Mind, body and community: The potential for yoga as mental health and psychosocial support in emergency contexts Jessica Stone Lebanon is home to approximately 1.5 million refugees, numbering roughly a quarter of the entire population—the highest proportion in the world. Many Syrian refugees in Lebanon have witnessed or experienced physical, psychological or sexual violence, and continue to experience food insecurity, discrimination and social isolation. Reports of traumatic flashbacks, uncontrollable emotions, hopelessness, despair, and unusual physical and mental exhaustion are also common, as are high rates of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (1). Women in particular are increasingly exposed to sexual assault, interpersonal violence and survival sex work in the settlements (2), yet there are few mental health services available for Syrians in Lebanon (3), and even fewer that cater to women’s needs. To address these challenges, the organisation Tools for Inner Peace has been implementing a yoga program for mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) in informal tented settlements and community centres in the Beqaa Valley region since 2017. This program supports women to
In a podcast with Danielle Begg, founder of The Yoga Impact Charity, Mantramala (Minna Jarvenpaa) tells a bit of her own story and how Tools for Inner Peace was born. They also talk about how yoga touches people from diverse backgrounds, how Tools for Inner Peace navigates cultural and religious boundaries, and share ideas about making change in the world. Click here to listen to the podcast. Yoga With Impact is a podcast interviewing experts sharing yoga and healing practices in diverse communities.
Help Spread Yoga to Lebanon’s Disadvantaged Communities Tools for Inner Peace has reached a milestone in Lebanon. We have gone from one roving yoga teacher with a translator to a team that includes three Arabic speaking trainers. Our amazing trainers – Zena, Sandy and Cara – are now seeking support to put three more aspiring yogis from the younger generation firmly onto the transformative path of yoga and community service. The plan is to offer three scholarships for a year-long training with three residential immersions at the Satyananda Yoga Academy in Europe. In return, scholarship recipients commit to offering their time and skills to communities in need inside Lebanon. The minimum requirement is two hours of weekly service throughout the year during which the scholarship is being offered. This initiative comes at a time when people all around Lebanon are coming together across sectarian lines, with an awareness of the needs of disadvantaged communities: “Today, the entire nation is gearing up for change. Everyone is called upon to define their role and do their part. As yoga teachers
Shukreya, one of our yoga trainees in Bekaa valley, Lebanon, asked for videos of the yoga practices she was learning. She does not know how to read or write, but has a quick mind and absorbs everything she is taught. Eager to share the the yoga practices that she learns with her neighbours in the refugee settlement, we had chosen her as one of a select group of yoga trainees who would be taught to teach yoga to others. To respond to Shukreya’s request, we produced a set of Classical Yoga videos, with Arabic language dubbing, during the spring 2020 lockdown. These videos have also been shared to other refugee communities in Bekaa valley through our partners at Salam LADC and ClimbAid. We hope these videos will also be useful other Arabic speakers and for yoga teachers working with Arabic speaking refugees across Europe and the world. Click here to access the playlist of Arabic language yoga videos on our YouTube channel. You can find our English language playlists by clicking here.
Meet Lynn Mooney (Lalitatirtha). She is our energetic Tools for Inner Peace teacher who has launched four new refugee yoga classes across Liverpool since summer 2018. “My immersion in yoga and spiritual life began in 2010 when I went to live for two years at the Anahata ashram in New Zealand. The emphasis there was on serving others. We ourselves had warm comfortable beds, nourishing food and daily yogic practices. Even the hard mental struggles I went through in the ashram had a beauty to them; they allowed me to grow a little more and to release and let go. The holistic lifestyle of the ashram turned my life around completely. I wanted to offer the experience of yoga practices to others, so in 2015 I began my training to teach yoga at the Mandala ashram in Wales. “I believe that every human being’s needs should be met. We all need love, security, food and a warm bed. We are not separate from one another, although it can feel that way with isolation and loneliness rapidly growing
Training held in Bekaa valley, Lebanon RYE UK and Tools for Inner Peace 23-25 October 2017 & 4-6 April 2018 Children in crisis All children arrive in the world untainted and open. They are sensitive to every influence, behaviour and emotion around them. This can be seen in their often uncanny ability to sense the unknown, their natural responsiveness to the feelings of people around them, and their sponge-like ability to absorb language and information. There is a spark of the divine in children that needs nurturing. A good home environment and contact with positive people, ideas and experiences gives them a good start in life. The flip-side of children’s openness is that their sensitivity also makes them vulnerable. Even in families living in physical safety and material comfort, children can become lost. Parents who lack self-awareness pass on to their children their own expectations, frustrated ambitions, anxieties and dissipation. At the extreme, living in harsh circumstances where the grown-ups are frightened, themselves broken by material hardship, or undergoing intense emotional and mental suffering can
Do you know of a refugee or asylum seeker group in the UK that would benefit from simple, gentle yoga classes to promote their mental and emotional wellbeing? We have been offering free yoga classes to UK-based refugees since the beginning of 2016. Our classes focus on gentle relaxation and restorative practices that are accessible to participants of all ages and levels. We are currently offering classes in London, Liverpool and Northumberland. To meet the widespread need, our project is also training additional yoga teachers in the the therapeutic use of yoga to alleviate suffering and release trauma. Our weekend workshops are expected to resume in 2022. “Yoga is my medicine. I would rather go to yoga than take even one paracetamol.” – Feedback form, Liverpool participant, 2019 If you know of a group that would benefit from a free refugee yoga class in your local area, please write to Tools for Inner Peace with details of the group you would like to work with. We can cover a teaching stipend for a teacher if
“Peace begins with a smile” In an unprecedented and intensifying flood, 60 million people around the world have become refugees, often escaping war in places like Afghanistan Sudan, Syrian and now Myanmar. Of these as many as 50% suffer from trauma and mental health problems. To respond to this need, Tools for Inner Peace has focused on offering free refugee yoga classes. Our first classes for refugees were launched in London in 2016; from the beginning of 2017 we decided to take this work to Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Yoga is a simple, cheap and effective means of trauma recovery. It soothes the nervous system; relaxes the body and mind; and brings peace and inner clarity. Those we work with – whether in London or in Lebanon – are finding solace in yoga. Their open smiles at the end of each class testify to the benefits. Here is how a refugee from Afghanistan described her experience of this summer’s Restorative Retreat for refugee women: To expand this work and make yoga accessible to refugees everywhere,
Of the 60 million refugees in the world as many as 50% suffer from trauma and mental health problems. Those we work with – whether in London or in Lebanon – are finding solace in yoga. Their open smiles at the end of each class testify to the benefits.
Tools for Inner Peace trustee and founder, Minna Järvenpää, has written a blog post for Missing in the Mission, a blog site about the process of taking of ourselves and each other by aid workers, for aid workers.