Raksha Nepal is a safe-haven for young Nepali victims of violent crimes and abandonment and is one of HELP Internationa's favorite partners in Nepal. When I first arrived at the shelter that is tucked in the foothills of Kathmandu, I was dazed by the beauty and energy that it held. But it wasn’t the distant sight of the white Himalayas or the colorful city that truly captured me then- I knew then, and I know now- it is the spirit of the forty girls that reside in it that makes it so incredibly special.
On the second day at Raksha, Menuka, the director, asked me to begin teaching yoga to the girls. The program grew with each morning class, and as the girls started to love the practice in of itself, we made the decision as a team to do a project to get each girl their own personal yoga mat. We bought forty mats, big markers to write names, and laid them down all together to enjoy the opportunity of peace that it provided.
So…why yoga for Raksha?
Everyone defines yoga in different ways. But to me, yoga is the practice, promotion, and synchronization of healing and growth.
I knew right away, as I was teaching for the first time at Raksha, that it was going to be a challenge. Though trauma therapy yoga had become my trade, I had never taught with a language barrier. I almost froze in the first class when I realized how much I depended on my words. “How can I explain self-love? How can I teach awareness and processing?” But I realized quickly that I had to trust the basic teachings of yoga to do the fullness of the work for me. And as I have studied yoga and how to teach it, the practice has shown its complexity to me. However, here at Raksha, we rely on the beautiful simplicity of breath, movement, and mindful rest. I am here for three months, but my goal is much more longitudinal. My goal is to teach tools that have been scientifically proven to calm the nervous system, support healthy processing of trauma, the cultivation of self-love, and the building of both physical and mental resilience. My hope for them is that they can have those skills for themselves and can take it much further than the twelve weeks that I am here with them to guide them through. Yoga is not just a class, but a lifestyle of calming the mind, listening to the body, generating unrecognized power, and remembering to always be gentle. The decision to supply them with mats was the hope to provide them a physical safe space to do so and to give them something of their own.
The girls have started to learn yoga for themselves which was a goal of our project. Each class gets more and more exciting, as I only need to say the Sanskrit name for the pose, and they know how to move. Often times, I will walk outside to see them practicing their yoga poses on their own during the day. Last week, on our weekend, I woke up to them all doing yoga, while being led by one of the older girls. This is what we hope to promote as we focus on creating projects that are sustainable and can function in our absense.
We first focus on breath, because in this, they establish complete control over their own body. Even if the breath control goes unrecognized, the practice of this calms the mind and the body eases into awareness. Regaining control is both empowering and healing. These girls are here because someone in their life took the control that they have over their body away from them. They deserve to know and feel that have fully regained that control for themselves.
And then as they begin to move their body to the rhythm of the breath, they find the opportunity to expand. To be bigger than they thought they were. To be more graceful than they were aware they could be. To be stronger than they knew they were capable of. To look forward to conquering poses they assumed were impossible for them. To possibly feel more that they are truly alive and powerful.
Then as the class comes to an end, in mindful rest, they have the opportunity and space to reflect and process how they feel in their body. Endorphins have released, breath has been balanced, minds have been calmed, confidence has been built through the physical successes, and there is this tangible positivity and connection between the girls.
Another goal has been to build trust in touch. During shavasana (rest) I go around to give a short head massage to each girl, and I use lavender for calming and orange for mood enhancing. With victims, it is important that they feel in control and if you gain that, you can establish healing through safe physical contact, and create a new and positive connection with physicality. It has been one of the most rewarding parts of yoga to see them relax to touch, look forward to it, and offer to help with the girls around them.
Then just as we are to close, we rest our hands over our heart and take a minute or so to ponder over the things we love about ourselves. I am nearly brought to tears each class as I watch the girls, unmoving and focused, mouthing their self-affirmations. They teach me so much about what it means to be kind, accepting, and gracious. I am humbled at the end of each class. I am learning from their sincerity and hope.
Yoga classes and trainings are not easily accessible. But I believe that they should be. The actual practice itself requires very little. I believe there is this whole demographic that would benefit from the practice, as it is a sustainable effort and can be seen as a public health cause. I teach yoga because I have seen the power it has in helping those process trauma, cope with stress, and learn self-care of the physical body. The skill to have control over the mind and body is necessary everywhere around the world, but especially in areas where women have had their control once taken away due to a male dominated culture.
Yoga is not about the hour class. Yoga is about the skills attained from those hours. I see how beautifully Raksha is empowering and rehabilitating these girls, and sometimes it feels overwhelming to ponder whether or not you can make an impact. But I know that if we come together and bring our own skills on how to find happiness to one another, we can change each other’s lives.
Malorie, Nepal Volunteer