Governments and rehabilitation organizations often overlook the fact that disaster survivors not only need the rebuilding of their destroyed homes but also of their often shattered emotional and mental health. However, with the increased implementation of disaster-specific yoga intervention programs things are progressing into more comprehensive disaster-management initiatives.Teaching yoga practices of strengthening postures, relaxing breathing techniques and energizing meditation has proven crucial in areas struck with natural disasters. This is because the mind-body calming techniques of yoga enable victims to cope up with the stress and distress of the loss of loved ones and one’s closest belongings when the world’s harshest and most unprecedented events strike.The incorporation of yoga methodology is done as part of an all-round disaster relief by organizations so that relief efforts not only work at a state level but also enable healing at a personal and individual levels.
Yoga was first used at a large scale for disaster relief with the 9/11 attacks in New York City- More than 1,000 New Yorkers received free yoga breathing courses beginning 2 weeks after the September 11, 2001. As an article on Yoga Journal quotes, “through their asanas, shell-shocked New Yorkers cope with their rage, fear and grief” from the 9/11 disaster. While yoga teachers such as Shayna Samuels of Yoga Insides taught yoga classes to firefighters and NYPD, others at the Sivananda and Om Yoga Center offered free chanting and meditation session to invoke peace and connect with departed souls and practice the tibetan yoga meditation of tonglen of inhaling suffering and exhaling peace.
Professor of clinical psychiatry Richard Brown notes how yoga-based trauma relief programs are a cost-effective way to rapidly relieve post traumatic stress symptoms and depression in amongst disaster- afflicted populations. Through his neurophyscholgiical model, Dr. Richard Brown and Dr. Patricia Gerbarg present how yoga, meditation and breathing techniques have helped “ameliorate anxiety, depression, insomnia, hyperarousal and re-experiencing (flashbacks) in survivors of war, terrorism, and natural disasters”. The Art of Living Foundation and the International Association for Human Values are two organization who have provided one of the largest yoga-based disaster and stress relief programs- in 146 countries. The organizations not only provide immediate material aids of food, water, shelter and medical and health experts but long term rehabilitation programs. The organizations’ trauma relief programs include Breath Water Sound workshops which integrate yoga practice and breathing exercises to enable physical, emotional and mental healing at personal besides rehabilitating local communities by reconstructing infrastructure , sanitation systems and establishing vocational training centers.A study on The Art of Living Trauma Relief Programs which were delivered to large groups of South-East Asian tsunami survivors showed significant relief from post-traumatic stress disorder in only four days. The success of these yoga incorporated rehabilitation by the AOLF and IAHV show their efficiency. In Southeast Asia, AOLF and IAHV volunteers delivered supplies, set up refugee camps and orphanages, and provided BWS trauma relief to more than 15,000 survivors of the December 2004 tsunami while they offered programs for Russian soldiers with PTSD after more than 300 hostages were killed in the September 2004 Bpsnian school terrorist attack. Similarly, BWS and yoga workshops and material aid was offered in the 2010 Pakistan floods iand the conflict in Iraq in 2014.
Yoga practice is not only used in disaster relief sites immediately per se. But also as a fund-raising initiative of ‘benefit class’ to help those affected in disasters. Various humanitarian organization such American Red Cross Disaster Relief joined with CorePower Yoga to conduct yoga class to raise donations to provide necessary needs to Hurricane Sandy Victims. Similarly, Susan Cohen, with the aid of 50 volunteer yoga teachers founded Yoga to Help Heal to not only teach 9/11 traumatized New Yorkers yoga for free in public parks but also hold yoga benefit classes to raise money for disaster relief.
The usefulness of yoga in issues such as conflict resolution and disaster relief highlights how yoga practice above all is practical – in healing one’s inner and outer world and thus, enabling one to respond to one situations in the best means possible. As Jennifer Walker, the owner of Practice Yoga foundation notes, during times of disaster and trauma, yoga practice is an “oasis of calm in..crisis, a place where [people]didn’t have to think about the world gone mad”.
Sometimes we need to be reminded that we are sane. In times of disaster, yoga seems to be the way.
Brown, P. Richard and Gerbarg L. Patricia. “Yoga: A breath of relief for Hurricane Katrina refugees ; Stress-reducing programs relieve trauma symptoms, perhaps by stimulating the vagus nerve”. Vol 4. No 10. Current Psychiatry.
October 2005. http://www.currentpsychiatry.com. Web
Cower Power Yoga. “American Red Cross Disaster Relief” poster. cowerpoweryoga.com. Web
The Art of Living Foundation. “Flood Relief Efforts in Pakistan”. Disaster Relief Case Studies, Flood Relief Efforts. artofliving.org. Web
The Art of Living Foundation. “Disaster Relief”. artofliving.org. Web
Yoga Journal. “New York’s State of Mind”. Om Page, Yoga Journal. Jan-Feb 2002. Print.
-Contributed by Isha Sharma