After a friendly greeting from the instructor and her assistants, people choose a place to roll out their mats, waiting for the Salvos Yoga session to start. Contemporary music plays quietly in the background as the instructor leads her class through gentle to medium-level stretching, followed by a guided meditation. When the class finishes, they are invited to stay for a chat and have a cup of Fairtrade organic tea.
Yoga is an activity that might not immediately be identified with The Salvation Army but, as chaplain Les Smith observes, this is about developing relationships. He and instructor Olivia Smith want Salvos Yoga to be a safe, reflective space where people can step outside their busy lives for an hour or so to consider the spiritual.
“While yoga itself has many benefits, we are trying to build the less tangible stuff, such as a space that is relaxed and accepting, and where friendships develop naturally,” Les says. “It’s all pretty relaxed.”
The concept of Salvos Yoga evolved after The Salvation Army Crossroads family violence service and the chaplaincy team trialled a yoga project last year for women and children living in a refuge.
“Our workers and chaplains saw many benefits for the women who participated,” Les says.
“For many, it was the first place of ‘peace’ they’d experienced during the turbulent time they were going through. After a yoga session they often appeared calmer and more connected with their children. It was a place where they were able to gain resilience, refocus on the challenges ahead and begin to rebuild their lives.”
The women’s feedback sheets reflected this, with comments that the yoga classes helped them to “focus on something other than their immediate situation”, provided “an opportunity to just stop” and helped them to “think with better clarity”. Les says participants often stayed back after their classes to talk with their yoga instructor.
“Sometimes it was just about having someone removed from their situation to talk to, but there were also many informal conversations around faith and spirituality,” he says.
Salvos Yoga opened to the community this month and is facilitated by Olivia, a qualified yoga instructor and part of Melbourne Salvos Project 614 community. She has taught privately and at YMCA centres, and has completed trauma-sensitive yoga training.
“I started yoga when I was going into year 12 and found it helped me to deal with this stressful time,” she says.
“I not only wanted to learn more about it, I also wanted to provide that same service and courtesy for others who may be struggling with the effects of everyday life.”
In 2017 Olivia took yoga classes at a Salvation Army chaplains gathering, asking for feedback so she could develop a Christian-based yoga session. Since then she has worked on an approach that is generic enough for the general community but which also integrates some of the teachings of Jesus. Her classes are designed to be flexible enough to cater for people who already have yoga experience as well as those trying it for the first time.
The exercise component involves gentle to medium stretching and uses Christian symbols to facilitate the meditation and prayer elements. Les says the meditation focus will rotate around themes from the Bible book of Galatians (chapter 5) about the fruits of the Holy Spirit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and gentleness.
“Jesus taught the need to come aside and pray and throughout his ministry he often withdrew from what was going on around him so that he could renew his mind and his spirit through prayer,” Les says.
“The practice of prayer and meditation goes back to before the time of Jesus; it is part of our tradition.”
Salvos Yoga will be held at Reservoir Salvation Army Corps on Fridays at 9.15am, at Moreland City Corps at 1.15pm Fridays, and Preston Corps to be advised.
For more information, contact 0438 103 465 or visit www.salvosyoga.com.au