This week on Street Talk, we invited Zaccai Free to tell us about the work of the International Association for Human Values, or IAHV, and their work in the Crescent City post-Katrina.
IAHV certified teachers have been offering sessions in relaxation and breathing techniques, including their world renowned Art of Living courses, since early this year. The courses focus on personal development, mindfulness and awareness, and are being offered free of charge at IAHV’s New Orleans headquarters at 1002 Napoleon Avenue.
The IAHV has a tradition of serving communities in distress. After the tsunami in Southeast Asia in 2004 they were designated an official relief agency for the region. There are IAHV teachers and volunteers working in more than 150 countries around the world today.
IAHV has no religious affiliation, and its services do not include traditional psychological counseling. Instead, participants are led in breathing and meditation in a group setting with an instructor. Instructor and coordinator Zaccai Free says everyone from New Orleans SWAT team members to students to the New Orleans City Council has found the process very effective.
"Even people who don’t think they need it are surprised and thanking us by the end," he said. Free says people have told him the courses have helped them sleep through the night, drive more safely, and be more patient with the people around them. IAHV hopes to do more work with law enforcement and first responders in the city. Free says he is especially interested in more outreach to low-income communities around New Orleans. IAHV can also coordinate with community groups to lead workshops on-site.
Free says some may see a clash with the goals of IAHV and New Orleans’ reputation as a heavy-drinking and late-night party town. He says IAHV is not trying to change New Orleans’ culture, just adding another tool in residents’ mental toolboxes for repairing their lives after Hurricane Katrina. Addressing stress relief is essential to working toward peaceful living in any community, he says, and in post-Katrina New Orleans, with everyday tensions running high and violence on the rise, it’s more important than ever before. As the IAHV New Orleans web site puts it:
"If you need a scraper to remove shingles from your roof, you go to the store and get it. What about stress and anxiety? Where do you find a tool to remove these?" The International Association of Human Values has new courses starting throughout the summer. Find out more on their website at www.iahvneworleans.org.