Choosing Love and Yoga with Palestinians in the Canary Islands

Posted on August 19, 2016

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I had no idea what to expect over the next 7 days in Fuerteventura. All I knew is that there’d be sunshine, yoga and Palestinians to share it with. Granted, the 25C weather in November was a treat, but the opportunity to spend it with a group of 20 or so Palestinians (mostly from Bethlehem and a few from Tulkarem and Hebron) looking to complete their yoga training was too good to pass up – and I hadn’t done any yoga for over 2 years. But if I got to be super-bendy at the end of it and perfected my downward dog poses without falling over, then I’d be chuffed to bits.

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Fuerteventura is the second largest island in the Canaries. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the population is made up of natives and British + German ex-pats. It’s also known as the Hawaii of Europe owing to its year-round sunshine, the multitude of places to surf surrounded by heaps of extinct volcanoes.

The initiative was led by the Yogabeats organisation. Founded by humanitarian and Yogi David Sye (son of 60’s crooner Frankie Vaughn and cousin of Amy Winehouse) alongside fundraisers Sarah and Paul Stephen, they’re about spreading love through the medium of yoga to people from areas of conflict. The event eventually went ahead by the skin of their teeth – they raised around £17000 via fundraisers and crowdfunding initiatives. Yogabeats were also helped by the kind donation of the Villa Azul retreat for the course. The required monies went towards paying for visas and flights via crossing the Jordanian border, before flying from Amman.

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The overriding message is that we were here to choose love in a world that’s gone to pot. Whatever is going on in our own lives and no matter our hardships, we needed to put everything to one side, well out of the way from the hustle.

And that’s in more ways than one: the Villa Azul retreat is miles from any town and the only local amenities are a couple of restaurants, a bar that’s barely open and a small supermarket.

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A typical day began with breakfast at 8am with vegan porridge, a selection of fruits and with honey and raspberry compote. Then we’d start a Pranayama breathing session, which involved a lot of meditating and looking outside our villa with collective thousand mile stares into mountains and cactuses in the distance.

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Not long afterwards, we’d commence a yoga session working on different parts of our body. Some conventional, some not so much. Here’s an example: we were each given a piece of chocolate to put in our mouths and let it melt while getting ourselves into poses and stretches. I’m glad to report that I let most of it melt before swallowing the lot.

The yoga sessions were pretty intense and lasted around 3 hours, twice a day. Our teachers David Sye and Sama Fabian showed us exercises and poses before being left to practice amongst ourselves. Despite making heavy work of it – especially before lunchtime – it was a relaxed, talkative environment with music blaring out of our teacher’s stereo (Janelle Monae being a personal favourite of mine). As far as yoga classes go, this was easily the loudest I’ve ever set foot in.

After our chickpea curry and coconut rice dinner, we undertook a class of somatic experimenting – aka vocal meditation. It involved throat singing, slow movements at the tips of our tongues and mimicking the lifting of a ship as if it were powering down.

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Basically, if Steve Reich ever taught a meditation class, this would be it. According to our instructor Tanya Syed, “the sounds we make reflect and effect our emotional and physical states. They emanate across the room, touch those around us.”

During the week I got an opportunity to speak to a couple of people from Palestine and asked them what yoga brings to their lives.

Jeries, 22 attended the course because it was a chance for him to sit alone and find the answers to the questions he was asking himself.

“Being here in this quiet place is amazing, as opposed to the stress and rush of back home.” He explains. “Yoga for me is all about being in the present and not being anywhere else in your own head.”

Nahed Bandak – a Palestinian yoga teacher for 10 years concurs:

“I have challenges in my life right now and this retreat helps me think and act outside of my own box. This break also helps me to think clearly without any distractions or pressure. I feel like yoga is helping me making the right choices.”

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On the 3rd day I started to get a strange feeling within myself. With all the positive vibes and feeling of love, I wasn’t sure how to process it. Why was this happening? I had realized that throughout my life I had only really known tough love from my parents. Via one-to-one healing and talking through my problems I was able to come out the other side, to love myself warts an’ all. Finally – I‘d confronted the demons I thought I had left in the past when really all I’d done was plaster over them.

On our final day together, we headed to the beach for a farewell meditative practice and formed two lines with each person taking it in turns to walk down, eyes closed whilst each of us whispered the good qualities and the best for one another. Needless to say there were tears aplenty. Once these were wiped away we head for dinner at a nearby seafood restaurant overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. I of course did what made total sense and ordered a T-bone steak the size of the island itself.

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I’d came to Fuerteventura looking for yoga and some sun; I returned home feeling loved with a new Palestinian family, feeling content and tears rolling down my face on the plane. Every last one of them will forever have a bit of my heart and soul.

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I choose love.

This trip was organised by Yogabeats, the humanitarian organisation who put on yoga events throughout the world at http://www.yogabeats.com. 7 nights stay at Villa Azul came courtesy of Azulfit. For more info: http://www.azulfit.com. 

 

 

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