Yoga and Social Change: Freedom On The Mat

In the summer of 2013 I travelled to Palestine to make an independent radio documentary about an unlikely form of non-violent resistance emerging among Palestinian women in the West Bank: Yoga. While yoga is usually considered a passive, introspective activity-which it is in many ways,  in the West Bank it takes on a different and more radical significance given the context of Military Occupation.

The Farashe Yoga Centre is a non-profit yoga studio based in the West Bank city of Ramallah with the aim of making yoga available to anyone in the West Bank wishing to access it. Its’ name, which means butterfly in Arabic,  signifies transformation on both personal and collective levels. Since 2012, Farashe has been working with teachers from an American non-profit organization called  Anahata International to bring yoga teacher training skills to women in the West Bank.

Since 2012, 25 Palestinian women have availed of two short intensive teacher-training courses offered by Farashe and Anahata International For many, this was their first introduction to yoga and  by the end of the short 9-day intensive training course they were visibly inspired and moved by a sense of personal transformation- on both physical and psychological levels.  Two of the newest trainees work as Psycho-Social Counsellors in West Bank’s refugee camps and others were invited from community centres and gyms in towns and villages from Ramallah, Bethlehem, Ni’ilin and Nablus to participate with varying degrees of experience and fitness levels.  Many of the women felt immediate improvements in posture, reported that they were sleeping better and feeling calmer in general.  Two of the women have also begun teaching yoga classes to children in schools in the city of Nablus, proving that the potential for transformation reaches beyond the individual and extends into the wider community.

Over three weeks, I recorded stages of the teacher-training course and got to know some of the Palestinian women trainees by spending time with them in their homes, observing them teaching yoga classes in local communities and sharing hearty meals with their families.  Their stories are remarkable. Not only because they are extraordinary women, but because they exemplify the dignified nature and resolve of the Palestinian spirit.  The women are testament to how even the briefest respite from the daily stress of occupation is a necessity for women living under occupation. Through everyday acts of resistance such as learning new skills, supporting family needs, preparing food for the table- and now, in practicing and sharing the benefits of yoga, Palestinian women find a new way to express a sense of agency and explore an inner world of freedom, which is otherwise denied to them under the Israeli Military occupation.

Freedom On The Mat tells the remarkable the story of how yoga is being used as a transformative tool to support women in Palestine. It was broadcast on Newstalk 106-108FM on  Saturday 28th March and Sunday 29th March 2015.

Listen here:

For further information:


Twitter: @freedomonthemat


Contact the documentary maker:

Produced by Muireann de Barra (Limerick & Dublin, Ireland)

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