Yoga Practice Off The Mat
Yoga is a practice, an offering. In order to practice yoga, it doesn’t matter how many resources you have or how much training. It doesn’t matter where you live or what you do. Yoga is purely an opening of the heart, an act of love- a gift of presence.
Around the world, many children are born into refugee camps and these camps are the only homes they know. Hundreds of the world’s refugee population reside in camps in Greece. These people risked their lives and families to flee their home countries in search of safety.
Having witnessed the impact of the refugee crisis throughout Europe, I felt a calling to be of service. I wanted to offer what little I could in order to relieve some of the stress and anxiety people in the camps experience, if only for a brief moment in time.
Through Lighthouse Relief, an NGO providing relief to refugees in Greece, I served as a volunteer for three weeks in the Child Friendly Space. For a short time, I was part of a humanitarian effort to provide empowering support to vulnerable groups of refugees such as children and young adults. In this setting, I worked with an amazing team providing psychosocial services to this population.
How does yoga fit into this context? Honestly, I wasn’t sure it did until I saw for myself the way it brought a deep-seated place of calm and inner peace to the residents of Ritsona refugee camp.
When Lighthouse staff and the Ritsona resident volunteers heard there was a yoga teacher in camp, I was so moved by the level on interest. I have honestly never seen more interested and eager students in my life. It was a wonderful gift to be able to share what little I know with them as a means of offering them some small relief in a world full of chaos.
Teaching to the children was fun and playful, happy music in Arabic playing while we held silly poses and made animal sounds. With the preteen girls, I could sense their fearlessness and we worked our way up to practicing handstands in no time. But teaching the young adults, the Resident Volunteers (RV), was the most special experience.
Many of the RVs were much more communicative about their needs and expressed a strong desire to learn more about breathing exercises and meditation. One young man explained sometimes he can’t sleep at night and others described feeling intense anxiety throughout the day as they try to navigate the stresses of living in a refugee camp. With this group, I focused largely on breathwork and meditation. Despite the language barriers, I was able to teach the poses and breathing exercises through demonstration and with the help of our generous translator, Ahmed Badr. For those interested in the practice, the level of concentration among these students was unparalleled.
At the end of my first class with the RVs, I talked about how our actions ripple out and affect each person we meet. I encouraged them to use the sense of inner peace they cultivated in our hour together to go and touch someone else’s life, to offer yet another person a small moment of joy- to see how far that ripple will spread. From their response I have no doubt these young men opened their hearts and offered their presence as an act of love to those they met after class that evening.
I encourage each of you reading this to do the same. While most of us cannot physically serve in a refugee camp, we can share the gift of our presence with those around us. You can also take a few moments to read the residents’ stories of courage and let their strength inspire you to open your heart and love just a little bit more.
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