New Zealand for two years. She completed her yoga teacher training at the Mandala ashram in Wales, and is now delivering the practices of yoga to others, especially focusing on those who otherwise would not have access to yoga.