Yoga with Families Displaced by Conflict in Southern Colombia – a Gift that No One can Take Away

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Yoga with Families Displaced by Conflict in Southern Colombia – a Gift that No One can Take Away

Colombia YogaBy Danielle Ancin

Giggles and nervous whispers echoed in the room as forty men, women, and children took a ginger seat on their yoga mats. For these families, expelled from their rural Colombian homes by threats and violence from armed groups, this would be the first exposure to yoga and perhaps the first opportunity to experience profound, intentional relaxation since they found themselves homeless more than two years ago.

Due to the country’s ongoing armed conflict, Colombia has the most internally displaced people (IDP’s) of any country in the world. An estimated three million Colombians have been forced to flee their homes because of violence and threats, and this number continues to rise. Displaced families must abandon their communities, belongings, and sources of income-generation. They usually migrate to urban areas, where they are confronted with discrimination and an unfamiliar economic environment in which they need to quickly integrate in order to survive.

For the past two years, over 200 recently displaced families in southern Colombia have been working with the international development organization Mercy Corps and its local partners in a program funded by the US Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. As part of the humanitarian assistance program, participants were supported in developing income generation plans, securing safe housing, building entrepreneurial skills, and caring for their reproductive health.

 

Colombia Yoga 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a capstone to the program, participants were invited to two yoga workshops each, in which they explored practices for stress reduction, back health, emotional regulation, and relaxation. Activities were taught in a way that encouraged participants to take ownership of the practices they deemed most helpful and continue practicing them at home. At the end of the second session, each family was awarded a yoga mat, strap, and photo-guide to take home. As one participant commented after her first session, “Yoga is really good because we feel a lot of stress. Yoga helps us alleviate the pain we feel, and we feel better mentally too.”

Those displaced by the conflict suffer extreme emotional, mental, and physical strain as they struggle to adapt to their new surroundings and carve out a living for their families. In addition, they carry any number of past traumas, from witnessing the killing of family members and friends to suffering physical and sexual abuse. The yoga workshops created the conditions for participants to experience deep relaxation in a safe and supportive environment, which is a necessary first step toward being able to understand and deal with trauma.

Throughout the workshops, participating families experienced treating themselves and each other with non-violence, which is not a universal value in an environment soaked in decades of conflict. They learned techniques for managing energy and difficult emotions and accessed the calm space within themselves to help them handle stress. Emphasis was placed on reconnecting with the body and reinforcing personal boundaries, important practices for victims of physical and sexual abuse. By constantly bringing the attention to the body and breath, participants experienced a sense of grounding and stability that they could invoke in their own bodies, wherever they happened to be.

As the men, women, and children slowly got up after savasana, many faces were physically changed. A sense of calm coupled with renewed energy settled on the room. Not all participants were able to relax into yoga the first time, but those who did were easy to spot by the luminous eyes, relaxed shoulders, and faces freed from their usual wrinkled foreheads and tensed necks. The road for these families was still long and full of obstacles. But they now had another tool to help them in the struggle, a tool that was theirs to keep.

 

 Yoga in Colombia

 

 

 

 

 

 

Danielle Ancin is a yoga teacher who has been working in Colombia with the international development organization Mercy Corps, integrating Yoga and mindfulness practices into humanitarian assistance programs for families displaced by the Colombian conflict, as well as into violence prevention programs for at-risk youth. She is trying to raise awareness about Yoga as a tool for international development.  You can contact Danielle at: [email protected]

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0 responses to “Yoga with Families Displaced by Conflict in Southern Colombia – a Gift that No One can Take Away”

  1. Tricia Young says:

    Dear Danielle,
    I was enthralled by your account of the work you have been doing in Columbia, and I am a 100% in agreement with you about the power of Yoga in circumstances such as those provoked by the Columbian conflict. I would love to contibute my services to similar endeavours in the future. Should you be able to advise me please contact me on the above e mail.
    My compliments and best wishes for your wonderful work
    regards,
    Tricia

    • Danielle says:

      Hi Tricia!
      Thanks for the response! I would be happy to be in touch about this kind of work. Your email didn’t show up, but mine has been posted at the bottom of the blog entry so feel free to contact me.

      Be well,
      Danielle

  2. Kristy says:

    This is the kind of service work I would love to have the opportunity to do at some point in my life with my yoga teachings. Whether it be in Columbia, Haiti, Africa, China, India, South America….wherever….its very powerful to be able to help people that have been traumatized to these points, and teach them how to relax and be at peace with themselves and others in the world…how to trust and love again, how to finally find the happiness that we all, as living beings, crave and have the right to have. Freedom of expression, freedom of love, freedom of happiness, but mostly freedom to live and be you with no reprecussions. ~Kristy

    • Danielle says:

      Hi Kristy,

      I’m glad you feel the desire to contribute – don’t lose that! There is a lot of good you can do even in your own community, and I’m sure if you keep your heart open you’ll find the opportunity. Best of luck!

      Danielle

  3. maria says:

    hi

    it is a wonderfull work they need the yoga tool to help them to live pacefuly in their hearts becuase they suffer too much

    thanks for what you do

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