“You can’t change the past, but you can change the present and the present creates the future.”
Life Beyond Trauma’s programs in Colombia.
I've just returned from several weeks delivering talks, workshops and retreats on yoga for trauma recovery in Colombia, including to war victims and peace builders. It was remarkable to be with these courageous people at a time of great historical changes, challenges and opportunities. The many creative approaches to sustainable peace building that the transition to peace is inspiring are a tribute to the human spirit.
The need for pathways to transformation of both individuals and communities from living in fear and violence to moving forward with renewal and hope is generating all sorts of projects, including the use of yoga for healing. I was invited to speak at a conference on Mindfulness and Yoga for Peacebuilding, held at the Los Andes University in Bogotá on May 19th and then travelled to regional areas to hold workshops and a retreat. The following article is a glimpse into my experience.
Yoga for Peace Building in Colombia
“You can’t change the past, but you can change the present and the present creates the future.”
After five decades of civil war, Colombia is at a critical and vulnerable stage of its journey towards sustainable peace. At the political level the peace agreement negotiated with the FARC rebels is being implemented, including a six-month disarmament period during which the guerrillas remain in encampment zones before transition to civilian life begins.
Meanwhile, there is a huge need to help both military and civilian individuals recover from the personal devastation that is the legacy of war. The long-term effects of trauma on this scale can undermine peace efforts at the individual, family and community levels, resulting in a society disturbed by ongoing dysfunctional and violent behaviour. The guns of war can be silenced, but while inner battles rage on and the unbearable burden of past trauma continues, true social peace cannot be stabilised.
Yoga & Mindfulness for Healing Trauma
Efforts to address this issue include NGOs providing yoga and mindfulness programs to assist trauma recovery. On May 19th this year, a conference on Mindfulness and Yoga for Peace Building was held at the Los Andes University in Bogotá. I was invited to give a presentation on yoga for trauma recovery alongside other international and Colombian speakers.
Yoga as an Antidote to Trauma
In my talk, I focussed on matching issues experienced in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with principles and practices in yoga that act as antidotes. For example, in PTSD the fight or flight response is overactive, while in yoga the relaxation response is strengthened. With regular practice of key yoga techniques, the nervous and endocrine systems are rebalanced and many symptoms of ongoing stress reduce or disappear. The conference provided a unique opportunity for people involved in peace building to gain insight into the role that yoga and mindfulness can play in strengthening outer peace by generating peace from within.
War Victims' Workshop
I held a number of other programs for a range of audiences in several regions. In the province of Antioquia I travelled to San Rafael, a remote valley several hours from Medellin. The beauty of the mountains, forests and rivers gave no hint of the horrific violence perpetrated during the conflict. The hearts and minds of the community, however, are haunted by the memory of mass killings and although the danger is passed, feelings of fear, pain and grief live on. A one-day workshop for war victims showed the power of yoga and sharing to transform tension and despair to smiles of relief and hope.
“I am healing my heart so that I can give love to others.”
For me, the courage and beauty of the human spirit were embodied by a young woman whose father was killed when she was 15. She said that when he was killed she felt as if a knife had slashed through her heart. Together we worked out a positive resolve to use during yoga nidra relaxation – “I am healing my heart so that I can give love to others.” This courageous and generous resolve become a model for others seeking not only a way to personal peace, but to have the strength to enrich the lives of others.
Healing the Soul with Yoga (and Nature!)
A 3-day retreat at La Zafra Reserve entitled Healing the Soul with Yoga, gave more than 30 participants the chance for experiential learning, discussions, time to relax in nature and to make new friendships. In this environment each person found support for their process of transformation from the pain of the past to peace in the present and hope in the future.
Self-care for Peacebuilders
Workshops in Cali and Bogotá were held for people active in peace building, including from the ACR (Colombian Agency for Reintegration). These focused on the need for self-care as well as care of others. The work of these people is challenging and confronting. They learned simple yoga practices to help restore and maintain energy and wellbeing. Learn more here.
Colombia - world leader in yoga for peace
I was deeply touched by the experience of working with these various groups. I was impressed by their sincerity, compassion, intelligence and desire to create lasting change in their beloved Colombia. They were open, receptive and welcoming. Colombia has the chance to become a leader in social transformation from civil war to a society that is constructive, inclusive and at peace with itself.
With thanks to Ahimsa’s sponsors: Corporación Dunna, Respira, Universidad de Los Andes, PASO Colombia and Evolucionario.
Check out this remarkable BBC story of a couple who were exonerated after years on death row - yoga helped them through and now they are sharing that with others at the Sunny Center, their farm retreat in Ireland.
Hope is officially launched and goes straight to number 1 at Fullers Bookshop! Special guest Petrea King spoke from many years of experience about the need for healthy, holistic solutions for trauma recovery and strongly recommended the yoga described in Hope: How Yoga Heals the Scars of Trauma. Petrea is the founder of the Quest for Life Foundation based in NSW. Find out about Petrea's retreats for people with PTSD at www.questforlife.com.au
Returned serviceman, Terry Gallagher spoke movingly about his own time of crisis and how veterans' yoga classes lifted him out of that darkness and continues to give him strength and inner peace. Terry spoke on behalf of the Hobart Mates4Mates veterans' yoga group, expressing their gratitude for the weekly yoga provided by Helen Cushing, the author of Hope. Find out about support for veterans, including yoga programs, at www.mates4mates.org
Author and yoga teacher Helen Cushing (Swami Ahimsadhara) spoke about her years of teaching yoga to war veterans and others with PTSD, telling of the inspiration she draws from the vulnerability and extraordinary courage of the people she accompanies on their personal journey from battling the inner demons of PTSD to true healing and peace. Find out about Helen's yoga classes at www.gangesyoga.net
Workshops with Petrea King, Tasmania 2016 - Book now
Petrea will be presenting in Hobart from Sept 29th - Oct 1st. I encourage everyone to make the most of this rare opportunity to meet with Petrea in Tasmania. She's a national treasure. Bookings are essential for the workshops.
At the Hodgkin Hall, Friends School
Peace in Practice - for health professionals | Friday Sept 30th, 10am-4pm ($90) Click here for details and bookings
Your Life Matters - public lecture | Friday Sept 30th, 7.00-9.00pm ($25) Click here for details and bookings
Happiness is an Inside Job | Sat Oct 1st, 10am-4pm ($75) Click here for details and bookings
BOOK LAUNCH & CELEBRATION!
Petrea will be the special guest speaker at the launch of my new book
Hope: How Yoga Heals the Scars of Trauma
Thurs Sept 29th, 5.30pm | Fullers Bookshop 131 Collins St Hobart
Rob is an ex-policeman who has been off work for 5 years with PTSD. He came along to last Sunday's London workshop with Ahimsa (Helen Cushing) on Yoga for Managing Stress & Trauma. Here's what he has to say:
"Being completely new to to the world of yoga I was a wee bit reticent but was quickly put at ease in a calming and forgiving environment. I really enjoyed the day which was practical and focused really well on PTSD, in fact it was very apparent the knowledge of PTSD was the best I have come across in the UK. The techniques were practical, useable and I suspect work. I for one will be forging ahead with this in my own life. For a cynical (but getting better) ex-cop this nailed it for me.
I think this is lifeline for cops with PTSD and I would happily advocate it to or discuss with other sufferers.
Feedback is coming in from Vienna workshop Hope: Yoga for Trauma Recovery. Here's what they say...
"I'm very thankful, that Helen Cushing, lovely and nice Swami Ahimsa, brought this helpful yoga-breathing-and-meditation-day with all her love to Vienna and also she brought "hope" into my private-life, not giving up, when life is a real challenge. I use her book every day, as she told us to do this practice and I'm happy to have it in my home. She did great and authentic work and I'm very proud, that I've been part of this yoga-group in the beautiful bhavani-center. Namaste – Om Shanti!" Elisabeth
"Love the energy of the studio, the professionalism of Swami Ahimsadhara & the organization of the workshop, the fact that the experiences of 10 years where brought together and presented in pieces that where easy to digest and very valuable for me as a yoga practitioner as well as a yoga teacher. For me inspiration is the most valuable good concerning "yoga teachers" – and I am grateful to meet Sw. Ahimsadhara and feel inspired by her teaching and about the classes she is offering to people suffering from PTSD." Katherin
"I really enjoyed this wonderful workshop. Although I have been doing yoga for many years, I learnt so many new aspects that will enrich my yoga practise in the future. THANK YOU SO MUCH." Sandra
More workshops and retreats are coming up in UK, Europe and Australia - find out here.
Ahimsa’s Hope: Yoga for Trauma Recovery tour of Europe has begun with workshops in Vienna. Kindly hosted by the Bhavani Yoga Centre, full day workshops were held on Saturday and Sunday, plus a talk as part of the World Yoga Day program. Participants included trauma survivors, doctors, psychologists, yoga teachers and practitioners. A place was given to Radi, a refugee from Syria whose struggle to build a new life in Austria is just beginning. Next weekend Ahimsa will be presenting programs in London. Stay tuned! Regular updates on Facebook.