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.
Van der Kolk’s masterful book, The Body Keeps the Score, charts the journey from talking and drug therapies to approaches such as yoga that help integrate trauma and take off the lacerating edge of painful memories.
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).
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