Introducing Ava: OMPowerment Palestine 2017 and 2019

And so it is written in the stars: the rivers and the humans and the earth shall never come undone. Divinely contracted by the sun, in a circle of guardianship, we were put here to live as one. 

Yoga is a gateway for me to dance in the whole of life; in my body, to my heart, how I feel, and the inside magic that I see when I close my eyes. Sometimes it can be painful. Emotions can come up, or I unlock places of hurt in my body, reminding myself that my life is worth taking good care of...this is a fact that I most definitely forget from time to time. But yoga is always a tool for me to reconnect with the energy that carries us through life. This energy is us. No matter the pain, no matter how congested my mind may be, or how tangled in doubt of self worth I have become, connecting to energy and spirit, moving, breathing and being- always helps. I understand that teaching yoga is a privilege. What a blessing that I can, to the best of my ability, guide people towards the light that they have inside? My experience assisting the trauma informed yoga course in Ramallah, Palestine was no exception to this. Everyone deserves to live more fully in this light and, as a teacher, the sweetness of offering this feels just as sweet as it feels to receive it. 

The students attended our week long course in order to learn how to safely guide their communities through a yoga practise. They taught me a lot about living with grace, integrity, as well as divine intolerance. It was amazing how all of the young Palestinians I met were so actively and positively engaged in their country's politics; working in social development jobs, peacefully protesting or showcasing the heart of their homes by sharing local music, social hangouts and Palestinian produce (oh my god the fig jam- wow). When I commented on how actively and positively they were involved in the identity of their land, they responded,

"We have no choice. If we don't show that we care, no one will". 

Teaching the group yoga that could help them to nourish themselves as they protect Palestine was a real pleasure. 

So how does trauma work? 

When events occur which take us out of our safety, we react. Every time a similar event occurs or we are reminded of that initial trauma, we are triggered. Our defences go up and so do the emotions that made us feel so vulnerable and unsafe in the first place. Something as small as an unexpected touch on the back, a sudden loud sound, or a "relaxing" plunge into darkness as the lights are turned off at the end of a yoga class can trigger trauma in a person. 

What is a "trauma informed" approach to yoga?

Trauma informed yoga is sensitive and empowering, safe and fruitful. We hold space with deep respect and trust in the strength of the human spirit. The approach on OMpowerment trainings is to...

  • teach yoga that will be safe for the large majority of people to practise 

  • to gradually call the students to explore how the practise may make them feel

  • and to give them tools to create a sense of relief, grounding and comfort in their lives. 

We come with hand to heart, acknowledging the pain and the strength. Nobody wants to suffer, nobody truly wants to feel in isolation but we have all been hurt. And everyone (yes-everyone) is doing the best that they can with the tools that they have, living in shadows of traumas- the effects of which they may or may not be aware of yet. 

Although the depth of struggle that some people have been through deeply humbles me, it is each person's challenge to acknowledge, accept and embrace the traumatic experiences of life which are a part of their personal evolution. The best medicine to soothe the triggers for trauma is intimacy. Not necessarily with others at first, but with ourselves. Yoga helps us to create that relationship of self care, safety and divine connection that is key to healing. 

Later this year I will be revisiting Palestine to facilitate the second OMpowerment training there. This time we will be working even more closely with refugee communities, and focusing solely on working with one group of women. We hope that this will help us to learn and feel more deeply into this self-intimacy. I truly hope to give these women support, a reason to smile and new tools to show themselves more love. This could be an opportunity for them to exhale and accept themselves more fully. I'll be going with deeper knowledge (and personal experience) of working with trauma. Coming to accept the trauma as part of us is much more empowering than living in victim state about it. If the first training taught me anything, it is that the human spirit is so strong. The suffering that we experience can be a fuel, opening us up even further to seek the opposite: to find connection, compassion and love. It is the OMpowerment Project's mission to be a factor in this. We wish to do whatever we can to make people feel more whole: not alienated and attacked, or pitied as victims, but respected as their higher selves- empowered and free. 

The OMPowerment Project will be revisiting Palestine this year. To support our work, visit ompower.org to donate or discuss other ways that you can be involved.

Julia Midland