Dabka, knafeh and chair yoga in busy Nablus

Yesterday, after the first intensive part of the training, the Peace Within Project’s team went to Nablus, an ancient roman city in the northern West Bank, now a commercial and cultural hub.

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Mirna from Nablus & Nahed from Bethlehem

The program – organized by Mirna Ali the first yoga teacher in the city – was intense and included yoga classes in a women’s association, a school and a refugee camp. The idea was to introduce yoga to various groups – women, seniors, men & children. If interested, they can now continue to practice with one of the new yoga teachers from the city.

After a two-hour ride from Bethlehem, hopping from taxis to local buses, loaded with yoga mats, we arrived in Nablus.

We started in the Palestinian Women’s club with a beginners’ class for women. We introduced deep abdominal breath, sun salutations, basic asanas and relaxation. With barely any time to say goodbye and take a picture it was already time to start the next class!

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After class pose with the Palestinian Women’s Club

Still in the women’s association, 20 “golden girls” were chatting while waiting for their turn. Nahed offered a dynamic class of chair yoga, which is a complete practice adapted to seniors or people with limited mobility and involves forward and backward bends, twists and stretches of all body parts.

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Happy chair yoginis

After the class, beside tea and coffee, we were offered to try on the “abaya” or traditional Palestinian dress and to pick up a few steps of “dabqa” dance.

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Ready to perform

We carried on with a kids’ yoga class in the American Academy where we embarked with some 10 year-old on a journey exploring the 5 senses and the idea of “pratyahara” (withdrawal of the senses – one the raja yoga limbs).

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Last stop in Askar camp, home to 30,000 refugees since 1950. There, we offered a class to young men of the camp in the Keffiyeh center a social association that we already visited during the initial assessment. Sabreen one of our trainees is from Askar and plans to continue sharing yoga there to women and children.

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At last, we couldn’t leave without tasting a “knafeh” a local delicacy – an interesting, to say the least, traditional cheese pastry soaked in sweet syrup. “Sahten!” (bon appétit)

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And the journey starts….

The 1st day of the training is over and it went so well!

We started with getting to know each other. Among the trainees we find social workers, school teachers, a nurse, a midwife, a psychologist but also a volunteer clown in a kids hospital, a Mosque preacher reaching out to women in rural areas, an epidemiology doctor, etc. A little shy at first they quickly get to know each other.

After the orientation they had the yoga asanas and pranayama practice – 1st time for some of them! – and learnt about yoga philosophy (Where is it coming from? What is yoga? How does the mind works?) and the respiratory system.

Everything felt like flowing naturally: translation, timing, reception of the teachings….

Tired but happy some went back home while 10 of them coming from far away (Nablus, Jenin, Ramallah) settled in an apartment rented for them 50m away from the yoga studio.

We are so happy to be able to experience this wonderful journey together!

Stay tuned for more updates!

1st World Yoga Day

In just two-months time we will start the yoga teachers training for women in Palestinian Territories.

As the training will be offered free of charge to ensure that women from lower incomes can participate, we are now raising funds to make the training happen.

Check out the online donation campaign, get involved and share around you (via emails, Facebook, Twitter, etc.). Getting the word out is what will make this project happen. We can only do it with your help! Thank you!

To kick start the crowdfunding campaign we will hold yoga classes all around the world on the 1st International Yoga Day on June 21!

Thanks to amazing friends and yoga teachers, dozens of yogis in NYC, London, Tokyo, Montreal, Rome, Lisbon, India, Australia, Switzerland and France will practice with a common intention: PEACE!

All proceeds will go to fund the yoga teachers training for women in Palestinian Territories.

We will post pictures of the event. Stay tuned!

Prison TTC: Hatha yoga class – They are students, we are teachers

Before starting the course the main question haunting me was: “how is my mind going to react? Will I be able to avoid judging them for what they did?” Despite my deep motivation, I couldn’t help but wonder how the beautiful theory will face reality; how I would be able to apply here the Vedantic concept of “we are all One”.

But as soon as the hatha yoga class starts, there are absolutely no questions nor doubts: I am assisting the class as I would for any other group. Starting by observing the students practicing, watching their posture, their face, getting to know them on the mat. Continuing with adjusting them, bringing their feet together, straightening their back, helping them to understand better the asana (yoga posture) or the pranayama (breathing exercise). I have absolutely no hesitation in touching them, it feels completely natural: they are regular students and I am a teacher doing my duty.

Soon another preconceived idea gives way. The second day, as I’m adjusting one of the students I suddenly realize that most of them have probably not been touched gently or talked softly for years, if not decades. If until there I have been thinking of myself as a potential attraction – being the only woman in the course – I realize that what they need probably the most is affection and loving kindness. I begin seeing the inner child in them and I’m immensely grateful to have the chance to live this experience and to feel this compassion.

Yes they are responsible for committing crimes but they are now paying their debt – and when you are in the prison and start imagining spending years there it seems inconceivable. Life circumstances probably contributed leading them to act and the point is not to search for an explanation but to look at the future. Despite – or thanks to? – the circumstances, they have the opportunity to undergo a deep, positive transformation, growing and discovering there true nature. This yoga teachers training helps planting seeds of light within them, so that they continue growing this light and share it with others, inside or outside the prison’s walls.

Also read about our first day of the TTC in prison.

First day of the TTC in prison: sparking the light

We just finished the first 10-day intensive session of the Yoga Teachers Training Course (TTC) that we are holding in a correctional institution.

It is an amazing human experience on many levels! For 10 days, our team of 6 trainers left the ashram at dawn to spend the entire day – from 6:30am to 7:30pm – teaching in the prison.

The first day, we were both excited and nervous – wondering how it would go.

We welcomed our new trainees into a once cold prison gym that we helped metamorphosed into a temple, complete with an altar including pictures of our teachers Swami Sivananda and Swami Vishnudevananda, fresh flowers and candles. We sat altogether on the floor for a group meditation followed by the chanting.

These first minutes were intense; as Srinivasan, the ashram’s director, started chanting ‘Jaya Ganesha‘ I suddenly remembered my own TTC 18 months ago in India. It felt completely surreal. I started chanting back as loud as I could, trying to both lift the energy up and channel my own emotion.

As in the classic Sivananda TTC, the course officially started with the initiation of the students by the teacher, passing on the knowledge along the lineage or ‘guru parampara‘. The trainees were called one by one to prostrate in front of the altar, receive powders[1] on their forehead and be given a uniform. As they came back to sit in their yellow and white uniform, the room suddenly light up, the 16 tough-looking inmates turned into new TTC students.

One after the other, they stood up and shared their motivations for taking the course: some had already been on a spiritual path for sometime, others were new to yoga; some desired to teach, others wanted to deepen their own practice; but all of them expressed their deep need for inner peace.

I would be happy to give to others what has been given to me.” – An inmate from FCI Otisville

[1] Ash, sandalwood paste, kumkum

Initial assessment in the West Bank

In November 2014 we carried out an initial assessment in the West Bank with the objectives to confirm the feasibility of the project and to progress on the project’s proposal based on needs, realities & constraints.

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We met and exchanged with amazing and extremely dedicated yoga teachers: Maha and Suheir (Farashe Yoga Center, Ramallah), Nahed (Yoga with Nahed, Bethlehem), Eilda (Beit Ashams, Bethlehem), Mirna (Nablus) and Abeer (Zatareh). Most of these women were trained in the last years thanks to pioneer teachers training initiatives in the West Bank. Three teachers have opened yoga studios in Ramallah and Bethlehem creating spaces for Palestinian to discover and practice yoga. All of them teach regularly outreach classes in refugee camps, Bedouin villages or hospitals offering the opportunity for communities to experience yoga.

We attended one of these classes for women in Askar refugee camp in Nablus and listened to the students talking about the benefits of yoga. They all mentioned the quick and powerful impact yoga had on their lives, whether physical or emotional.

 “During this hour we evacuate the stress, we escape from what’s happening outside to focus within” Ayat

I don’t shout at my children anymore… when I feel stressed, I take a deep breath and I immediately calm down” Mariam

I always felt stressed… now I feel myself opening up, becoming more free” Saba

With yoga I have more energy when I wake up” Huda

The instructor, Mirna Ali, spends her whole day driving through busy Nablus to teach yoga classes
wherever needed: from a local gym to a refugee camp, a school or a workshop for public officials. Since she has first been introduced to yoga in 2010 she has persistently strive to share her positive experience with others. Right after her teachers training in Farashe she started teaching. If people were at first a little hesitant, she is now facing a growing demand for yoga, especially for outreach sessions in schools and refugee camps. “We need more yoga teachers in Nablus!”

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