“Put your right hand on your heart and your left hand on your belly and feel your breath.”
The class room in the community center was filled with little children, shoes off and lined up on yoga mats. They were refugee children from the crisis in Syria. They ranged in age from 4-12. They were the kids group. I got to teach them yoga yesterday and I think I’ll never be the same.
“I’m going to teach you two words in English today,” I say as a translator shares…”Inhale and exhale. Inhale,” I say, taking a giant breath and filling all the corners of my lungs, motioning the balloon like nature of my belly and kidneys and ribs.”Can you tell them to breathe into their backs and feel their ribs draw apart?” and she does. And they do.
A little girl, braid over her shoulder and down to her belly button. The tassle like end of braid rises and falls with her breath. She closes her eyes. A little boy in blue jeans and blue and green flannel hops on one foot and blows out air like he’s before a birthday cake. An older boy, maybe 10 who clearly wishes the kids could settle so he could find his breath tunes out the room-noise and finds it none the less. They have run for their lives. They have hidden at night. They’ve been sprayed with gunfire and bombs and chemical weapons. They have all lost everything, their homes, their homeland and their people. They have slept at refugee camps for over a year. And now, they are here.
“Inhale and exhale.”
Arabic is a tough language. I’m trying to learn and so I practice “Inhale and exhale” in Arabic. Inhale: Zafar Exhale: Shhq. I had learned a different word for “inhale”, aistanshaj. But the translators and children agreed. That wasn’t the right word.
That “inhale” meant “to sniff or whiff or inhale, while zafar…it meant to sob or inhale. Yes. Zafar. Sob. Inhale.
“Good,” I said as they softened onto gentle twists an searched for their breath again and she translated with near angelic grace with perfect eyebrows and tiger stripped hijab. Each inhale you grow taller. Each exhale you twist a tiny bit more” and the little ones grew taller before my eyes and spun their brave hearts open. “Good, inhale unwind. Bring your hands back to your heart and your belly.” A calm had fallen over the room, a joy, a peace. It was clear to everyone. To the medical students from Wayne and Michigan State who volunteering their time at this wellness outreach to the recent refugee of Metro Detroit. It was clear to the event organizers from Syrian American Rescue Network (sarn-us.org) who brought together nutritionists and grief councilors, an art therapist and me. It was most importantly clear to the children and their parents.
“Feel your feet on your mat. Feel the backs of your legs on your mat. Feel the steady support of the earth beneath you. Inhale that steady support into your heart.” and they closed their eyes inhaled peace and it was beautiful.
An artist named Jason Gray has an album who’s title I love “Everything Sad in Coming Untrue”…genius, right? But I swear, it is. I am a witness. I saw hope crash in today.
I saw Jesus move. I heard him in the sob…on the inhale.
For more information on the monthly wellness outreaches to the Syrian refugee community through Wayne State and Michigan State Colleges of Medicine contact Dr. Ayesha Fatima, or to make a donation to support the refugee community as they resettled, http://www.sarn.us-org
Shannyn Caldwell is author of The Healing Season: How a Deadly Tornado Wrecked and Reshaped My Faith http://www.thehealingseason.com