Iraqi refugee in Australia: yoga helped ease trauma

Iraqi refugee in Australia: yoga helped ease trauma

Shafaq News/ After surviving three wars in her country, Iraq, in addition to the challenges of her situation as a refugee, Zainab Jawadi says she was struggling with severe psychological stress when she arrived in Australia in 2013. Yoga came to her rescue.

When Zainab Jawadi arrived in Australia in 2013, she says she was experiencing trauma after surviving three wars in her native Iraq.

When family problems compounded her feelings of stress, Ms Jawadi says she turned to an activity that was completely new to her and noticed her psychological condition improved significantly as a result.

She says she started practising yoga through a free course designed for refugee women and this has greatly improved her condition.

“I felt a clear difference after each session. My back pain started to fade little by little and my psychological condition improved as I was suffering from depression,” Ms Jawadi says.

According to the John Hopkins School of Medicine, yoga has physical and mental health benefits for people of all ages and can become part of of treating those who suffer from chronic diseases and is likely to speed up recovery.

In addition, the National Institutions of Health (NIH) in the United States says scientific evidence shows that yoga helps with stress control, mental health, mindfulness, healthy eating, weight loss and good sleep.

Ms Jawadi's yoga instructor, Daniel Paige, says she noticed her pupil's interest and encouraged her to apply for a scholarship to study yoga in order to become a teacher as well.

“I applied for the STARTTS grant in 2019 and succeeded in obtaining it. The scholarship provided me with 200 hours of study free of charge, enabling me to become a teacher and not just a trainer,” Ms Jawadi says.

STARTTS is a specialised, non-profit organisation founded in 1988. It provides treatment and psychological support to help people and communities heal from the effects of trauma and rebuild their lives in Australia.

Ms Jawadi says that she faced some challenges during her studies as she was taking her steps in an area that was unfamiliar to her as an immigrant.

"I was the only one coming from Western Sydney and the course was taught in the upmarket Mosman area,” she says.

The presence of Ms Jawadi, who was wearing a hijab and leaving the venue to pray frequently, raised some questions from other participants.

“I explained my understanding is that, as Muslims, we can benefit from other cultures as long as this does not affect us negatively.”

The philosophy of yoga dates back to ancient Indian traditions and is believed to help the mind and body communicate with each other more effectively.

In recent years, however, yoga has grown in popularity worldwide, helping many relax amid fast and busy lifestyles.

Mr Jawadi talks about the therapeutic effects of yoga and its similarity to physical therapy or what is known as physiotherapy.

“Yoga has a therapeutic effect that some people may not know about. Postures are similar to physical therapy, but in yoga we focus more on breathing,” she says.

Ms Jawadi says her journey with yoga as a practice and then as a teacher made her feel willing to convey her positive experience to others who might benefit from it.

“I wanted to help others overcome their psychological and physical pain, especially refugee women," she says.

She has since taught groups from several cultural backgrounds, including Iraqi whose members have suffered from experiencing conflicts and conditions of instability.

She says she did not know much about yoga before coming to Australia and believes that there is insufficient understanding of the role of yoga within the Arab community.

“Some believe that yoga is just that famous movement in which a person squats and puts his palms under his chin. But there are a lot of other poses," she laughs.

Ms Jawadi says she believes such misconceptions among some Arab Australians will change with practice.


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