Me, My Trainers and Determination
Amy overcame self-doubt to pursue an active lifestyle.
Date: 16 March 2023 Author: Energise Me
Before the war in Ukraine began, Alla and Dorota had never crossed paths. As refugees arrived in Hampshire, these two ladies were connected by the passion to help and make a difference. Together, they provided a yoga class spoken in Ukrainian.
I am Polish and came to the UK around 14 years ago. When the full scale war in Ukraine started, I knew I had to help the refugees that were finding safety in this country. Originally, I started collecting and packing humanitarian aid. But I noticed very quickly that there was little mental health support for those who don’t speak/aren’t confident in English. My thought process was that we needed to provide something that didn’t require speaking. My friend, Anja, said she knew a Ukrainian lady called Alla who might be able to help.
I was born in Azerbaijan (a former soviet blocked country/USSR) but came to the UK 23 years ago. My mother arrived before the war broke out, it was with her help that I started collecting aid for Ukrainians in my local area. Eventually, people were dropping things off at my door – my living room felt like it was filled floor to ceiling! Soon, I realised I wanted to do more. I wanted to help people directly. That’s when my friend Anja introduced me to Dorota. And that’s where it began.
I thought, ‘this doesn’t need words, but it will provide the healing that is needed.’
I’m active in my local village group and we set up fund raising for Ukrainians. There were suggestions of 1:1 sessions for refugees, but I doubted the impact that that would make. Anja is a yoga teacher and I had previously been to one of her workshops. I absolutely loved it and I thought, ‘this doesn’t need words, but it will provide the healing that is needed.’ A lot of sports clubs and activities invite everyone to attend but language is a barrier rarely tackled. Especially with mental health concerns at the core. I knew Alla would be able to communicate with them and that was key, so I suggested we tried yoga.
One of the local people involved was a reverend and he allowed us to use the Church Hall to host classes. I approached some refugees and asked what the best day would be to have these classes. They chose Saturday. Unfortunately, those particular participants never arrived, so we changed it to Friday. We then spread the news on our local Facebook groups. Alla brought some people from the New Forest to join us too. Gradually, we had a small group attending.
Getting participants to commit and try this activity was challenging, understandably. We were working with women who were displaced and missing that sense of stability. They didn’t want to commit to something if they didn’t know that they could see it through. Which also links to the fact that some of them don’t want to put roots down when they want to return home. We wanted to empower these women to look inside and help them make decisions that were good for them now, regardless of the future.
We also saw that a lot of these ladies were held back by shame. How could they be doing something for themselves if they had family back in Ukraine who were suffering? Ukrainians have a stigma about mental health; the typical, “someone has it worse than me” ideology which is another barrier to accessing the resources and services that would make a big difference to their lives.
I have already tried Kundalini yoga before, and I know that this is a highly effective technique. It really changes people's lives. I could feel it during those few sessions which I had.
We had 6 sessions altogether. Kundalini yoga is very spiritual. It focuses on regulating mental health, meditation and relaxation through breath work, exercises and chanting.
We wanted to create a safe and comfortable space so we had soft drinks and biscuits for people to freely consume. Very quickly, we saw how comfortable the women became in each other’s company. They started sharing stories and helping one another which was a delight to see. It really established that sense of belonging because their social networks started to grow and they were immersing themselves in community activities.
On the more physical side, we learnt that a young girl was suffering from urinary problems due to her trauma. Her mother told us after only one session, that her daughter had felt the benefit. That’s the great thing about yoga. Squeezing your pelvic floor, your anus, the naval, it helps support the whole internal system. On the emotional side, one participant was struggling to make choices in her life. After engaging in the mindfulness of the exercise session, she came back the following week with answers.
My Mum comes to the class, and she benefits when I translate even though she is learning English. But there is a comfort that comes along with your native tongue. When you’re displaced and can close your eyes and hear the speech that you’re used to, there’s something very consoling in that.
We all have our own different personalities in different languages. Where I’m Polish, I’m a completely different person in that language compared to English. Being able to express yourself without thinking helps you feel more relaxed. Then you can focus your attention on what you’re supposed to be doing, not on the anxiety of getting words wrong and misunderstanding.
We’re now looking for a permanent space in a new area to make these classes continuous and become financially stable. Energise Me has funded 3 of the Ukrainian women from our yoga sessions to become coaches so that we can offer more opportunities as well. Obviously, that will take time.
We don’t know what the future looks like, but we do know that we’re passionate about continuing this work. The war isn’t going away, neither is the demand for help and support. So, for as long as people feel like they need it, we will find a way to provide.