Wild yoga: refugee communities transforming self and surroundings through movement
Modern yoga has transformed traditional ideas of practice and moved its ritual space from Indian ashrams to boutique Western studios. More recently, the practice has been combined with psychiatric models of trauma recovery. Trauma-aware adaptations argue that yoga can be a complimentary safe, sensitive and controlled movement alongside talk therapy to heal trauma and ‘reconnect’ the self. These adaptations have changed yoga’s purpose in the West; rather than renounce society and detach from the world, practitioners attempt to use the practice to regulate the nervous system, re-sensitise the body and heal individuals’ relationships to self and others. Given the application of trauma research into social welfare programs and international aid, yoga is also increasingly offered to marginalised communities, including to Middle Eastern and African asylum seekers in the Greek refugee camp, Moria.
Using ethnographic research methods, including interviews, participant observation and apprenticeship, the research explores trauma-aware yoga and the unlikely embrace of yoga and acroyoga by a group of newly-accredited refugee yoga teachers living in the camp. Amidst confinement, depersonalisation, alienation and relentless COVID-19 lockdowns, the refugee teaching group reinvent creative classes in the olive groves and military bunkers outside the camp. Teachers read into and rewrite the role of challenging kinaesthetic movements, corporeal language, Hindu philosophy, energetic chakras and breathing practices to reveal new ways of being and experiencing the world. The group reimagines the experience of painful and disorientating poses into literally and symbolically transformative ideas about the empowered, free, supported and stable self. Drawing on the nuanced experiences of the refugee group members, the study poses questions about the need to recognise the messiness of modern applications of yoga and the role of unrestricted, self-directed physical practice to strengthen individual identity and resilience.