How Yoga Is Healing the Wounds of War in the Gaza Strip

Samantha Allen
How Yoga Is Healing the Wounds of War in the Gaza Strip

After surviving three wars in only six years, the wounds of the historic conflict between Israel and Palestine may seem too deep to heal.

That’s where The Center for Mind-Body Medicine comes in. For over a decade, the Center has been training counselors from both sides of the conflict to teach victims self-awareness techniques that ease the symptoms of wartime trauma.

Founded by Dr. James Gordon, the Center for Mind-Body Medicine has perfected a trauma relief program that’s been shown to reduce symptoms of Continuous Traumatic Stress Disorder (CTSD) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) by up to 80 percent.

The secret to their success? Combining scientific rigor with the wisdom of ancient healing traditions—like yoga—to heal the mind-body connection, which is so often overlooked by traditional aid groups.

Psychological Trauma, Extreme Stress, and the Mind-Body Connection

Dr. James Gordon leads a meditation workshop at the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Gaza. Credit: The Center for Mind-Body Medicine Dr. James Gordon leads a meditation workshop at the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Gaza. Credit: The Center for Mind-Body Medicine

Dr. Gordon explained to The Guardian why the focus on the mind-body connection is so important. “If people are psychologically traumatized, they can’t make proper use of aid.”

Listening to Palestinians’ stories of last summer’s 51-Day War, it’s all too easy to see the truth in Dr. Gordon’s words. One woman, Sarah al-Hafi, told Al Jazeera News of the devastation she and her family have experienced since their house was destroyed Israel’s bombing last summer.

Living with seven other relatives in the one room that remains of their home, Hafi has experienced extreme stress, as well as worsening physical maladies like diabetes and high blood pressure.

From Despair to Empowerment

em>Women visualize a safe space during a stress reduction class. Credit: The New York Times Women visualize a safe space during a stress reduction class. Credit: The New York Times

Teaching yoga and meditation to women like Hafi can make a drastic difference in their lives.

Despite her difficult living conditions, Sarah al-Hafi told Al Jazeera, “Now I can’t wait to attend the next yoga class and dive into my calm world, imagining a bright life where me and my husband are rebuilding our house and bringing whatever our children are wishing for.”

Evidence continues to show that yoga is an effective tool to reduce PTSD symptoms and improve daily functioning. Yoga and meditation give traumatized individuals the tools they need to release their stress and reduce physical pain.

In a place like Gaza where it’s easy to feel helpless, such skills can make the difference between despair and empowerment.

Union in Healing

Credit: Al Jazeera In Jabalya refugee camp, female survivors perform a seated twist. Credit: Al Jazeera

The difference these techniques make in the lives of traumatized individuals is proof of the program’s success. But the Healing the Wounds of War program in Gaza has also achieved unexpected success in bringing Israelis and Palestinians together.

Counselors from both Israel and Palestine come together to train at the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in the spirit of peace and unity. During times of crisis, these counselors teach stress reduction techniques to trauma victims on both sides of the blockade.

Perhaps unbeknownst to each other, Israelis and Palestinians may be practicing the same yoga techniques at the same time, just miles apart, even during the most heated conflicts.

Yoga, which translates roughly “unity” in ancient Sanskrit, can’t heal the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it can help both Palestinians and Israelis heal the wounds of war within themselves. Perhaps promoting inner peace will bring this region one step closer to achieving peace for everyone.