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Creating safe spaces: Q&A with Emily Brett, founder of Ourmala

Kate Foster

"If you can't do good, why would you do it?" is the question that's at the heart of Badd Karma and all that we do. That's why the London-based charity Ourmala is one that we wholeheartedly support, because they really are the epitome of 'yoga for good'. We asked founder Emily Brett to tell us more.

Emily, what inspired you to found Ourmala?

I really wanted to dedicate my life to demonstrating the values of yoga and compassion. Asana practice is for the mat and Ourmala is about putting the principles of yoga into practice in every day life, in the middle of where I live, which is the the materialistic, busy city of London. Really, Ourmala is the result of a lot of yoga and meditation practice and following my heart.

What did you hope to achieve through Ourmala?

I wanted to make a safe space where refugees, asylum seekers and survivors of modern slavery could breathe and heal. These are some of the most marginalised, underrepresented and in-need people in our society today, who could really do with accessing yoga and being able to experience the healing it offers for body and mind. Yet because of the cost of classes and travel to get there, it’s impossible for most of these people. Ourmala classes are free to clients and we refund the cost of travel for them. Most of our clients have survived atrocities such as war, torture and sexual violence including rape used deliberately, so there are special considerations that your average yoga class simply couldn't provide.

Can you tell us about the very first Ourmala class you offered?

The first class was at Hackney City Farm in 2011 as part of our pilot project, it was a very beautiful experience. I made a collage and stuck it on the door which said 'Welcome' and that has been the central attitude of everything Ourmala has done since - and, of course, is the central attitude of yoga.

Tell us a bit about the Ourmala team today and what happens there day-to-day… 

We are completely the sum of our parts: Ourmala's paid team is part time, very small and extremely dedicated. We also have a lot of volunteers. They work around London and across the UK to support the mission. We just couldn't do our job without any of them, so if anyone wants to buy a Badd Karma Rise Up for Ourmala t-shirt or hoodie, that money is going to make a significant difference to our work.

And what about your current Warriors for Women campaign? What's it all about and how can people get involved?

Warriors for Women is our annual campaign based around International Women's Day. We encourage yoga practitioners, teachers and studios to hold classes and events in support of Ourmala. This year, we'd love for there to be 108 W4W events held overall. 

Obviously, in the meantime, we’ve launched the RISE UP range in support of Ourmala. What do you encourage people to rise up for (or against)?

I would say to everyone get to know yourself first, get to know what is important to you and then stand up for it. Demonstrate your values through your actions. Talk is cheap and it’s very easy to get swayed by the crowd. When I first started Ourmala a few years ago, no-one was working with yoga and refugees in a systematic, organised way and quite a few people (who are my dear friends!) thought that I was mad. But for me, there was nothing more important. I would encourage everyone to rise up for what you believe in and remember how precious life is.

Who would you most like to see in a RISE UP tee or hoodie and why?

I would most like to see Meghan Markle because her mum practices yoga and she is a fantastic advocate for mental and physical health. I also think that in her position as the female part of a mixed race couple, she is in such a wonderful position to bring a spotlight to Ourmala's work and clients.


Badd Karma is donating £5 from every Rise Up tee and £10 from every limited-edition Rise Up hoodie sold to Ourmala. On sale in our online store now until May. Ready to be badass and do good? Buy yours now!

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