In March, Rafaella, an Italian yoga teacher, completed a trauma-sensitive training course for teachers, organized in partnership with the Yoga Mandala Project. Though she has been teaching yoga for more than three years, nothing compares to the weekly sessions she has offered since the first week of Ramadan.
Chair yoga involves various movements and stretches, all from a seated position. The class was designed for refugees who have experienced trauma—the element of the chair allows each participant to maintain complete control over his/her body and environment as opposed to normal yoga, which makes significant use of prone, exposed positions. In fact, participants say, the chair is liberating and central to the success of each one-hour session.
Emad, a refugee from Syria, has been doing yoga for three years. He stresses its benefits for the body, saying, “It really stretches each muscle and improves your posture.” Emad also reflects on yoga’s other merits, saying, “It is always a great atmosphere. Everything is so organized and people always show up on time—it is clear that they want to be here and enjoy being here.”
Rafaella concurs. “They might not have the opportunity to meet much outside of yoga. It is a beautiful and joyful occasion every time.”
Chair yoga is a great way to keep our yoga programming going while many of our community members observe Ramadan. Because Ramadan is a time of daytime fasting and quiet reflection, CRP cancels some of its more rigorous exercise classes. But chair yoga allows for movement in a controlled, less exhausting environment, and focuses on meditative breathing as well—perfect for Ramadan.
The sessions also build patience and develop each participant’s capacity to relax, a crucial skill for many refugees. Rafaella generally follows a gentle sequence of stretches, the first series involving the upper body and the second the lower body. Each class ends with a period of reflection and quiet. The women’s class meets first on Wednesday’s followed by the men’s session.
The end of Ramadan will mark the end of chair yoga and the beginning of a new yoga class, one which will teach unassisted postures while giving participants the option of using a chair. Emad cannot wait. “Everyone is so happy and my classmates always look forward to the next class. It is hard to wait a week in between!”
A special thanks to the Yoga Mandala Project for their thoughtful, creative, and sensitive approach to our yoga program at CRP!