Yoga in London- what comes to mind?

4th April 2012 by

Yummy mummies, Madonna’s arms and overpriced classes?

Or sharing, integration and rehabilitation for some of the most vulnerable women in London?

Yoga, a Sanskrit word meaning ‘unity of mind and body’ is more popular than ever before, but practice is also further removed from the idea of ‘unity’ than ever before.  Very much seen as a white middle-class hobby, the benefits of yoga practice have become reserved for those with time and money; something which very small few have!  For me, yoga is about well-being in all senses of the word and nothing embodies this more than a project I’m involved with at Hackney City Farm; the Hackney Yoga Project.  Combining restorative yoga practice, hot nourishing food and language learning in a safe space; the project directly challenges the exclusivity of yoga by opening up the benefits to refugee and asylum seeking women- some of the most vulnerable and un-represented people in the UK.

I’ve been teaching English at the project since September which has been a great way to bring together three things I’m passionate about- yoga, teaching and delicious food- whilst supporting women who have suffered huge change and upheaval.

Many of the women are facing isolation; unable to access resources and support due to destitution and low English language skills.  The opportunity to learn the language in which you live is a human right and is key for equal participation in society.  There is a well- established correlation between poor English language skills, low pay, unemployment, poor housing, poor health and poverty.  Many women at the project are unable to access ESOL classes due to cuts in funding to ESOL provision and strict eligibility requirements, large class sizes and a quick learning pace.  Loss and trauma have been widely experienced amongst the women who attend the project often manifesting itself in depression, lack of concentration, memory impairment, anxiety and an inability to retain learning.

At Hackney Yoga Project a model of subsidised Yoga+English provision has been developed which builds greater capacity for learning, concentration and knowledge retention and is open to all refugee and asylum seeking women in London.   And we have seen great results; students are more relaxed and focused in the classes and I’ve been able to see real improvement in confidence and English abilities.

There are huge challenges too; working with women who have big gaps in education or no first language literacy is incredibly hard, letters having no correspondence to sounds, words being a jumble of shapes.  Mapping pathways into further education, training and employment against a seemingly impenetrable web of service providers, community organisations, changing immigration regulations and funding cuts is becoming an important and much needed part of my role.

Yet the farm and collective spirit of the project continues to provide us with inspiration and now that the weather is getting warmer I’m looking forward to working outside and incorporating the natural environment into classes more and more!

You can read more about the Hackney Yoga Project here:

Tamsin Robertson, Green Jobs Caseworker at The Otesha Project UK

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