Come January 2012, yoga therapist, instructor and owner of Yoga East in Provincetown, Jerry Anathan will embark on a two-month humanitarian mission to Asia, and she is asking for our help. Selected by the French organization Aide Medicale Internationale to train medical and mental health staff and work with villagers at three Burmese refugee camps along the Thai border, Anathan will teach yoga, meditation, pranayama — an advanced breathing technique for quieting the nervous system — and some anatomy and physiology.
Anathan describes the horrible plight of the people she hopes to help: “Every person in these camps, excepting those who were born there, has suffered from a number of wrongs including rape, child slavery, physical abuse, forced military service and general oppression.” These people cannot return safely to Burma, but they also have no official papers or citizenship in Thailand. Stuck in wretched limbo, they lack adequate education and even the most basic health care. These victims, many of whom are women and children, suffer from depression, PTSD, anxiety and the scourge of HIV/AIDS.
“Clinical studies have shown that yoga can greatly improve the quality of life and lessen the symptoms of these maladies,” says Anathan. “And the beauty is, it is not a medication; it is a pathway to embrace and follow, giving people the opportunity to take their well-being into their own hands, at least to some degree.” Accompanied by a translator, she will work therapeutically with individuals and initiate a program “wherein the communities can implement some of the techniques I’ve been trained in.”
Anathan’s inspiration for her journey of healing came indirectly. “This is my first trip of this nature, and I got involved initially in a really strange way, by researching the [idea] of adopting a child from Thailand or Burma,” she says.
As it turns out, such adoptions are essentially impossible despite the thousands of children in orphanages. Her research led her to an awareness of the refugee camps and the atrocities the Burmese people have suffered at the hands of their own government. She subsequently met with a San Francisco group, Global Health Access Partners, who in turn helped her make contact with a clinic in Mao Tai, Thailand. Then she was invited by Aide Medicale Internationale to assist in their programs. Anathan observes that “the energy of others has helped me to manifest this dream to serve.”
A yoga practitioner for more than 20 years and a member of the International Association of Yoga Therapists, Anathan is trained in yin and Phoenix Rising yoga therapy. She has studied behavioral counseling at Johns Hopkins University, ashtanga yoga in Koh Mak, Thailand, eastern medicine at Harvard Extension, and she completed George Feuerstein’s traditional yoga studies 800-hour course.
Explaining that “the circumstances under which these people live are something most of us will never be able to comprehend, not only in their environments but through their experience,” Anathan has intensified her meditation practice to prepare for the emotional and psychological rigors of her journey. This meditation will enable her, she says, “to really engage energy for this trip. I’ve been practicing metta and tonglen, which brings conscious awareness of others and allows letting go of a need for control,” whereby she can “be present” and “accept all of what is, as each moment rolls into the next.”
While working at these camps and helping refugees, Anathan will have to tread lightly and carefully around local authorities and restrictions. Her contact at Global Health Access Partners cautioned her that in recent years 12 medical workers had been killed by the Burmese army for “interfering.” Although a new government is now in place, Burma (also known as Myanmar) is not close to becoming a democracy, and even humanitarian, non-political efforts demand vigilance.
To assist Anathan in raising awareness and support for her mission, Harbor Lounge in Provincetown is hosting a benefit from 5 to 7 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 3. This early evening gathering will feature a slide show and “drink special” event where people can learn more about this venture. (All tips will be donated to the cause.) Anathan intends to cover her own transportation and lodging expenses; all contributions received will go towards the purchase and shipping of yoga props such as mats and straps. Anathan says she is “working with a few yoga prop companies to try to get shipping and some sort of discount,” but the chance of that help is tentative at best. The public is invited to attend this benefit free of charge, and donations will be happily accepted. For more information, call (508) 317-6193. If you cannot attend but wish to support the cause, go to the website www.theyogatherapist.com and follow the link to make donations via PayPal. Or you may send checks to Yoga East c/o Jerry Anathan, 586 Commercial St. #9, Provincetown, MA 02657.