Susan Metwali introduces a 30 minute practice especially for Refugee Week: gently moving your body, breath and voice, to relax, ground, release, energise and alter your emotional response to a present situation.
Although I would not call the sequence in my video, ‘Yoga’ in the classical sense, it does have elements that are in line with that tradition.
Yoga means yoked or joined together, united. It is actually a state of being where the body, mind and spirit are coming together to make us complete.
So in this practice that I have put together, physical movement, breathing and using the voice to create a vibration that engages our attention, there is a chance to let go of negative emotion and be more at ease.
When we feel afraid, anxious or vulnerable, our breath will be shallow and quickened. Just slowing the breathing has a physiological effect that will result in us feeling more relaxed. Using breathing and body weight to make more contact with the earth helps to ground us, we feel stronger and rooted.
Attention to the practice, including acknowledging how we actually feel, helps us to worry less about the future. Physically opening and stretching allows the person to experience some sort of freedom.
The Yoga classes that I taught in Hammersmith before I moved to Egypt were for women only. Many of the women who attended where from Africa and the Middle East. Normally outside the home many of them wore hijab and abaya. Apart from coming to their English classes their time was spent mainly at home or going shopping. I’m sure many felt very isolated and missed the social and cultural activities of their homelands.
It was important that the classes where accessible and they were thankfully funded by another organisation. They took place in the school which they were use to coming to for ESOL and the room could not be seen into either through windows or the door. So they felt safe and were able to wear less clothing and practise without head or face covering.
With time they became less self conscious, they enjoyed stretching and reaching out into the spaces around them. The Yoga asanas (postures) helped to make them stronger and the quieter floor based work brought real relaxation. Backaches and shoulder pains started to disappear for some. However what really inspired me the most was the sense of fun and the laughter that came into the class.
They loved to practise sometimes in pairs where one person provides support in order for the other to stretch out. They would joke that if their family members could see them, they would be amazed.
I was able to include some language tuition in the class. I provided diagrams and did some simple preparation before each class with regard to vocabulary and use of the imperative case for those who needed it.
I chose not to focus on the philosophy of Yoga or use of Sanskrit language.
The wonderful thing about a Yoga practice is that it can be tailored to the individual needs of the student. There is no such thing as being ‘good at Yoga’, it is a journey that brings rewards with every moment of practice.