Following her mantra of Inspired Action from the Heart, Atira has taken her insights off the yoga mat and into the world, initiating Art to Healing, a non-profit organisation empowering and assisting women from trauma and sex trafficking in over eight countries in Asia and the Pacific.
“In Cambodia I witnessed trafficking first hand – families selling their children on the street. It moved and touched me deeply. I had two choices – keep to my travel plans and try to forget about what I had seen, or stay and allow my heart to break open. I ended up staying in Asia for most of the next decade doing what I could to help. That’s how I live my life – listening to the energy in my body and choosing to follow where it is flowing, where I feel most alive.”
“Despite the powerlessness and hopelessness in the girls eyes, I could see their strength and their light, and I wanted to tell them there was hope. This was the start of Art to Healing.”
Atira’s work has focused on setting up yoga and art therapy, mental health trauma and PTSD recovery programs in eight countries including in the Burmese jungle refugee camps, war zones in Cambodia, slums and brothels in Kathmandu, and Aboriginal communities. At their core, the programs inspire and teach women to love themselves, to build their self-esteem and to live free from slavery, both within and without.
The wisdom Atira teaches is borne from her own personal experience of violence at home, and conditioned shame about being a woman.
“Through holding and loving myself, and through my yoga and meditation practice, I’ve learnt how to share my gifts with these women so that they can also rebuild their lives.”
Art to Healing has also initiated art therapy and somatic experiencing programs as a response to disaster and PTSD recovery after the earthquake in Nepal.
Atira has also been involved in several art therapy research projects, and authored the chapter Surviving Shame: Creative Art Therapies with Sex Trafficked Survivors in Cambodia, from the book: Art Therapy in Asia published by Jessica Kingsley (2012). She has also published academically in other art therapy peer-reviewed journals, such as ANZATA.
Atira has contributed to various research reports on trauma and sex trafficking, including as co-researcher on post-traumatic growth in sex trafficked survivors for the UN ‘Rights of a Child’ report. More recently, Art to Healing has contributed to Queensland University of Technology research on the positive impact of art therapy on the post-traumatic growth of sex trafficked survivors.
Atira is currently working on her next book on Art Therapy and Sex Trafficking which will be published by Taylor & Routledge..
In 2010, Atira was voted by Asian Spa Magazine in 2010 as one of the Top Ten Philanthropists in Asia.
Recently in 2016, moved by the devastation of the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, Atira founded Yoga for Freedom (previously known as International Yogathon for World Peace), bringing the yoga community together to raise money and awareness for this cause, and the 20.9 million children, teens and adults globally living in the sexual slavery. Yoga for Freedom is continuing its third year in a row, bridging the western commercial yoga industry with the spirit of giving back to those less fortunate through the practice of yoga, raising over $60,000 for the cause of ending child sex slavery.