Yoga is an amazing gift that was given to me by a passionate teacher my senior year of college. Imagine my excitement when the non-profit I’m teaching at, Blue Ridge Literacy, was hosting a yoga social led by that amazing teacher. My mission was to encourage the attendance of our refugee and immigrant students; so I did what I do best - turned it into an English lesson. It was intended to be a one time class: finding the time, date, location on the event flyer, and teaching five beginning poses (mountain, tree, warrior II, cat, and cow). The lesson allowed for review of dates and times, worked on inferring information from a larger text, and allowed for TPR (total physical response.) These young, modest ladies were embarrassed and insecure at first. They were hesitant to try the poses, but once they started they couldn’t be stopped. That one class turned into a daily practice.
I began researching the benefits of yoga on refugees. All of my students are survivors of violence which they
have shared with me in their own way, usually, due to their limited language skills, by physically acting out the types of attacks - airstrikes, machine guns, and the cutting of throats to name a few. Through my research I found dissociation being a common coping mechanism among survivors. Yoga makes their bodies a safe space to inhabit again, balance poses quiet the mind, and the camaraderie between all of the ladies practicing fosters a safe, supportive space.
The most beautiful part of this is yoga was so easy to incorporate into English lessons - creating short stories with yes/no comprehension questions, introducing sequencing events using sun salutations, and increasing vocabulary by teaching the corresponding English word to the pose. I incorporate yoga into an English class every few weeks, but everyday a students asks, “yoga, teacher?” We’ll take 10-15 minutes to practice. Students began asking for poses that help necks, shoulders, backs, and of course tone our tummies. Ladies that blushed at cow pose are now happily moving into bridge, boat, and pigeon. They do this openly and with joy because they have been given a safe, secure place to practice and care for themselves. Students have shared new poses with the class from a practice they found on YouTube at home.
Yoga saved my life giving me new found strength, control, and security. One of the best things I have done as an educator is passing this gift on to my students. One student phrased it quite beautifully when in our circle practicing warrior II, “strong warrior women, teacher.” That’s who we are and that’s who I teach - strong warrior women.