Danielle Begg is both an extremely compassionate person and accomplished in her career trajectory over the past decade. But the North Shore local, who is a trained yoga teacher, psychologist and has a Masters Degree from Oxford University in the UK, says in many ways she believes her "true calling" has only just begun.
After a decade of studying and working overseas at the Centre for Social Impact and the School of Government in Oxford, on her way home to Sydney Ms Begg stopped off in Thailand and trained in the art of yoga. It was here that her personal journey married with her passion for social justice and she realised that the practices of yoga and meditation could have a direct healing effect on people who had been through extreme trauma.
In February, after a successful pilot program, Ms Begg co-founded the Refugee Yoga Program together with the Vasudhara Foundation. She also works with STARTTS, the NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors.
"The pilot program was run in conjunction with the Asylum Seeker Centre at Newtown and at Villawood Detention Centre. After this, I really started to see how beneficial yoga practices are for people suffering PTSD and trauma," she says.
Just 12 months on, the program is helping about 100 women and children navigate their way through depression, anxiety, pain, trauma and grief at many Western Sydney locations, including Liverpool, Blacktown and Toongabie.
These include women from the Bhutanese, Iraqi Mandaen and Christian communities, together with Sri Lankan Tamil, Iraqi Muslim and a Bhutanese men's group.
"Many of the women have unexplained pain and trauma," she says. "Some tell me their stories which can be very difficult to articulate and others just remain very quiet and reserved and are hesistant in the beginning.
"As time goes by they open up and say how much better they feel and many have become good friends over the past few months. It's a treatment and therapy for both the mind and the body." Power Living has also sponsored the project supplying free yoga mats.
Ms Begg has also organised yoga videos in individual languages so the women and children can practise at home and she says this is having even more of a nurturing effect. "Many of these women have been in onshore and offshore detention, have travelled on boats, seen loved ones killed and tortured, or have been tortured themselves,” she explains.
After starting the yoga program, the words of the women describe their feelings - everything from “I am feeling completely at peace and positive”, “I have no pain", I feel relaxed and it's easier to breathe” to “I feel like doing this everyday because my body feels so good and relaxed".
“What we have done is created a space where they can feel positive and connected, safe and happy - even for a short time," Ms Begg reveals proudly.