One by one, women arrive at a yoga studio on the ground floor of a dark residential building in kyiv. They rush to an evening session adapted to the hardships imposed by the Russian invasion.
With electricity and heating cut off by Russian strikes on energy infrastructure, the yogis are dressed in thick sweaters and woolen socks over their usual tank tops and leggings.
The instructor, Galyna Tkatchouk, shows them rapid breathing exercises called Kapalabhati and intended to warm them up as quickly as possible.
Before the final pose — Shavasana or corpse pose — she swaddles her clients in heavy blankets so they don’t shiver.
Towards the end of the session, Ms. Tkatchouk hopes she has managed to provide a brief but necessary break to reduce the stress caused by the war, the impact of which has been worsened by power cuts in the middle of winter, in Kyiv and elsewhere. in the country.
Following the latest series of strikes which notably hit kyiv on Monday, the Ukrainian capital, which had more than 3 million inhabitants before the war, once again found itself faced with long cuts in electricity, heating and water
While doing yoga, some women even stripped off their extra layers of clothing, giving the studio a bit of a pre-war feel.
“Everyone is looking for a way to survive and stay sane in this situation, and yoga is a good option,” says Ms. Tkatchouk, standing in the dim light of the studio’s only lamp.
– Explosion of demand –
“How does it help? It distracts from various negative thoughts, you think of nothing but inner peace, positivity,” confirms Viktoria, a 44-year-old bank worker. “Of course it’s cold, you see I’m in a sweater… but we have to adapt to the current conditions”.
For Ms Tkachuk, 54, yoga has offered respite from the succession of crises in Ukraine for nearly a decade.
She began her practice in 2013, in the midst of a pro-European protest movement in kyiv’s central square, the Maidan. Baptized “Revolution of Dignity” and repressed in blood, it ended in early 2014 with the flight to Russia of pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych followed by his dismissal.
This was followed by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and eight years of war in the east against Moscow-sponsored separatists.
“I was very worried about these problems at the time”, says the instructor recalling this “difficult period”.
The studio where she works — named Ram, after its Indian owner — opened in 2015 and flourished until the Russian invasion in February.
The chaos of the first weeks of the war forced it to close temporarily, but Ram reopened in April when other studios were still closed and were surprised to see a surge in demand.
“Immediately, from the first training session after our reopening, a lot of people came. I didn’t expect it, there were really a lot of them,” says Ms. Tkatchouk.
Among the former was 17-year-old Maria Mykhailenko, who touts a regimen of “yoga, tea and meditation” for getting her through the war.
“The lack of heating here is not a problem, you can dress warmer,” said the teenager. She particularly likes when the studio is lit by candlelight, for lack of power.
Frequent internet blackouts in the neighborhood where the studio is located mean that clients often cannot register for classes in advance, making it impossible to predict how many will come on any given day.
But Ms. Tkachuk sees it as a minor concern, preferring to focus on the well-being of those who come.
“Generally speaking, it’s good for mental and physical health…and not just during wartime,” she adds. “Now that need has just intensified.”
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In kyiv, yoga in the dark to cope with the war
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