Today psychologists are recognising the need for people to have a greater sense of purpose, competence and self-worth. One way in which society can accomplish this is through education. The word education is derived from 'educare', to lead out from within. This means providing an environment in which the student's self-regulating learning processes can unfold naturally. What many teachers are now interested in 'leading out from within' is the expression of the self- the highest qualities that lie within.
Every child and adult should know that within himself or herself there is a calm centre which can be contacted as a vital energy source when one needs it. The ability to visualise and contact the inner space, combined with the knowledge of external forms, together enable one to experience both the inner and outer dimensions of life in all their fullness.
In the USA, Britain and Europe, teachers are applying the practices of yoga for this purpose, and the meeting of east and west has already begun in those classrooms where the yogic view of education has entered the curriculum. In India, plans are under way to make yoga a compulsory subject in state schools. Yoga is being introduced in 320 schools this year on an experimental basis. If successful, the scheme will later be extended to all the schools in the country. The educational ideals of the rishis are thus being put into practice, perhaps in a manner which they could not have entirely foreseen, but with the same objective- self-realization.
Yoga develops children's ability to truly observe and listen, enhances their awareness and increases concentration. The whole dimension of meditation, creative imagery, awareness and development of intuition and sensitivity is a positive aid in developing the right brain and balancing both hemispheres so that growth is harmonious. This approach begins by taking advantage of the innate creative ability of all young children. A chair becomes a ship or a car; the floor is the sea; a rag is an island. Then, through imagination, fantasy, play and interaction, the children can be guided from the purely subjective into the realms of rational knowledge. Rhythm and form become the basis for learning mathematics, and mandalas become an invaluable conceptual device in all subject areas.
The yogic teaching program for young children between five and ten years includes preliminary body work, yoga asanas, pranayama, chanting, kirtan, guided visualisation, silent games and mandalas. This involves both dynamic and passive activities. Calming activities such as yogic relaxation and short visualisations are especially useful for encouraging centring of the individual and the group after more energetic work. These techniques also bring about individual self-discipline and co-operation and lead to peace and balance within the group.
Static asanas are neither practicable nor beneficial for young children. Dynamic movements such as surya namaskara, majariasana (the cat pose), shashank-bhujangasana (the striking cobra pose) and dynamic paschimottanasana are more suitable. A session of such asanas should not last for more than ten to twenty minutes, and should be followed by relaxation in shavasana.
Singing kirtan and Om chanting are other activities that appeal to children. Chanting can be used as a meditation, for focusing group energy, and for evoking peace, love and joy. The study of sound waves and vibration is an obvious means of integrating such an activity with scientific subjects.
Educators are also recognising the benefits of yoga in the secondary school. Yoga manages the emotional disturbances that can arise from physiological imbalance during the teenage years. Dynamic asanas and yogic breathing balance the endocrine glands and the distribution of hormones. To maintain the health of the pineal gland and its inhibiting effect upon the pituitary, or 'master' gland, surya namaskara, nadi shodhana pranayama and shambhavi mudra with visualisation are recommended. The practice of mantra also calms the young person's distracted mind. After puberty, static asanas can be introduced, and can be synchronised with the breath.
Often secondary schools offer work programs for students, and this provides an excellent opportunity for a practical class in karma yoga. In this way, students can relate their enhanced awareness to normal daily activities and to every area of life.
Through the practice of yoga, we deepen our feelings and thoughts. We have more energy in our bodies and become more sensitive and aware of all life. This affects our personal and social interactions, relationships with the opposite sex, personality integration and character development. Values are seen as emerging from within rather than as being imposed from outside. We become more aware of the distinction between the ego and the self, and the obstacles that prevent us from knowing our real selves.
People who are physically healthy, mentally sound and spiritually strong are necessary in this world today; people who live in harmony with themselves and with others, who have an understanding of nature's rhythms and who respect all natural life. When thousands of people enrich their lives with self-control, inner vision and enlightenment, what will the nation be like? Yogic education is a large step towards that reality.
Yoga taps the genius in each of us. This does not mean that we become great geniuses or leaders, but rather that the life we lead becomes full of awareness and creativity. We create at each moment and enjoy the things we do. At the same time we become free from the hold of externals. We no longer need to have people tell us what to do, how to think, what is right and wrong. We know within ourselves, spontaneously. This is true education, true creativity, and the source of all our culture and learning, all books and all arts.
Swami Satyananda has said, 'To make others remember what has been given to them is not education. There is a creative force which discovers and invents something new; the release of this force is education. Creative force results from the development of the divine in us.'
To tap this essence, to know the creative experience rather than mere intellectual knowledge, is the aim and end result of the yogic process.