Beyond Violence 

From Individual Inner Peace to Collective Outer Peace

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This year on 21 June 2015 the first International Yoga Day, declared by the United Nations, took place. A total of 177 countries had supported this UN resolution . Although nowadays yoga and mindfulness are considered non-religious, these practices do have an origin in religion. Yoga means union, the union between a human’s mind, body, and the universal spirit . In many religions its believers live being careful of consequences of their actions and they live appreciating the life they have been given by their universal spirit, two aspects that enhance mindful living. It might be because of this origin that yoga and mindfulness are so widely spread and that a wide variety of people within many different societies find peace within these practices.

Mindfulness-based practices are being increasingly used as peace building or trauma recovery initiatives in war-torn societies. The majority of peace building actions still focus solely on areas like transnational justice, good governance, and security. Although these are all critical areas, they do not address the issues that can eventually lead to recurring violence: distressed people full of anxiety and lacking the knowledge on how to cope with these emotions that accompany living in a war-torn impoverished society. Already in 1996 the effectiveness of using mindfulness-based practices was addressed. In the book ‘Peace by Peaceful Means’ it was argued that in conflict-ridden societies, outer peace will much more likely be attained if the people have cultivated inner peace .

Bit by bit we see initiatives demonstrating inner peace practices, showing that individual trauma healing can contribute to collective peace building processes. One such initiative is Project Air , a project to help vulnerable girls and women in Rwanda to manage the devastating effects of disastrous sexual violence by repairing their bodies and minds through yoga.

Another one of those initiatives is the Sola Yoga project in Afghanistan. The Afghan government intensely encourages its people to join the peace process of determining how best to achieve reconciliation and reintegration of the country. This call to action has given birth to the Sola Yoga project. It helps individuals from many different civil society groups to develop the tools they need to control their emotions to help them to contribute effectively to the peace building process.

In Iraq, parkour gains much popularity as an inner peace practice , especially amongst youth. Parkour, a sport that combines urban exploring with gymnastics, teaches self-control, how to cope with problems, and is an effective tool in bringing together youth from many different communities. Kurds, Turkmen, Arabs, and Christians learn each other’s language and become friends, something that is very unusual in the divided Iraqi town of Kirkuk . “With parkour, you control your body, your mind, and you forget all about your problems”, one of the initiators of parkour classes in Iraq observes. Next to these effects on your inner peace, parkour keeps the youth out of the hostility that goes on outdoors ; they have something to occupy themselves with, something that gives them a reason to stay away from handling guns.

Being grateful is an important part of achieving inner peace; it’s difficult when living in the dire conditions of a war-torn country . Learning to pay attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present and without any judgements, can help people to appreciate the smallest things again. Being very consciously in the present, occupied by a small positive aspect of the present, will enable people to stop fearing what will happen and stop worrying about what has happened. It allows grownups to become children again, something very valuable when living in a war-shattered country; just a little moment to allow yourself to enjoy.

Written by Sabrina Gehrlein and published on 05-December-2015

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