KUNDALINI YOGA IN UKRAINE:
Resourcing Ukrainian Resilience in the Face of War
by Billie Atherstone
Over the past decade, I have been actively involved with the Guru Ram Das Center for Medicine and Humanology, a not-for-profit organisation and school based in the US. Throughout this time, I have immersed myself in the transformative practice of Kundalini Yoga and its therapeutic applications. The progression from teaching Kundalini Yoga to healthy people and then specialising in its therapeutic aspects for health settings felt like a natural evolution. My training uniquely melded the language and wisdom of science, medicine, and the yogic teachings, as well as helping me to value my own lived experience of yoga and meditation.
In 2022, I received my certification as an IAYT qualified Kundalini Yoga Therapist (C-IAYT), a milestone that underlines my commitment to using yoga as a therapeutic tool. My particular focus lies in trauma recovery work, recognising the profound impact Kundalini Yoga can have on healing and managing the impact of trauma. This specialisation allows me to bring a holistic and tailored approach to individuals seeking therapeutic support.
I continually feel honoured to be able to hold space, support and witness those who are ready to address their own trauma through the trauma recovery yoga program I run as well as the individual sessions I facilitate. It takes courage. It takes time. And it takes the willingness to befriend the body again. And from what I see and feel, the efforts pay off.
Trauma Responsive Training
Where there is courage, there is happiness – Ukrainian proverb.
I have been a faculty member for the Guru Ram Das Center for seven years and in July 2023, I was invited to be a part of a team, led by Dr Shanti Shanti Kaur, to undertake an initiative to teach a Trauma Responsive Training to 120 Kundalini Yoga Teachers, including a 2 star General, in Ukraine.
This was an incredible opportunity to apply the skills and knowledge I had developed, work with an inspiring team from all over the world and stand in solidarity with the Ukrainians to hold the vision of freedom. Undoubtedly, there were some challenges and considerations in approaching this training initiative. All the sessions were conducted via Zoom, adding a layer of complexity, and we required the assistance of a translator. Interestingly, we discovered that the Ukrainian language does not naturally align with invitational language, a fundamental aspect of trauma-responsive teaching. This linguistic nuance added an extra dimension that we worked through together.
Moreover, we had to acknowledge the unique circumstances of the participants, many of whom were situated in Ukraine, some even in active war zones. Co-teaching alongside my colleague Nancy Hanley, there was a particular instance that left a lasting impact. Unbeknownst to us, on one of the training days, participants faced the unsettling reality of explosions happening in the background. Despite these harrowing circumstances, their unwavering bravery and determination to contribute to their country was truly inspiring.
I was so impressed by the progressiveness and commitment of the Ukrainian participants in helping their nation recover from the profound impacts of war. Their resilience in the face of personal challenges and dedication to serving their country reflected an illuminating spirit.
These are some of the women we worked with in this preview of a documentary produced by Alexandra Angelique Leeper and directed by Bob Degus.
‘We are different, but that is not a reason to be enemies. We want to determine & build our future ourselves, peacefully, calmly and honestly.’ Volodymyr Zelensky
The initial group underwent comprehensive training to learn six core skills essential for teaching Trauma Responsive Kundalini Yoga. And then, being eager to start serving and teaching, we were asked to create specialised protocols tailored to serve specific populations with precision. They included protocols for:
- Military Rehabilitation
- Special Forces
- Loss of Limb
- Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
- Military Families/Women and Children Affected by Violence of War
- “Super Warriors” Returning Repeatedly to the Frontline
I was honoured to work alongside my teacher, Dr Shanti Shanti Kaur, to design these protocols. We hope and expect to continue this ‘Resourcing Ukrainian Resilience’ initiative over the next three to five years. The plan involves offering continuous training and support to each teacher involved.
Ukrainian Kundalini Yoga teachers now provide a specialised short term therapeutic protocol for Military Rehabilitation in a military hospital in Kyiv. This protocol has been taught daily since June 2023.
Participants in a 7-10 day Kundalini Yoga Therapy Protocol for Military Rehabilitation
Researching Yoga in Military Settings
The Guru Ram Das Center has initiated collaborative discussions to conduct scientific research on the Kundalini Yoga Therapy Protocols taught by the Ukrainian teachers undergoing training. Board member Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, PhD, is closely collaborating with counterparts at the G.S. Kostiuk Institute of Psychology of the National Academy of Educational Sciences of Ukraine. Together, they are developing research models to meticulously document the outcomes of each trauma-responsive protocol introduced by our teachers in military settings.
This pioneering effort signifies a groundbreaking endeavor. By the next year, we anticipate obtaining valuable data that quantifies the effects of Kundalini Yoga Therapy for specific military populations served by Ukrainian Kundalini Yoga teachers. These populations include Rehabilitation, Recovery from Traumatic Brain Injury, Women and Children Affected by War, and Amputees.
This work, so far, has been done on a volunteer basis. There have been many hours spent on this initiative already. If you feel that you want to contribute to this cause by donating to the Guru Ram Das Center so that we can dedicate the time and resources this initiative needs, we would be most grateful. No pressure of course. But from our experience, ‘A Little Goes a Long Way’.
Billie Atherstone / Siri Bhagvati
Billie is yoga and meditation teacher and is the co-founder of Kundalini House, Melbourne. She has been dedicated to the path of self-exploration, health and wellbeing for over 20 years. Billie began teaching in 2002 and draws on her yoga, yoga therapy and clinical practice to inspire people to know themselves better through developing a broader awareness of Self, drawing on somatic-based practices that re-connects one to feel self-compassion and at ease within self.
She is a IYTA Yoga Therapist, a certified kundalini yoga & meditation teacher, teacher trainer and is a Kinesiologist and Bowen Therapist. She is passionate about the power of yoga and meditation for mental illness, health and recovery.
She teaches general and meditation classes and also offers a 14 week research based Kundalini Yoga for the Recovery of Trauma and PTSD Program & a Resilience Program at her studio. For more information see https://kundalinihouse.com.au/yoga-courses/