We chose the Palestinian Territories as the first location for the Peace Within Project for its specific situation. It is a long-term low intensity conflict; where people are exposed to ongoing violence severely affecting their mental health. What is more, given the economic situation, options are limited in terms of physical activity, wellbeing and psychological support
Pauline, the founder of the Peace Within Project has worked in the Palestinian Territories with Doctors without Borders and Action Against Hunger on mental health programs, witnessing first hand the psychological hardship endured by the Palestinians.
While there is also great need for yoga in the Gaza Strip, given the constraints – access and security situation – we will start in the West Bank and hope to expand into that region as the program progresses
Does the project have a peace agenda?
The training doesn’t fall within a global conflict resolution framework but rather aims at helping the Palestinians to cultivate inner peace. However eventually, if yoga continues growing in the Palestinian Territories, children raised with yoga’s peace culture will certainly deal with the conflict in a different manner.
Is Yoga a religion? Does Yoga contradict with Islam?
Yoga is not a religion. Yoga originated in ancient India, where several different religions were and are practiced, but yoga is not directly connected to any religion. A person from any faith can practice yoga, as can an atheist. People with faith often find that a regular practice helps them to strengthen their faith.
Yoga as a spiritual practice does not contradict Islam. Mirna, a Palestinian yoga teacher – Muslim and veiled – indeed sees more similarities than contradictions between yoga and Islam. The daily Muslim prayer entails a meditation-like centering and kneeling bows, echoing yogic poses. The word “ameen” resonates with the word “Om” channeling inner energy and a sense of connection.
The Arab/Muslim culture limits the possibility to carry out co-ed physical activity and women have fewer opportunities to practice any form of physical exercise and stay healthy. Furthermore women are particularly affected by the conflict: by extension they risk being exposed to domestic violence (consequence of men’s stress, distress and unemployment); they also exhibit a higher prevalence of mental disorders than men. Finally, women are primary relays within the communities as particularly involved in education, health care and social work.