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Yoga, meditation and holistic therapies help asylum seekers recover

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McAllen, TX (Border Report) – A Colorado-based immigrant advocacy group held a webinar Wednesday to teach the benefits that yoga, meditation, and holistic therapies can provide to traumatized refugees.

The organization, Casa de Paz SLV, hosted the program called Comprehensive Emotional Trauma Support for Asylum Seekers, New Migrants and Refugees.

(drawing by Casa de Paz SLV)

It was free for nonprofits and immigrant advocacy groups and emphasized that most refugees suffer physical and emotional damage during their journeys and when they move to a new country.

This is called “complex trauma,” Casa de Paz director Gina Barrett said, which means multiple experiences.

Barrett was awarded the 2022 SEVAT Award for Humanitarian Service on the Frontier by the International Association of Yoga Therapists.

“This webinar really helps people dig a little deeper into understanding the effects of trauma, and it’s complex. It’s complex trauma, which means multiple experiences,” Barrett said in response to a question from Border Report.

“The migrants’ journey is very dangerous and traumatic,” she said.

Barrett and other panelists said offering basic yoga exercises, neck massages, and art therapy using rocks or paper to color in and express their feelings are simple ways that can help.

“Our bodies have trauma. They have emotion. It lives in the body,” yoga therapist Mona Flynn, founder of the nonprofit Yoga Connection, told participants. “But we are able to survive and erase some of the weight.”

Flyn also offers yoga to women, immigrants and refugees, and Yoga Connection won a 2020 SEVA Award.

Immigrant advocacy groups estimate that as many as three out of four women are raped while trying to travel north to the United States. Many children, including boys, are often victims of rape as well.

Migrants are detained in Hidalgo, Texas, moments after crossing the Rio Grande on May 25, 2021 (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

A 2020 MSF report found that most migrants have experienced some form of violence during their migration. They also reported coming from countries with high rates of violence, such as the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

“High levels of violence in the Northern Triangle of Central America (NTCA) are comparable to levels in the war zones where MSF has been working for decades – a major factor fueling migration north to Mexico and the United States,” the report said.

The report found that 61.9% of respondents said they had been exposed to violent situations within the two years prior to leaving their home country. Forty-five percent of them cited violence as the main reason for fleeing. More than 75 percent of those who came with children reported that they had left because of violence, including forced recruitment by gangs.

Barrett’s organization has made 10 trips to the Rio Grande Valley and worked with more than 2,000 immigrants including asylum seekers released from detention centers in South Texas by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and those granted conditional humanitarian release to the US by customs officers and protecting the US border.

Volunteers with Casa de Paz SLV traveled to San Benito, Texas, in April, helping provide yoga therapy and art to immigrants in South Texas. (Photos provided by Gina Barrett)

Her group also crossed into northern Mexico and provided yoga, art therapy, and massage to migrants living in refugee camps in Matamoros and Reynosa.

Barrett describes seeing immigrants who appear to be “shattered” after being released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or after being allowed to cross into the United States.

“It’s stressful, so the whole thing, you know, I just feel like people can’t be educated enough about this and these simple simple methods that we shared today can help a lot of people,” she said.

She said her organization is now expanding internationally.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com

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