Finding hope in the midst of violence

I was asked to teach a yoga class at a police station for state employees from the Ministry for Women and Vulnerable Population. This ministry focuses making Peru a country where everyone is equal, to live without discrimination, and with equal opportunities. Its mission is to design, establish, promote, execute, and supervise public policies in favor of women, girls, boys, adolescents, older adults, people with disabilities, and internal migrants, to guarantee the exercise of their rights and a life free from violence. This sounds very good on paper.

However, the reality is another story. Most of The Ministry for Women and Vulnerable Population employees do not have the understanding of the long history of patriarchal and violent culture that was implemented at the arrival of the European Conquerors. Consequently, are unaware of the deeply rooted trauma effects on women and children in Latin America societies. Often times these vulnerable populations get blamed for the violence perpetuated against them. This system does not empower or support these women to heal from the devastating effects of trauma. Their situations often lead survivors of sexual and domestic violence to substance abuse, abuse and neglect of their children, not having access to education or meaningful well-paying jobs to prostitution, just to name a few.

Among the Ministry for Women are social workers, lawyers, and mental health providers. These workers are very stressed, overworked, and underpaid. They are providing services without any kind of trauma sensitive practice nor are trained in self-care practice. Often times these workers retraumatize their clients because of their own personal macho biases, such as why do these battered women not leave their abusers? as if it’s simple to do so.

Their clients are women living in poverty and seeking emotional, physical and legal support. The numbers of women killed by men in this country is devastating. This year 20 women have been murdered and it’s only the beginning of the year.

These service providers were very excited to try yoga; it was their first time. They only had 20 minutes to spare, their clients were waiting to be seen. We used their small office space for the yoga practice. We focused on releasing stress and did different breathing techniques and movements, a mix of Hatha and Kundalini yoga. There was no room for us to lay down, so we sat on chairs for our shavasanna (relaxation). While I was guiding them to let their bodies be heavy, allow Pachamama to hold them, and to allow everything to just be as it is, I noticed a few of them tearing up. It was an emotional moment because their job requires for them to be strong, constantly be setting boundaries. The are supposed to avoid getting attached to their clients so they won’t feel hopeless with the overwhelming violence their clients face on a daily basis. There was a moment of sharing after class. They expressed that they did not know how stressed they were and that the breathing and the movements help them reclaim their bodies, their humanity and were able to let the heaviness of their jobs melt away, they said they found hope.