The lived experiences of Middle Eastern refugee women participating in yoga classes in a refugee integration programme in Sweden

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


While participants in physical activities within refugee integration programmes hold the potential to contribute to shaping future programmes, little is known about their lived experiences in them. This qualitative thesis focuses on a group of Middle Eastern women in yoga courses held as part of a two-year Swedish civic orientation programme for newly-arrived forced migrants. The overall aim of this programme was to transform participants into integrated, employable and healthy Swedish citizens.

The yoga course component was prescribed to women based on gendered assumptions regarding vulnerability and trauma. Written from the perspective of a scholar-practitioner of yoga, the thesis explores the women’s subtle and intimate re appropriations of yoga to reveal a fuller appreciation of their lives which included and recognised, but were not solely focused on, their forced migration experience(s).

Drawing on ethnographic research, primarily comprised of participant observation both within and outside of the yoga studio over a 22-month period, along with 21 in-person interviews, this thesis adopts a social constructionist/interpretivist paradigm. It offers an original contribution to yoga, physical cultures and forced migration studies by documenting how women used yoga to navigate forced migration and (re)settlement.

The findings refocus attention away from the large-scale movement of forced migration to the women’s small-scale movements in yoga to demonstrate that the women’s lived experiences in yoga matter. By examining how the women met their personal needs in resettlement with the aid of their yoga practice, this thesis establishes several key findings around the importance of faith in resettlement, group dynamics in yoga and the complexities of deploying yoga as a fix for women in trauma.

By considering the often territorially bounded categories of body, citizenship and religion, this thesis advocates that the use of yoga and other physical activities in humanitarian aid and resettlement programmes should be primarily shaped by participants. The thesis also aims to de-stabilise gendered assumptions and perceptions of the traumatised refugee, thus foregrounding the participants’ lived experiences, rather than the socio-economic and political interests of their host countries across the globe.
Date of AwardJun 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorDaniel Burdsey (Supervisor), Thomas Carter (Supervisor) & Nichola Khan (Supervisor)

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