Aimed at disadvantaged, destitute and traumatised women in the Glasgow area our project will be offering "Yoga" - movement, body, mind, emotions, and soul - to unite and empower women. Please see our website: www.circleofwomenyoga.com
Our first project is aimed at female asylum seekers and refugees. Three questions often seem to arise...why yoga? why women? why asylum seekers and refugees?
Why yoga and why women?
Women play an essential (and often overlooked) role in society as individuals, caregivers, mothers & teachers of future generations. It is therefore important to help women to be able to better cope with these roles, using yoga to show women how to cope with stress, anxiety & depression, how to live healthier lifestyles, to develop emotional resilience, to sleep better & develop better body image, enabling people to feel better in their own skins. This knowledge can then be passed onto their children & families.
Yoga can be used as a therapeutic tool to help survivors of gender-based violence: trauma, rape, forced prostitution, female genital mutilation, domestic abuse. As Bessel Van der Kolk, clinical psychiatrist says: "If you are traumatised you are likely to have a distorted relationship to your body. When people are traumatised they become afraid of their own physical sensations: their breathing becomes shallow, they become uptight, frightened about what they feel. While talking, knowing what happened and being able to articulate it is an important part of treatment, the most important part is starting to regain ownership of your body." The project will aim to help women to deal with this through movement and breath, ultimately benefiting society as a whole.
Why asylum seekers and refugees is potentially a more emotive question. I always wonder why not? Rather than looking at asylum seekers and refugees as outsiders who have come to change or steal your society, jobs, money, perhaps we should see asylum seekers and refugees as what they really are...human beings exactly like you and me... but who have suffered the worst kind of trauma, abuse, and conflict. Despite what many people fear most people do not want to leave their lives, family, friends, jobs to come to the UK, yes some people do, but not everyone. Its the same as here, some people want to move to Spain and live a sunny life on the beach, but everyone doesn't want to do that.
Imagine for a moment your life, your family, your friends, your home, your job, your hopes, fears, ambitions, dreams.....
Imagine now that war has erupted, you feel uncertainty, insecurity, you experience and/or you see your family and friends murdered, tortured, raped. Or you decide to speak up against human rights abuses that you don't feel are just, and for this you are imprisoned. Its almost impossible to imagine how you would feel, its not something anyone should have to go through.
Now imagine that, although you might not want to leave your home, friends, family, you have to, so you escape to a far away country which is very different from your own. Here you know no one, you are alone,you can't speak the language, you don't know the culture, the rules, the food tastes weird, you have nowhere to live, no money, and no one believes you, you are scared, you have to repeat what happened to you over and over again, with the threat of being sent back into a troubling situation always hanging over your head. Imagine how this may feel....if this was you...
And now think about how lucky you are to live in a country where you are not imprisoned for your views, there is no war, and you have a passport enabling you to go anywhere you wish. You didn't choose to live here, you just happen to be lucky that you were born here. Why should you have any more entitlements than any other human being just because of your birth place? The asylum seekers who are here are here, and it makes sense to help them to integrate into this society to enable them to deal with the trauma that no one should ever have had to experience, to enable them to exist and communicate in this land, to ultimately make a better more peaceful society.
I was invited to work in a Women's Refuge, teaching Yoga once a week. I was exited, inspired by the work of The Trauma Centre in Brookline who use yoga as a somatic therapy to help people who have suffered from trauma to reclaim their bodies. I felt that yoga would be of great benefit to the women in the refuge to help them cope with what they are going through.
The Wellbeing Officer at the Refuge was also hopeful that it could help, telling me she would be happy even if one person attended the class. At this time of crisis in their lives, many women are trying not to stop, not to think, not to have a moment of silence or to reflect. Yoga then, is very difficult as it requires us to stop, tune into the body, quieten the mind. In her opinion, any activity she could provide to give some relief, relaxation, a moment of tranquillity, that might help even one women was a success and worth a try. I had to agree.
As you might expect the population of refuges is always fluctuating as women move in and out of the flats depending on their current circumstances and needs, this obviously creates a difficult environment, as the women's lives are in a state of flux. Yoga however aims to help us all deal with the many fluxes and changes in our daily lives by giving us the opportunity to find space to be calm and relaxed even if only for an hour.
Why Yoga? How can it help the women in a Refuge?
Reclaiming Your Body after Trauma
Yoga is an age old practice whose aim is to unify the mind, body, breath and spirit, balancing mind and strengthening the body, aiming to keep people in the present moment through movement, breath and stillness of the mind. Yoga enables people to reconnect with their bodies, to regain control of them and the sensations they feel. The asana begin to allow the person to open, starting by physically opening the body. This helps to create the change from survival mode to inner safety, calm and coping.
Yoga can have effects by inviting change, adaptation and growth on all levels – motor, sensory, emotional, immune and psychological. It helps to reach a parasympathetic state. This state helps to activate coping hormones, improve sleep, reduce anxiety, enable the immune system to function better, enable digestion to improve, reset the nervous system; reducing stress and reactivity. As new research is constantly done on the benefits of yoga and exercise in general, researchers are finding what people feel naturally - that movement in general is great for the body, mind and spirit helping people to cope better with daily stress.
"Scientists found that the levels of the amino acid GABA are much higher in those that carry out yoga than those do the equivalent of a similarly strenuous exercise such as walking.
Although all exercise stimulates serotonin, what makes yoga different is the added element of keeping the mind quiet and focused, connecting the breath to movement. In fact, yoga can be thought of as a state, a state of union where everything is connected - mind, body, breath, spirit, so a 'state of yoga' can be achieved in many ways. The yoga that we practice today uses these particular postures to get us into that state. But these postures also help us to open the body, to free the restrictions within it, develop flexibility and strength and reconnect us to ourselves.
Finally yoga can help to develop a sense of community, strength and solidarity through practising together as a group, so for people who may have lost their sense of community this can be a great aid.
I feel privileged to be able to work with this group of women and look forward to my next session with them. It will be interesting to see how many of the same people turn up and if they attend regularly, whilst they stay at the refuge, what benefits they notice.