Volunteering stories: Capoeira Therapy

Bella came from England with the aim to combine two passions of her life – psychology and capoeira. She has spent July-August, 2017 by Capoeira Therapy project, 2 month of new discoveries, joy, new friends and enthusiastic plans. As a psychologist she knows the importance of reflections about life experiences. And she was so kind to share them with us.

Ginga, ginga, ginga… Ginga pra lá e pra cá…” It’s a captivating song that you can’t help but sing along to – a catchy, playful, rhythmic tune that once in your head is there to stay! Capoeira Therapy – Capoeira Terapia – is not a new concept for me. I started capoeira whilst training to be a Clinical Psychologist 8 years ago and immediately saw the potential of Capoeira in supporting emotional, social and psychological development. Not to mention the benefits to overall mental well-being. Since this time, I have had the luxury to travel and experience Capoeira in different countries and different contexts. However, this is the first time I have seen the concept of Capoeira Therapy in action. It is also the first time I have really considered the concept of Capoeira Inclusiva.

Volunteer Capoeira Project in Brazil

I was really curious about what Capoeira Terapia would be like and how it would work with this group of individuals with learning disabilities. I certainly did not expect the energy and vibrancy that engulfed me. Watching the students ginga for the first time was such a beautiful moment – each student moved with the music in their own time, their own way, with expressions of sheer pleasure. It was a magical moment. The noise created during music sessions was vibrant and colourful.Capoeira Music Therapy During my first roda I saw one young person shaking his shoulders in a way that was perhaps more characteristic of a dance move as he waited to enter the roda. And again through his ginga, certainly not the more characteristic fighting stance of Capoeira Regional – but he was feeling the music and expressing it. And why not?! In this moment I was able to see that capoeira has no limits. Yes there’s uniformity and principles in the style of movement, music and the way the game is played, AND there is limitless opportunity to express it in a way that is true to your self. This student was feeling the music and allowing it to carry him. Even now it puts a big smile on my face!

Capoeira inclusive therapy

Generally, when people have asked me about Capoeira and I’ve encouraged them to give it a try their first response is “I’m not fit enough” or “I’m not flexible”… the focus is on physical ability, agility and the main reason for starting relates to physical health/ fitness or being captivated by skillful capoeira movements/ games. It’s possible to enter competitions at national and international levels whereby again the focus is on physical ability. Here however, there is a different focus. The underlying ethos is first and foremost about inclusion for everyone regardless of your physical ability. It’s about giving everyone an opportunity to participate in training, be part of the bateria and play in the roda regardless of physical, intellectual and/ or psychological limitations. Everyone is included, no one is left behind. This ethos of inclusion is so ingrained that it comes naturally to the students to support and help each other. For example, I watched one student steer and guide the wheelchair of another student in the roda. I saw another student gently encourage a new student who was visibly nervous to play in the roda for the first time, guiding her through the movements. This also extended to me when leading my first capoeira class with a group with a wide range of ability level and clearly struggling a little to balance the individual needs with the needs of the group as a whole. Part way through the class, I noticed that two of the students without hesitation took it upon themselves to guide others who were in need of more individual attention and also attempt to translate my poor Portuguese instructions (!!). I was absolutely blown away by this warm and caring gesture. That’s not to say that Capoeira in the more sporty realm doesn’t offer this sense of inclusion – my experience is that you cant help but develop strong bonds with other Capoeiristas, develop a sense of belonging and feel part of a family. However, this usually comes with time and a deeper appreciation and understanding of what Capoeira is about. It is not necessarily the key focus from the outset.

Volunteer in Brazil

I have been amazed at the power of Capoeira to unite the group as one with there being no sense of individual limitations – Capoeiristas lead and are led, they carry others and are carried… Through this way EVERYONE participates, is connected and reaches into the realms beyond their limitations. It also allows for each capoeirista to find their own personal connection and experience with it. It’s hard to know how much of this is the Capoeira and how much is the general atmosphere at Pestalozzi and Brazilian culture that inherently acts like a family where everyone is welcome and has a place. As through all the creative activities I’ve seen many happy students expressing themselves in song and dance, and allowing themselves to be carried along by the energy of others when their own is lacking. As one student said at the end of my last class with them, “we’re a family”.

Capoeira for elderly

I’ve always been aware of my own limitations within Capoeira for example being able to sing in tune, in time & in Portuguese! And whilst this will no doubt continue to be a major challenge for me, my time here with Capoeira Inclusiva has helped me realize that these limitations do not need to be limiting in and of themselves. If I had to pick some words to capture my time involved with Capoeira Terapia/ Inclusiva at Pestalozzi without a doubt I would say… laughter, warmth, pride, togetherness, care for each other, energizing, uplifting, inspiring, vibrant… Yes there have been some tears, heightened anxiety, long faces and pained expressions during training. But when the roda forms, the bateria starts all that is present is the unified energy, far far greater than the sum of it’s parts, that send shivers down your spine, touches your very core, lifts your soul and leaves your whole body smiling.

Bella Viola, August 2017