Teaching Yoga in Palestine

Proof you can practice yoga anywhere! Jackie chatting with her students from the olive orchard before class.

Proof you can practice yoga anywhere! Jackie chatting with her students from the olive orchard before class.

Palestine was the last stop of my five month itinerary. At first, I was nervous to visit Palestine because of the military operation underway in Gaza. However, my doubts and tensions from the previous three weeks in Israel quickly melted away when I crossed the Kalandia checkpoint to enter Ramallah and I found myself comfortable again despite how foreign everything was: language, culture, and customs. My first week in Ramallah coincided with the closing of Ramadan and first days of Eid. Most everyone was on holiday and the streets were packed with people, noises, smells, and lights all night long. Within twenty-four hours of being in Ramallah I met a solid group of Palestinians and expats who welcomed me to their dinner tables, lives, and homes.

In Ramallah I found the hospitality of a small village in a large, metropolitan hub city in the West Bank.

For various reasons, I decided to extend my stay in Palestine two weeks longer than originally planned. I easily settled into life in Ramallah and began making connections. I asked the municipality’s cultural center if they were interested in hosting yoga classes and they ecstatically welcomed me. I taught five public classes at the Ottoman Court which led to meeting more people and opening more doors to share yoga.

I learned yoga isn’t widely practiced in Palestine, but everyone is very open to its benefits. Before my first class in Ramallah, a student introduced herself and told me she self-taught herself yoga asana from reading books and that my class was her first time in a instructor-led, group setting — talk about added pressure on the teacher! After class the same student invited me to her village to share yoga with her friends.

One of my mantras is to try (most) anything once so I jumped at the opportunity to meet new friends and share yoga in her village. The experience was beautiful and one I will never forget.

The ladies from the village requested we practice in a private setting so we trekked up a hill into an olive orchard as the sun was setting. Once we reached a quiet place, we snapped some photos of the bright pink sunset and laid down our improvised yoga mats on red, sandy soil covered in thistles. Although the natural environment and prayer-rugs-turned-yoga-mats may have wanted to limit our practice, I quickly thought of a short sequence of stretches that focused on calming the mind by bringing attention to breath — the simple yet foundational element to all yogic practices. After a half hour of stretching, balancing, and opening the only light left was sparkling in the city below and the sky above so we packed our mats and held hands as we helped each other down a make-shift path towards the village where even more Palestinian hospitality awaited me.

I am so grateful to the women of this village for allowing me to lead them in meditation, forming shapes, and finding their breath. But moreover my gratitude is endless for all the adventures and stories I carry with me from my three weeks in the West Bank. Each day I spent there was better than the one before it, filled with surprises and multiple moments to learn and reflect on what it means to be a human. I hope to return soon, study Arabic, and continue to share yoga.