Training Yoga Teachers in Beirut
by Sarah Ezrin
The call to prayer wafts through the window as a group of yogis half-slumber in savasana. The yoga space’s spectacular view reveals the juxtaposition that is Beirut: crystalline skyscrapers, war-punctured buildings, and the Mediterranean’s famous deep-blue water abutted against the Lebanese mountains. These days, Lebanon is known less for its natural beauty and more for its location in the midst of ongoing strife. Even though this part of the world is notorious for conflicts over differences, yoga is serving to unite.
When the offer came to lead the first YogaWorks teacher training in Lebanon at Lulia Turk’s Breathe the Yoga Studio, I said yes. By their nature, teacher trainings are life-changing, but I knew this one would be particularly important—this training could influence more than the class through transforming the lives of its participants. Yoga teaches people to be in their bodies, to stand for themselves, and to stand in community.
It was only after sharing the news with family and friends when I began to experience people’s misconceptions about the Middle East and recognize some of my own. I have never had so many people wish for me to“be safe” on a trip. People shared their unease about my being a Jewish women and some suggested that I travel with my Canadian rather than US passport (I have dual citizenship). Friends asked if I would wear burka. I admit on my first trip, I tucked scarves and long sleeves into the suitcase just in case. Not once during my visit was I treated as less than or different.
Lebanon is a small country bordered by Syria, Israel, and the Mediterranean along 140 miles of coastline. There is a palpable pulse to the capital coastal city of Beirut: a buzz of energy mixed with tension and resilience.
Yoga teaches us to find inner harmony regardless of the discord around us; yogis in Beirut are learning to stay calm despite the very real threat that unrest could erupt at any moment. One week before the training started, there was an explosion in a Beirut suburb and halfway into my trip the US sent out an email warning Americans of increased risk of danger and advising us to return home. On the streets, everyday life continued, with seemingly more determination and appreciation. Talk about a lesson in presence.
At the beginning of the training, I observed some of the telltale signs of people who have experienced high stress and trauma such as difficulty focusing and actually being in their bodies. Throughout the first week of practice the students would squirm in poses unable to be still, eyes darting around the room. After a month of disciplined daily practice, the trainees transformed into focused and emboldened warriors.
During savasana during the final week, a large metal bar holding open the emergency door fell over with a “BANG!” We all jumped at the sound and realization that this could have been a bomb. When living in stressful circumstances the nervous systems becomes primed for danger. The students took a deep breath, readjusted their positions to feels safe (some opted to finish in seated meditation or laying on the belly), and continued resting, demonstrating their new ability to relax and recover even in the midst of stress and uncertainty.
I love to travel beyond the familiarity of daily life. It is easy to be blinded by dissimilarities and the misconception that we are different, right, or better leads to conflict. While Lebanon is open-minded in many ways, disagreements over views are rooted in the daily culture. In the yoga training, a group of diverse individuals became a kind of family, a communion of strangers seldom seen in this part of the globe. Despite deeply embedded patterns of discord, the Beirut training gathered people of different religions, politics, and upbringings for a common purpose. For eight hours every day they were not Lebanese, Syrian or Saudi, Muslim, Christian, or Druze. They were yogis.
Sarah Ezrin loves yoga and teaches with an infectious joie de vivre. A world traveler since birth, she now leads trainings, workshops and retreats across the globe: sarahezrinyoga.com. Sarah teaches in LA at YogaWorks and Equinox online at myyogaworks.com.