Yoga for Unemployed Youth

Swami Swayamjyoti Saraswati

As a former teacher working on intensive programs with unemployed teenagers in North Ireland and now working in BSY, Monghyr, as a sannyasin disciple, I have noticed that India and North Ireland have similar unemployment problems. However, Bihar is very fortunate to have an ashram like BSY, where unemployed young people can experience a positive, simple and rewarding way of life.

In North Ireland, unemployment has always been endemic. But due to inflation, teenage unemployment has risen dramatically during the last few years. It became so serious that the government was forced to look into the problem. Pilot schemes were established five years ago to investigate the particular socio-economic group most at risk and to promote the training of young people in the areas of work experience, leisure and relaxation, and personal development.

Training programs for unqualified and unmotivated teenagers were therefore instituted. Because courses were so intensive, with residential elements attached, many other characteristics of these young people were observed during the four month duration of a course. It became apparent that not only were they dealing with the physiological and emotional storms of adolescence, but also with a variety of symptoms, complaints and actual diseases that had their roots in emotional conflicts, faulty diet and modern lifestyle. The display of psychosomatic complaints was startling. It included epilepsy, migraine and tension headaches, asthma and bronchitis, eczema, stuttering, obesity, hyperactivity and depression. There were also occasional outbursts of hysteria and threats of violence and suicide. These teenagers, having grown up as children in North Ireland's preceding decades of uncertainty and violence, showed much anger, frustration and boredom and also a characteristic inability to articulate their deep felt needs and desires.

Work camps and karma yoga

Young people who are labelled as problem children, maladjusted youths or juvenile delinquents seldom if ever benefit from institutional forms of correction and rehabilitation. Fuelled by physical drives and emotional desires, these unemployed teenagers can very easily lapse into a life of crime or violence through lack of love, care and attention. Often teenagers commit outrageous acts against society and when asked why, they reply, 'Out of boredom'.

In North Ireland, charitable groups and voluntary societies, realizing that the limited ghetto existence of young people was leading them to identify with the violent factions in the community, have been pursuing a yearly program of work camps for young people, often located elsewhere in Europe.

On the surface this appears to be karma yoga, western style - purposeful activity with no thought of reward, carried out with an attitude of playfulness. Cooperation is the rule and groups are self-organized and self-directed with all cooking and cleaning divided among the participants. An additional part of the program is group work based on techniques derived from the humanistic psychology movement. These foster a greater sense of individual awareness, and the young person gains confidence in his own thoughts and capacities so that he can cease acting as a mirror, automatically reflecting the prejudices and emotions of the environment. The work camps however, are not as isolated from society as are ashrams and conflicts can arise between the values of this voluntary community and the influences of the society at large. This can partially destroy some of the positive gains experienced by the group as a separate community.

Ashram life

In yogic management we have found that the most suitable environment for young people is the ashram where the simple yogic lifestyle, wholesome food and complete mental and physical rejuvenation can be experienced. An ashram is a place of tranquility, where karma yoga harmonizes body and mind and where kirtan sings its way into your soul. Here is a place where an enlightened master can guide you to unfold the potentials of your mental, emotional and spiritual personality. In the ashram environment, self-understanding can proceed undisturbed by the merry-go-round world outside. Living and interacting with the sannyasin disciples of a guru teaches both young and old self-discipline. Through work and reflection, rough edges are smoothed out and the ego is adjusted. At first the impact on the mind and the body is considerable, but with time the positive effects are felt; tamasic urges lessen and rajasic moods are interspersed with periods of sattwic calmness and peace of mind.

Yoga ashrams all over the world are continuing these simple traditions, and providing places to give practical demonstration and experience of karma yoga as a way of individual and group evolution. Belfast, the troubled capital of North Ireland, now has a Satyananda Ashram where people can learn the integral yoga methods and find out for themselves how beneficial a yogic lifestyle can be. Such ashrams are exerting an enormous influence upon the spiritual elevation of the western cities and are creating great interest amongst psychiatrists, teachers, educators and even churchmen. Their long range influence on community health will be revealed in the generations to come.