Using Viniyoga to Reduce Stress in Ramallah
My name is Ravyn Abboushi. I have been teaching yoga for about 10 years. I recently moved to Ramallah, Palestine with my husband and 2 small children.
I am American and my husband is Palestinian, from Ramallah. We moved here to participate in and experience the rich cultural life in Palestine as well as to be immersed in the Arabic language and to be closer to family. The move and the adjustment to life here has been quite difficult at times for us, but I feel amazed and fortunate to be in one of the most vibrant and beautiful places in the world. Life here is very different from life in the states in nearly every way I can imagine.
I am now a volunteer teacher at a non-profit yoga center called Farashe Yoga. Farashe does drop-in classes and workshops in their studio (a donated space in the busy town center) and outreach programs in the refugee camps for families of prisoners and for pregnant women.
I just finished teaching a stress reduction workshop based on the 5 Kosa model which is directed at the main caretakers in this society, namely Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) employees, teachers, and mothers. I wanted to draw in caretakers because there is so much need here and the idea of actively participating in self care is new. There is high demand for yoga, however, and this small town supports Farashe and another yoga studio as well as a Transcendental Meditation school.
Palestine is indeed a very beautiful place and culturally alive. But there is no denying that life is extremely stressful here. The occupation is like a boot heel felt on every person's back. At a gross level, the city is noisy, dusty, and quite crowded. The streets are old and full of honking cars. Access to the outside world is limited by Israeli checkpoints.
The stress I see in my students is more pervasive and more deeply rooted than I have seen before. It is as if everyone carries the collective burden of the ongoing occupation.
As a teacher I have had to adjust to tread very carefully into the inner lives of students. We all know that simply directing attention inward to the breath is quite a powerful tool to use but it is particularly so under these conditions. There is often an emotional reaction to just sitting still enough to notice the breath.
I have also had to be very aware of incorporating the students' "return to the normal world" at the end of practice because when we leave the one room studio we literally run headlong into the sights, smells and sounds of the busy town center where the studio is located. The transition can be jarring. An unexpected blessing of teaching here is the openness to using all the tools of yoga, including pranayama and sound. It is as if I am lucky enough to be working with the "un-carved block" for once. For me as a teacher that is exciting.
So far my students have told me that they feel less helpless about their stress level and I count that as a success. One student has been going through what she called a kind of "purging" since beginning yoga and she is seeing her own pattern of reaction to stress more clearly.
More than one student has told me that their practice has become vital to their ability to get through their week without feeling overwhelmed by stress.
I do think, however, that I have seen the result of overwhelm at times. I think this may be because seeing yourself and your life clearly and being moved to do something about what you see can seem more difficult than simply continuing to live as you were. As with all yoga practices, "Atha" has to happen. We have to be ready for what we discover.
One of my favorite responses so far was to Viniyoga itself and that was, "This is like Yoga for grown-ups!".
Ravyn Abbousi participated in the AVI Viniyoga Teacher Training and recently graduated. Her stress reduction program with Farashe Yoga in Ramallah was her final project to complete her certification as a Viniyoga Teacher. Many of you know Ravyn from her many years of teaching in Austin, TX.