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    Palestinian health workers practice a breathing yoga exercise at a workshop designed to teach relaxation techniques in Gaza City, Monday, March 9, 2009.

    The Power of Yoga in Conflict-Ridden Gaza

    © AP Photo / Hatem Moussa
    Middle East
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    According to the most recent 'Make in India' report, one of the country's biggest cultural exports is the truly international craze for Yoga and wellness. Said to be an estimated 80 billion dollar global industry, it leaves no territory untouched, including the occupied West Bank in Palestine.

    But funding is scarce in Palestine, for any creative or entrepreneurial endeavour and even hearing how lucrative the market is outside of the region would likely be an alien concept locally. Practitioners based in the region are not making a good enough living from delivering workshops, but a key motivation is said to be able to give back and make a positive difference in local lives. 

    No longer just a passing fad, people of all ages are into getting themselves flexible with the array of physical poses and countless breathing exercises that accompany Yoga and which people of any age or ability can comfortably integrate into their daily lives.

    The practice is to be able to instill inner calm, as well as exterior strength and all-round de-stressing of the body is something that has caught on for those in conflict-ridden occupied Gaza.

    One of the few professional practitioners based in Ramallah, Yoga teacher Issa Souf, is someone who has been advocating the benefits of Yoga for some time. In addition to providing sessions for all, he had the idea to put together regular workshops for young Palestinian girls in particular, who were suffering from trauma after being imprisoned by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).

    Souf collaborated with locally based Yoga centers, Farashe Yoga Center in Ramallah and Beit Ashams in Beit Jala, Palestine, just a short ride from downtown Bethlehem.

    Speaking with local reporters, Souf described how he was aware of so many girls visibly traumatized by their experiences in prison, as well as general experiences whilst living under occupation that he wanted to use Yoga as an outlet for any individuals' memories of trauma or negative stress in both minds and bodies.

    The Yoga centers are said to have seen a very popular response to the workshops being provided from people of all ages and both men and women alike.

    He described that yoga helped him heal when he suffered a bullet in his spine. Souf also said IDF invaded his village in the Tulkarem region during the Second Intifada and that he was attempting to warn his family when he was shot. He was unable to use the lower sections of his body for quite some time and used yoga exercises as a means of alternative rehabilitation and self-healing, and it worked wonders.

    Testimonies from former inmates describe in detail the unbearable conditions Palestinian prisoners are subject to in Israeli prisons — conditions that can often lead to feelings of strong trauma, and more so if the inmate is a young child. Yoga is one of many alternative approaches that can be used in making a positive difference in some way.

    Yoga is very much known for allowing individuals the opportunity to internally connect themselves with something much larger than themselves.

    It is very much a mind, body and spirit connecting activity and in areas of conflict, the need to be able to do that on both an individual and collective basis surely explains reasons why it's practice is gaining popularity and will likely continue to do so not just in locations such as Gaza, but in the many other conflict-ridden zones worldwide. 

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    Tags:
    Middle East, workshop, occupation, mental health, yoga, health, post-traumatic stress, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), Gaza, Palestine, Israel
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