Yoga for refugees – volunteering in Lebanon

lebanon refugee camps volunteering bekaa valley
Last year I spent a week in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley refugee camps on a yoga for refugees project with Tools for Inner Peace, a new charity which I’m now a trustee on, in collaboration with a local charity, Salam LADC 

Tools for Inner Peace is a long term project set up by Minna Järvenpää to enhance mental health and well-being among refugees in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley through simple, gentle yoga and relaxation techniques. I became involved as one of the charity’s trustees in 2016 and visited Lebanon in April 2017 to see some of the projects in action.

There are over 800,000 refugees in this part of Lebanon and a quarter of the country’s entire population are refugees. Salam charity was founded in Lebanon in 2006 and aims to improve the lives of refugee communities and helping them connect with their host country. Read more about the ethos and founding story of Salam here.

We believe in the necessity of inner peace in every human being (salamladc.org)

Tools for Inner Peace partnered with Salam to provide yoga and relaxation classes to women and children in the camps – although they are officially referred to as settlements.

Life in the settlements (refugee camps)

lebanon refugee camps volunteering salam ladc charity

I spent ten days working with Salam charity on activities ranging from food and materials distribution to setting up a mini cinema for refugee children. See gallery below for pics.

 

In the Bekaa Valley, private farm land has been used to house informal settlements for Syrian families, many of whom have been here between five and seven years now with little sign of any end in sight.

The settlements I visited or drove by were of varying sizes, some housing just a few families others are up to three or four hundred people, mainly Syrian refugees, with new families still arriving (our location in Bekaa Valley was less than 20km from the Syrian border).

Life for families is hard with no formal refugee status to obtain and no certainty over their future. Refugees are easily exploited by farm landlords who can charge high rents for living on their land. It’s also not uncommon for families to work 14-hour days on the farms for $4 a day or sometimes nothing.

Schools might be far to travel to so many children may receive little or no education with few job prospects for adults. This is coupled with an anti-refugee atmosphere as locals often feel Syrians are ‘taking their jobs’, a rhetoric echoed across the world, which hampers chances for integration.

The settlements I visited had lots little children running around, all under the ages of five or six looking slightly dishevelled. Many would have been born in their new host country and know no other way of life. While the slightly older ones would have left their country during school years so are likely to have memories of their past life and possibly even missed out on some years of education.

A few will be taken under the wings of UNCHR to another host country but according to one woman I spoke to this only happens to about five out of a hundred families. She said she hoped one day they can leave the camp by boat or plane and set up life somewhere else.

Yoga for refugees

taking a yoga for refugees in lebanon tools for inner peace

Minna and I joined Salam’s roster of weekly activities such as educational play sessions and food and supplies distribution, as well as organising our own yoga sessions in and around the camps. By the end of last year Minna was running weekly yoga classes in three refugee settlements and two centres that provide services to refugees.

The yoga is so simple but so effective. Simple techniques work on the nervous system to bring about deep relaxation. Through gentle poses and breath work the parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated which calms the body and strengthens the relaxation response, while the sympathetic nervous system with its stress response calms down.

One study found that 45% of surveyed Syrian refugee children suffered significant symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder

The need here is profound. As many as half of refugees are experiencing psychological distress or mental illness. One study found that 45% of surveyed Syrian refugee children suffered significant symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and up to 60% in adults. The result of this is tension and anxiety, played out by nightmares, sleep disturbances, withdrawal, loss of concentration, anger and aggression. A key to the treatment of psychological trauma is soothing the nervous system and inducing the relaxation response which is what the yoga does.

Minna set up Tools for Inner Peace has she experienced firsthand the stress and anxiety caused by war while she worked as an international diplomat in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. She discovered yoga and meditation as a means of maintaining balance under stressful and occasionally dangerous circumstances and is now committed to sharing those healing practices with others in need.

 

Tools for Inner Peace also runs yoga classes for refugee groups in London and around the UK thanks to funding from Sport England so if you know of a refugee centre who might benefit from classes please get in touch.
Find out more about our work with Tools for Inner Peace here and the latest crowd-funding campaign, Yoga for Peace here

13 Holiday workouts, no equipment needed

best holiday workout no equipment needed blog
best holiday workout no equipment needed blog
My own holiday workout completed in a sweaty time of 13 minutes 22 seconds. Can you beat it?

I know working out on holiday isn’t top of most people’s agendas but occasionally you might feel like sweating it out to balance out the cocktail calories and clear away the cobwebs. If you don’t have access to a gym – say you’re doing a villa or apartment rental – it’s handy to have an arsenal of drills to dip into. That’s why I’ve collected and compiled this list of workouts that can be done any time, anywhere, quickly (because there’s a holiday to enjoy) and most importantly, with no equipment needed (so there really are no excuses). They are also accessible for any level of fitness which is also great.

The sequences on this list targets the whole body, strength, mobility and cardiovascular power in one swift session and mixing up high intensity and strength makes it super efficient. Most have been taken from CrossFit programming so for time means as fast as possible to get your best time – this definitely lends more intensity, as does the higher volume of reps. You can even then repeat your workout another day to see if you can beat your time.

AMRAP means as many rounds or reps as possible which also creates a sense of urgency. Having a rep scheme to work to – rather than simply working for 30-seconds – contributes to a more effective session as you have a specific volume of work to get through which creates more focus. This combination of time and reps pushes you further. Most of these are short, sharp and sweat-pouringly effective.

I recently did #2 and it took me 13 minutes 22 seconds. Can you beat it? Have a go and let me know!

TIP: When you see 100 reps, break it up which ever way want. So I did 10 rounds of 10 for workout #2. Five rounds of 20 is also doable, although you might find you slow down on the burpees if you have to do too many in a round.

13 best holiday workouts

#1. For time: 100 burpees

#2. For time:

  • 100 push ups
  • 100 squats (hip crease below knee)
  • 100 burpees

#3. 10 rounds for time:

  • 10 pushups
  • 10 sit-ups
  • 10 air squats

#4. As fast as possible for time: – this is a great warm up workout

  • 21 air squats (hip crease below knee)
  • 21 pushups
  • 15 air squats
  • 15 pushups
  • 9 air squats
  • 9 pushups

#5. 8 rounds for time:

  • 10 situps
  • 10 burpees

#6. For time: 

  • 75 air squats
  • 50 pushups
  • 25 burpees

#7. 10 rounds for time:

  • 10 air squats
  • 10 pushups
  • 10 situps
  • 10 dips

#8. 20 minute AMRAP (as many rounds/reps as possible):

  • 20 walking lunges
  • 20 situps
  • 20 pushups
  • 20 squats

#9. Go as fast as possible for time: (another great warm up workout)

  • 21 squats
  • 21 burpees
  • 15 squats
  • 15 burpees
  • 9 squats
  • 9 burpees

#10. 15 minute AMRAP (as many rounds/reps as possible)

  • 5 push-ups
  • 15 sit-ups
  • 30 squats

#11. 3 rounds for time:

  • Run a half mile
  • 30 burpees

#12. 4 rounds for time:

  • 20 burpees
  • 20 push ups
  • 20 sit ups
  • 20 squats

#13. Stabilisation / core work 

  • 30 second or 1 minute plank hold
  • straight into 25 sit ups
  • repeated 3-4 times

 

Review: Amchara Detox Retreat in Gozo, Malta

amchara spa malta juice detox review

In August I visited Amchara Detox Retreat on Malta’s sister island, Gozo for a review in Health & Fitness magazine. I stayed for five sunny days, three of which I spent on a juice detox and two were spent on a raw food diet. After a summer of festivals, holidays and fun it was a welcome break but the no-food-only-juice days were a shock to the system, mainly mentally because I hate going hungry! But after day two I started to settle into the process and after a few treatments a more positive feeling took over. Amchara is a laid-back, down to earth, nurturing and the people (staff and guests) really make the stay extra special. If you’re a first-timer to detoxing or fancy a relaxed retreat this is a great place to start. Here are the highlights with snapshots of my stay…

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About Amchara Detox Retreat

Guests come to detox and fast at Amchara for a variety of reasons: to inspire a healthier lifestyle; learn about detoxing and nutrition; lose or manage weight; address health issues such as irritable bowel syndrome; or simply to rest and recharge. The Amchara team includes naturopaths, a colonic therapist, a health director, a raw food chef, massage therapists and a yoga and fitness instructor – all are invaluable at guiding and inspiring guests through the process, and always on hand for advice.

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The juice detox programme

An initial health screening with the naturopath identifies which of the two programmes you should choose: a classic juice fast aimed to stimulate the body’s natural healing processes or a raw food diet. I chose a three-day juice fast and two days of raw food. Based on the philosophy of functional health, Amchara aims to tackle the underlying cause of health conditions, not just the symptoms. Your relationship with food as well as your lifestyle, genetics and environment are all considered. You can stay from three days to a month or more and there are no fixed start dates.

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A typical day at Amchara

The vibe here is relaxed and laid back. Juices and superfood shots are delivered with nameplates daily at 9am, midday and 3pm, with an evening broth at 6:30pm. The juices are based on a mixture of beetroot, cucumber, fennel, courgette, apple, carrot, celery, ginger and lemon to support your digestion, cleanse the liver and feed your body with essential nutrients and vitamins.

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The shots of nutritional super supplements can include chlorella, wheatgrass, spirulina, turmeric, maca and bitter aloe, selected by the naturopaths to suit your health needs. Headaches, fatigue or nausea can be experienced before you feel better – I felt grumpy, hungry and had headaches on the first day, but this cleared by the end of day two. To stave off hunger, we had unlimited herbal teas and psyllium husks with water– as well as lemon and Himalayan salt with water to aid hydration and the detox.

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Gentle activities such as yoga, Pilates, a walk, a health talk or aqua aerobics punctuate the days but there’s no pressure to join in. The mellow evening activities might involve a local guest such as a Tibetan sound healer or a group sunset walk. Bikes are available for a coastal ride or you can go for a gentle jog. Other activities include visiting the local town, Victoria or going to Comino island.
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The treatments

An important part of the detox process at Amchara is intestinal cleansing, so colonic hydrotherapy and enemas are encouraged. Sally Jobes, a registered colon hydrotherapist, is a wealth of information. I chose an enema (once with water and once with coffee, which stimulates liver detoxification) and felt brighter with a burst of energy after. You can also have massages, facials, lymphatic drainage and food intolerance tests. All treatments cost extra. I also had a health mentoring session with health director Kirstie Chisholm (€180 for 90 minutes). After discussing daily nutrition, emotional concerns, stress management and work-life balance, I walked away with a manageable plan.

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The rooms

With only 26 apartments at the retreat, you can enjoy a peaceful atmosphere but still be sociable. Each apartment has air con, a spacious double bedroom, living area, fully equipped kitchen, bathroom and a balcony or veranda overlooking the central pool.

 

In a nutshell, is Amchara for you?

If you’re looking for a relaxed and gentle detox experience, Amchara is perfect. There are no bootcamp vibes and ideal for first time detoxers. If you’ve had enough of the juice cleanse you can go onto the raw food programme, no quibbles. I left feeling mentally and physically revived. There is also Amchara Somerset for those looking for a UK detox.

Visit: amchara.com for prices and more info

 

Pack It! Winter Sun Natural Mosquito Spray (that works)

mrs-whites-unstung-hero-insect-repellent-blog-review-natural mosquito spray

While everyone’s talking Christmas Eve Eve (a phrase which I’ve never heard before but is now strangely trending on Twitter right now), I’m talking insect sprays, because instead of packing presents I’m in battle against mosquitoes on holiday in Asia – a very un-Christmasy situation! (But trust me, I’m so not into Christmas I’d rather be waging war against mosquitos than fighting another kind of battle on Oxford Street).

Luckily I’d recently been sent some natural insect repellent to try. And luckily for me on this amazing winter sun holiday, it doesn’t just work but is genuinely gorgeous to use too. If you’re in a hotter climate that calls for mozzy spray but want to avoid the awful stench of deet (the most common ingredient used to ward off biting insects but so powerful it can send you dizzy too), then meet Mrs White’s Unstung Hero.

mrs-whites-unstung-hero-insect-repellent-blog-review-natural mosquito spray

 

A cologne that cleverly doubles up as a bug repellent but smells like a fragrance you might actually like to wear. It’s uplifting and citrusy – like a summer breeze blowing through a lemon orchard – and leaves skin lightly refreshed.

I love the vintage-style, apothecary-inspired glass bottle but as it’s not made for travel, sadly I have gone away with a decanted version in a far less-glamorous 100ml spray.

I’ve been splashing Mrs White’s religiously onto my ankles, legs and arms this holiday and remained bite-free for 10 days in India but as I hit destination no.2, Indonesia, I relaxed for one night only and took my eyes off the ball, or should I say the fragrance off my skin. I paid the price as I instantly became prime mozzie target and now have the war wounds to show for it.

If you want to avoid deet or even looking for an alternative to citronella, the most common botanical ingredient used in anti-mosquito spray (after travelling through Thailand ten years ago, the smell of citronella for me, is forever locked in with drunken nights on SangSom whiskey buckets) then what a find Mrs White’s Unstung Hero is. A cool cologne that takes the bite out of mozzy sprays. Don’t go away without her.

£20 for 250ml, roullierwhite.com