Rwandans reach out to yoga as trauma therapy

Thu Jan 28, 2010 7:10am EST
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By Hereward Holland

KIGALI (Reuters Life!) - Fluorescent sandals litter the entrance to a church on the outskirts of Rwanda's undulating capital Kigali. A coffee-colored river slithers by in the valley below.

On the floor, a dozen middle-aged women sit contorted in knots, wearing puckered expressions which explode into wide smiles, accompanied by a chorus of giggles - a rare spectacle in a culture known for its quiet reservation.

In the dappled gloom Seraphine recounts how, while seeking refuge in a similar church 16 years ago, soldiers beat her with a boy's severed arm - just one of many events which has caused over a decade of paralyzing trauma and depression.

She says yoga helped her deal with the shock of witnessing and surviving genocide.

"When you do yoga, you start believing that it's going to relieve your soul," she says.

The horrifying chronicle of Seraphine's survival and subsequent emotional funk is far from unique.

Almost one in three Rwandans suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) resulting from the 1994 genocide in which 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus were slaughtered, according to a 2009 study by the Ministry of Health.

People with PTSD often relive the traumatic event through nightmares and flashbacks and have problems concentrating, sleeping, and feel isolated and detached, according to the British National Health Service website.   Continued...