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Breathe the Change You Want to See: In Ramallah, Yoga Spreads Resilience

Take a deep breath and consider: most Palestinians living under occupation suffer first or second degree psychological traumas. So says one Ramallah yoga instructor who has discovered in the simple act of focused breathing and stretching a powerful tool for self-healing.

Yoga is a very easy, simple, free tool everyone can use to help them live positively,” she explains. “In school, children tend to be very angry because of constant violence around them. Yoga takes away all their tension. After every class, they’re much calmer.”

Farashe, the all-volunteer studio spreading this practice, is the first dedicated yoga studio in Palestine. “There’s very little breathing space for everyone—especially mothers and families—to take time out from stress,” its co-founder says, “and little access to yoga for the Arab population.”

So Farashe’s mission is to provide “a space for all people to breathe, move, release stress and build resilience.” Classes are free for those who can’t pay, while donations cover basic costs plus small community grants and teacher development. Established in 2010, its growth has surpassed all expectations.

For its first teacher training, organizers expected four participants, max. “Instead we had 15 women who traveled hours a day [to take part],” the co-founder recalls. The next year a partnership with Anahata International saw 35 trainees “take this knowledge and do all these amazing things in their own communities”–including neo-natal yoga classes at refugee camps and Yoga Nidra for parents and families of kids with cancer.

The instructor’s biggest surprised was how easily students embraced yoga. “I thought it would be a challenge,” she admits, to teach yoga “to very marginalized populations that do not know what it is.” But teachers in tough schools in East Jerusalem, she says, “ask for more [training] every time.”

And far from finding it alien, one teacher confided that after a year of yoga, she could pray better, physically and spiritually. “So that shows,” the instructor concludes, “that yoga fits in perfectly with our culture.”

For more information: Farashe on Facebook

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Jennifer MacKenzie

Poet, writer and teacher Jennifer MacKenzie grew up on Bloomcrest Dr. in Bloomfield Hills, MI, which inspired her to wonder about places with patterns other than floral. Following her education at Wesleyan University's College of Letters and the University of Iowa's Writers Workshop, she followed a zig-zag course that included a pilgrimage across the top of Spain and a long sojourn in Syria in pursuit of the language of Muhammad al-Maghout and Moudthaffar al-Nawwab. While in Damascus she completed the books of poems "Distant City" and "My Not-My Soldier" (forthcoming from Fence Books) and edited the magazine Syria Today. Her poems and essays can be found in numerous journals including the Kenyon Review online, Guernica, Quarterly West, and Lungfull. She currently lives in New York.

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