How do you work your way back after experiencing the severe trauma of a great loss?
What if that trauma was wrapped up in living through an armed conflict, either as a victim or aggressor? And what if a culture of violence was the only life you’d ever known?
The people of Colombia have been endured armed conflict since the mid-1960’s, when the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and other guerrilla movements began fighting for influence in the country. Propelled by marked inequality in Colombian society, the violence among the FARC, the Colombian government, and paramilitary groups led to the deaths of more than 220,000 people, most of them civilians. More than five million civilians were displaced from their homes between 1985 and 2012, and one in three of the 7.6 million registered victims of the conflict were children. A peace agreement between the Colombian government and FARC was finally reached in November of 2016.
Natalia Quiñones grew up in Bogotá, Colombia, but knew little about the armed conflict. She was born to a privileged family and educated by American teachers in private bilingual schools, so it wasn’t until after graduation that Natalia became aware of the violence born of disparity that was happening right around the corner.
Yoga had helped Natalia cope with the loss of a close friend, and she believed that it could help heal and rebuild war-ravaged communities in Colombia—but the practice was only available to the elite.
In 2010, Natalia and María Adelaida López founded Dunna: Creative Alternatives for Peace, to introduce basic poses to both the poor, mostly rural victims of the conflict and the guerilla fighters who once terrorized them.
The yoga classes have proven to reduce the symptoms of PTSD and equip locals with the tools to heal themselves. Today Natalia shares the science behind yoga’s ability to heal, the similarities among victims and aggressors of the conflict, and her surprise at people’s capacity for change. I also ask about her unique parenting journey as part of a gay couple who adopted a daughter, which had been illegal in Colombia until November of 2015. Listen in to understand how becoming a parent changed Natalia, revitalizing her commitment to make the world a better place and cultivate creative alternatives for peace.
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Some quotes from the show:
- “When you’re born in a certain place, it has to be for a reason. I believe we all have an obligation to make it better than it was when we came.”
- “The thing that had helped me the most in evolving and coping with living in such a violent environment … had been yoga.”
- “All these people here have suffered these huge losses. The Colombian government is focused on giving them a little bit of money and maybe, eventually, some land… Money doesn’t heal the trauma.”
- “[Yoga] wasn’t really being used for its true potential—that is healing the soul and rebuilding communities in general. That’s when we decided that Dunna could help Colombia in the path to healing.”
- “The problem with trauma is that it stays in your body, and traditional solutions are aimed at just healing the mind… The physical consequences of trauma in the nervous system remain.”
- “This kind of yoga is actually meant to rewire your central nervous system and to trigger your relaxation response when your fight-or-flight response has been broken because of trauma.”
- “Our idea has always been to give the people the tools they need, to empower them to be … in charge of their own healing.”
- “[The victims and the aggressors] all share similar stories. Their eyes just look the same.”
- “Everything turned out so much better than we expected in terms of people being very friendly to us [as a gay couple with a child] and very understanding that in the end, we’re just a family like anyone else.”
- “It’s about the way your whole universe expands. [Becoming a parent] was an outburst of love and of kindness and of time and patience—that we never knew we had before.”
- “We do believe that peace is … also about preventing new conflicts from arising and teaching children that they can resolve their differences in friendly ways that they’ve never seen before, because all they’ve seen is the armed conflict.”
- “People’s ability to change and transform and adapt … surprised me. I thought it was so much harder and slower.”
ABOUT NATALIA QUIÑONES AND DUNNA:
Natalia Quiñones is the Co-founder and Legal Director of Dunna, a nonprofit created to research, design and implement intervention models in yoga and the arts, with the intention of constructing a peaceful society in Colombia after the armed conflict. Natalia is also a partner with Quiñones|Cruz, a consultancy in international taxation and tax litigation. She has served as both the president and chair of the Scientific Committee of the International Fiscal Association’s Colombian Branch as well as the editor-in-chief of the Colombian Institute of Tax Law Review. Natalia received her degree from the New York University School of Law.
RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE:
EPISODE SPONSOR & SPECIAL OFFER:
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