Daily Yoga Practice. Why?

Amrita SeRVe classes in Himachal, Pradesh answer that very question

by Gunavati
August 2016

Whenever we start a yoga teaching session for the people in one of our villages, the first question that comes is why they should practise. They have their responsibilities, often in this pattern—housework and other chores for the women, work for the men, and studies for the children.

The way we decided to deal with this aspect in Indpur, our village in Himachal Pradesh, was to assure people that they were making a good investment. Our beginner program is a simple asana sequence that can be completed in 20 to 30 minutes. Time that would be otherwise spent sitting around and chatting or watching TV could be used to improve their mental, physical and spiritual health.

Once we convince people to attend yoga training, the next challenge comes. We must collaborate in terms of finding a proper time and place for class, and this is difficult. People in the village are busy all day, especially the women, with their children and housework. Also, because the caste system exists in the village, the location needs to be in an area where everyone can come.

In fact, the first time we were in Indpur to teach for a week, the only suitable time for the women to come to class was at five in the morning. We were worried that no one would show up, as it was October and the mornings were cold and dark. But on the first day just before class started, our phones rang. They were all there waiting for us. Such a relief and encouragement.

However, that time, even though we continued our early morning class a few more days, the attendance somehow died out. We weren’t so familiar with the locals yet and couldn’t organise more yoga classes.

Much more success occurred at the government primary school. We went there every morning and the children were so happy when we arrived. Though I must add, they were quite rowdy and uncontrollable. I was concerned that teaching them yoga did not make any difference in their lives.

But our second trip to Indpur to teach yoga this summer relieved me of that concern. They behaved much better and were so happy that we came back to teach. By the end, they actually remained strictly in their own places and completely followed class without disturbing it. Yoga has the power in itself to naturally discipline and these children are a perfect example. Even though children like to play, they can also do classical yoga and it is fun and exciting for them—they truly enjoy it.

It was also a great joy to see children like our yoga instruction booklet so much that they even took it to school. One little boy joined me every time on the stage to show yoga postures, and I later saw him studying on his own from our yoga book. I could see very peaceful and concentrated expressions on children’s faces, especially during meditation. Children can meditate well!

Things also vastly improved in terms of teaching the adults. We got to use a large hall in the middle of the village that was in good condition and a solid schedule emerged for men and women.

The daily schedule started with the first class being for men, and even though it was at 4:30 am, amazingly, several showed up in that early morning darkness. There was a shopkeeper who attended every single class for the whole two weeks of training. And then there were the young men who would sleep in the hall just so they would wake up there in time for class. Also, there was a little boy from a neighbouring house who would join in at that early morning hour.

Meanwhile, this time, the women’s class occurred in the evening along with children and the attendance remained solid for the entire two weeks (ie, it did not die out this time!) In fact, some of the women would attend two classes. The afternoon class was our most popular one. During my stay almost 50-60 people showed up daily. 

Neha, a young local woman, showed such dedication that she became a teacher under Gunavati's guidance.

But truly, the most credit goes to Neha, a young local woman who was my translator and eventually ended up as the person who would take over teaching after my departure. Already in our first yoga class I was impressed by her good English and confidence. She also told me that it was a very special day in her life. 

Neha was deeply yearning to do something meaningful, especially after meeting Amma for the first time in Delhi this year. She took one teaching from Amma—“We are all beads strung together in a thread of love”—and decided to live the truth of its meaning. She repeated this quote many times while we were in class, and it could very well be what gave her the courage to come to the public school with us and break the caste barriers. She gladly moved around in the village as my translator, even to visit some lower caste homes.

In the Indpur village, the separation between the castes is so strict that the higher castes from the upper part of the village have practically no interaction with the lower castes. People from the lower side wouldn’t even know that she was from the same village. It probably takes a lot of courage to break this custom.

I was very proud of Neha. I also trained her to teach yoga, as well as I could in this short time. My hope is that yoga continues there and that she could be an inspiration for other young women and the whole village. Yoga could bring the village people together and it could be very empowering to youth, especially young women.

But we must take into account the reality of the situation. It’s difficult for people to form habits and keep up with the practice, since their lives are so demanding with other work and responsibilities. It will take time, but now the seeds are planted.

Gunavati relaxes with some students.
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