World Refugee Day is June 20. As perfectly described by the United Nations, this observance “celebrates the strength and courage of people who have been forced to flee their home country to escape conflict or persecution” and is an occasion to “build empathy and understanding…and to recognize their resilience in rebuilding their lives.” While refugees are beacons of hope and strength as they pursue safe havens for themselves and their families, it is undeniable that they also endure high levels of stress and trauma.
At Yoga Alliance, we support yoga for social impact. This starts with recognizing all the ways that yoga can improve health and wellbeing, for individuals and communities. Then, we focus on communities that experience the most marginalization and have the fewest resources, and we invest in yoga to address their many mental, physical, and social needs. This includes within and for the refugee community.
Yoga has proven to be a powerful tool for helping refugees heal, in mind and in body, from the emotional and physical impacts of forced migration. For this reason, yoga teachers around the world are sharing the practice as a tool for trauma recovery and stress management.
One such example is Fakhria Momtaz, who founded the first women’s yoga studio in her home country of Afghanistan. After catching the attention of the Taliban for sharing the practice, Fakhria faced persecution and weathered threats against everyone at her studio—including threats against her colleagues, her students, and herself. As a result, she and her colleague Masouma both fled Afghanistan with their families in 2021 seeking safety and freedom, and nearly two years later they are still awaiting asylum.
In an extraordinary showing of the perseverance of these two women and the power of yoga, they continue to practice and share their teachings—even as they endure prolonged and extreme uncertainty and stress.
Fakhria and Masouma are teaching virtual yoga classes to Afghan women refugees in the United States, offering a space for displaced women to gather and heal from heavy burdens of grief, worry, and loss. Women in Fakhria’s and Masouma’s classes have shared how yoga has helped them sleep better, relieved some of their feelings of depression, and has given them a much-needed space for self-care. And, thanks to steady attendance and growing interest, the classes are expanding to include Afghan refugee women in other places, with plans in the works to replicate this model and offer yoga to refugees from the Congo, Cuba, Ukraine, and Venezuela.
Yoga Alliance is grateful for the opportunity to partner with organizations and work with individuals in the yoga community that serve refugees, and to support yoga classes led by teachers who have lived as refugees themselves. We invite you to be a part of the support network that helps provide yoga in places where it is most needed.
Here are actions you can take—on World Refugee Day on June 20, or on any other day—to support Fakhria, Masouma, and other refugees who share the practice with others in their community:
- Share these stories: Help us amplify the voices of refugees who are spreading the benefits of yoga. Share Fakhria’s story on social media, engage in discussions, and encourage others to join the cause.
- Donate: Make a donation to Yoga Alliance Foundation. Your dollars go directly to teachers and organizations offering yoga in refugee communities—including Fakhria and many others.
- Engage in Community Outreach: Connect with local refugee organizations and explore opportunities to offer needed forms of support to refugee communities in your area. (Note: If you wish to teach yoga to refugees, it is essential to have trauma-informed yoga training, and to be explicitly invited into a community to teach.)
Story update: We are excited to share that as of August 2023, Fakhria and her family received asylum in Canada, and the local yoga community in the area is assisting with their resettlement. We are humbled by the overwhelming response from this community. Your efforts are recognized and celebrated – thank you.
For more on World Refugee Day, visit un.org.
For more on the Yoga Alliance Foundation and its work with refugee communities and beyond, visit yogaalliance.org/foundation.