On Saturday mornings, locals and refugees come to practice yoga at Jamyang London Buddhist Centre, near Kennington tube station. The sessions for refugees are always free, as part of the social project “Yoga for Refugees.”
The yoga programme, in its second edition, aims to strengthen the community by emphasising building hope, restoring human dignity, strengthening social cohesion and relationships and boosting the mental and physical well-being of newcomers with yoga and meditation.
The Healing Power of Yoga and the Community
The initiative was established at Jamyang London Buddhist Centre in early 2021 in response to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan to provide trauma-sensitive yoga classes and to help reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
Asylum seekers and refugees face unique and complex challenges related to their mental health. “Here in the UK, refugees suffer acute anxiety about the complex asylum process. They worry about accommodation, money, education, and access to legal advice. They fear detention, deportation, destitution and homelessness. And there is a constant concern about loved ones left behind or missing.” Refugee Council
For refugees, who have often experienced trauma, displacement, and other challenging life circumstances, yoga can be especially beneficial. Official medical research scientifically proved the real benefit of meditation and yoga on refugees to achieve a state of inner peace and mental silence. Yoga works with both the mind and the body while also helping to forge a sense of safe community from which individuals can draw comfort and support. Trauma survivors can experience a disconnect between mind and body and exhibit a lack of body awareness. A yoga class gives them the opportunity to develop body awareness skills, learn how to cope with defensive responses and find support among peers.
According to research by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk in “The Body Keeps the Score” he shows how trauma literally reshapes both body and brain, compromising sufferers’ capacities to focus and stay in emotional control. A range of therapeutic interventions —from neurofeedback, meditation and yoga— offer new paths to recovery by activating the brain’s natural neuroplasticity.
“Every trauma survivor would do well to engage in yoga practices that increase their inner bodily sense of control, safety, and flexibility. In order to overcome trauma we have to befriend and be in touch with ourselves—our sensations and our emotions. Neuroscience research has shown that the only way we can consciously access that disturbed survival brain is through our interoceptive pathways — through the part of the brain that helps us to feel what is going on deep inside of ourselves.” Dr. Bessel van der Kolk
Building Bridges through Breath. The First Edition of Yoga for Refugees.
The first edition of “Yoga for Refugee “delivered at Jamyang London, free trauma-informed yoga classes for two batches of refugees, thanks to the support of Barry House NHS – which referred a group of refugees for the yoga class and Tools for Inner Peace – which provided a professional yoga teacher and expert in trauma recovery with yoga for refugees. We at Jamyang London Buddhist Centre, provided a safe space, offering the facilities. A room with mats and chairs to host free classes for refugees; a community cafe; a community garden; calming spaces and meditation rooms; and overall a supportive community ready to welcome and connect with the refugees, immigrants and asylum-seeking communities.
The Positive ‘Ripple Effect’ of Yoga. How is Community Yoga Fostering Connections among Refugees and their new Communities
The yoga sessions with the refugees were highly effective in improving their mental and physical health and played an essential role in their healing and integration processes. Seeing this success and responding to the Ukrainian humanitarian crisis, the social project was extended.
The second edition of “yoga for refugees” brings an emphasis on the community-building aspect. The yoga classes are not anymore for refugees only but are open to the overall communities. Yoga can help refugees build community as they come together to practice and support one another. Using the power of the Jamyang community to support the refugees and rebuild their lives, we aim to strengthen social cohesion and boost inclusivity in society.
With this social initiative, we welcome refugees, immigrants and asylum-seeking communities because no one chooses to be a refugee, but we can choose how we respond.
If you are interested in learning more about our Community Yoga class, check out our upcoming events.