Whether doing asanas near a lake in Africa or meditating in a hotel room in Manhattan, Zainab Salbi takes her yoga wherever she goes. As the founder and CEO of Women for Women International, the organization she founded in 1993 that helps female survivors from wartorn countries rebuild their lives, Salbi credits her daily yoga practice with keeping her centered, healthy, and strong enough for this intense work.
Salbi, who grew up in Iraq during the war with Iran, has lived a life of service. But five years ago, she realized that her tendency to put all of her passion into her work, without limits, left her depleted. Because she also spends 90 percent of her time traveling, she knew she needed something to help her stay grounded and energized. “I can’t help anyone if I’m at the point of collapsing,” she says.
So she started a morning yoga routine. In her work, she meets women in places like Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Rwanda who’ve undergone tremendous suffering. “The physical [practice] lets me release the tension,” she says. “If I accumulate that pain, then I become incapacitated.”
Salbi also has a daily ritual of gratitude, meditation, and prayer that she calls “lifesaving” because it enables her to let go of the emotions that arise in working with women who’ve survived rape, genital mutilation, mass slaughter, and displacement. “I see some horrible aspects of humanity, people who have gone through so much,” she says. “In meditation, I cry, I just pour. Then I’m OK.”
The centerpiece of Women for Women International is a program through which a sponsor can “adopt” a woman to give her financial and emotional support. By equipping women with tools to get back on their feet, the program empowers them to vote, get job skills, organize, open small businesses, and ultimately contribute to their communities. Salbi sees this chain of support as crucial. “Women are the glue that keeps families together,” she says. “Their spirit and hard work build communities. By empowering women, we can rebuild countries after war. Stronger women build stronger nations.”
Visit www.womenforwomen.org to become a sponsor.