NAGAPATTINAM, India (AFP) – Yoga experts fanned out across tsunami-hit villages in southern India to aid people suffering trauma amid an acute shortage of skilled pyschological counsellors.
Volunteers and individuals trained in traditional yoga, which combines meditation, breathing techniques and exercises, are focussing on Nagapattinam district where nearly 6,000 people died on December 26.
The yogis have joined more than 100 volunteers from the Art of Living Foundation, a non-governmental organisation, to give counselling to disturbed villagers.
Satyojata Swami, who heads the Art of Living team, said his volunteers imparted “basic yoga techniques” to tsunami survivors.
“This is a natural disaster. There is no point analysing what happened. One has to save his mind now. For that we teach guided meditation techniques, some prayers and breathing exercises,” Swami told AFP on Tuesday.
“The beauty of it is this is not limited to any religion,” he said. “We have done this in many parts of the world such as Kosovo and Iraq and found it extremely rewarding.”
Doctors said a majority of the survivors, mostly from the fishing community, were yet to recover from the emotional shock of tsunamis which shattered their lives on December 26.
Barefooted Maria Selvan, 63, walks aimlessly along the shores sobbing and recollecting the moments before and after the gigantic wall of water came crashing down over him.
At times he beats his chest in despair and then goes silent. Then he points a finger to a piece of flattened land where his house stood once. His family survived the killer waves only to face a bleak future.
Above the debris, 55-year-old Dharma Raj, who lost his leg in a boating accident seven years ago, sits on a small wooden plank staring at the sea. He refuses to speak.
Raj’s newly married daughter, whose husband was killed by the tsunamis, kept him company.
V.S. Ananthan, a government doctor who is heading a 14-member medical team, said their was an acute shortage of counsellors.
“What is most important in the current phase is psychological support. And there are not many of them around,” he said.
Government official Vivek Harinarayanan, co-ordinating the relief operations with the non-governmental groups, agreed and said yoga experts could fill the gap.
Yoga teacher Swami said the 10-minute exercises could be practised by men, women and children.
“It has a scientific approach behind it as our breath and mind are connected. Different emotions have different breath patterns. We teach how to use them to each one’s advantage,” he said.
“The main advantage is the powerful breathing techniques teach you to handle your negative emotions. It flushes out all the toxins,” Swami said.
Anand Antarag, another yoga therapist, said he spent hours with the tsunami survivors trying to ease their fears.
“Sometimes a simple prayer repeated over a period of time has the effect. In others it can be a breathing technique or meditation. But overall yoga is the most effective method to conquer one’s fears,” Antarag said.
Art of Living Foundation’s Swami said most of the fisherfolk and villagers near the sea could suffer long-lasting emotional trauma.
Many have told how they never heard the sound of the waves before the tsunamis came because of the continuous noise of fishing boats.
“Now that the boats have gone, the moment they hear the sound of waves it comes as a rude shock,” Swami said.
“The same thing happened to the Iraqis … when they lie down to sleep they hear the sound of bombs,” he said.
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