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Yoga in Palestine

by Meera Grace Hoon December, 2015

Yoga in Palestine

In a war-torn region where violence is the norm, an oasis of serenity hides amongst the bustling, often volatile streets of Ramallah, Palestine. Farashe Yoga Ramallah is open to all - regardless of students’ religion, race and gender.

The dynamic yoga center manifested in 2010 after Bridge Development Group, a Palestinian real estate company, donated space to Farashe Yoga. Farashe’s magnetism is no mystery - the center offers low-cost classes that aim to bring peace, safety, growth, and transformation to its students with the intention that they will then integrate these gained treasures of strength and resilience into their community.

In this interview, Fareed explains the unique bonding that takes place between Muslims and Christians through the common ground found in yoga. He also talks about the local authorities’ response, and how the ancient practice of yoga helps Ramallah’s citizens cope and find respite amidst the chaos.

Farashe Yoga will also be profiled in Vikram Zutshi’s upcoming feature documentary on the redemptive qualities of yoga around the globe, specifically in traumatized communities, such as maximum security prisons, violent inner cities, war vets recovering from post traumatic stress disorder, Colombian militias and middle eastern refugee camps.

Meera Grace Hoon: Has Farashe experienced opposition from local authorities?

Fareed Tammallah: Farashe has not faced any opposition from local authorities. On the contrary, Farashe has been welcomed and supported by the authorities and community. Farashe is registered as a Palestinian nonprofit organization under the Palestinian Authority. Farashe was built entirely by volunteers and donations. For example, the center space was donated by a local real estate business, Bridge Development Group. Local institutions have also welcomed us to teach—for example, the government, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for refugees (UNRWA), and private schools and health centers.

Yoga in Palestine

Meera Grace Hoon: Do the higher teachings and philosophy of yoga collide with what students​ are taught in Islam and/or Christianity​,​ or does it change their outlook on religion altogether?

Fareed Tammallah: Many teachers and students who are practicing Muslims and Christians have said that yoga has helped them connect with or deepens their own spirituality. For example, in various trainings and workshops, women and men have spoken about the similarity between the bowing and kneeling in Muslim prayers and the yoga postures, and found themselves more flexible for the five-times daily prayers. Many have said that they benefit from the focus and stillness of the meditative aspect of yoga, bringing more intention to their prayers.

Meera Grace Hoon: Does yoga help ​Farashe students​ come to terms with the constant violence around them?

Fareed Tammallah: All of our teachers and students are living the harsh realities of living under occupation. Some see violence on a daily basis. Yoga can't solve all their problems; it won't end the occupation. But hopefully it can serve as a reprieve and a tool for healing until more tangible solutions are achieved. Yoga serves as a tool to manage physical and mental challenges, especially when dealing with the kind of trauma Palestinians face. It’s a form of self-care that is accessible to all: it is affordable, anyone - no matter what age or physical constitution - can do it, and it can be done anywhere - at home, at school, outside, in your car. This is important in a place like Palestine where economic resources are limited, space is restricted, and there is little by way of public parks and safe recreational space because of the political situation.

Students have reported that yoga has helped ease their stress-related problems. One new teacher said to me that during the training she'd been sleeping better because she doesn't have the same anxiety. Other women have said that they feel that they have better self-confidence to handle challenges and difficulties in a calmer way. Others have said how it helps them connect to their bodies and find their breath again.

Yoga in Palestine

Meera Grace Hoon: Do​es​ ​Farashe​​ teach yoga to refugees​? What is the response and effect?

Fareed Tammallah: Yes. Approximately one-third of the population in the West Bank are refugees. Most of our teachers are refugees. Farashe teachers also teach in refugee camps - in the health centers and community centers. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, and the demand for yoga in the camps is high.

Meera Grace Hoon: How did ​you and other Farashe teachers​ discover yoga?

Fareed Tammallah: We started Farashe Yoga in 2010 to provide a safe space for Palestinians to breathe, and to relieve the stress and anxiety of their harsh daily realities under occupation. Farashe is a place where they can connect with themselves, their families and their community through the practice of yoga. As reflected in our name, which means ‘butterfly’ in Arabic, we believe that yoga is a catalyst for transformation and healing within ourselves, our families, our communities and our world. We work to provide our community members with the knowledge and tools to integrate yoga and its principles into their daily lives - whether it be at home, in the classroom, or at health clinics, youth clubs or associations.

We have been dedicated to training Palestinian teachers throughout Palestine in order to insure the accessibility of yoga to all. With the support of international yoga teachers, we have trained about 40 Palestinian women and men from nine cities and villages in Palestine.

Yoga in Palestine

Meera Grace Hoon: Is Farashe curious or does it dabble in the higher aspects​ of yoga - such as ​the eight limbs of Patanjali​ - or ​is your focus on asanas, the physical part​ of yoga​?

Fareed Tammallah: As a volunteer organization, we are committed to the principles of seva (selfless service) and social justice. We offer various types of physical asana classes and meditation, and include basic yoga philosophy in our teacher trainings and public workshops.

Meera Grace Hoon

by Meera Grace Hoon

December, 2015

About Meera Grace Hoon

Meera (aka Melissa) is a Kriyaban, sexual assault counselor, documentary filmmaker, and journalist who has reported for the Orange County Register and other prominent publications. Her work has taken her across the globe, where she has reported on human rights abuses including weak medical aid in Vietnam and poverty in South Africa. She specializes in counseling sex trafficking survivors, a population for which she developed a therapeutic journaling and meditation program. Also a yoga instructor (RYT 200), Meera now teaches this program nationwide at universities, high schools, counseling centers and spiritual retreats through her Inner Awakening Writing Center. She has a Master’s degree in American studies, where she studied gender-based violence, and undergraduate degrees in journalism and American studies.

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