Bal Yoga Mitra Mandal

Vikas Kumar, Munger

The Indian Government currently is considering ways of introducing yoga into upper primary schools. Here I will explain how Swami Niranjanananda's experiment with the Bal Yoga Mitra Mandal was initiated, and became successful. Yoga is being incorporated into the educational curriculum in various institutions, but at the Munger Ashram the goal is the overall development of the child.

In 1994 Swamiji gave a lecture at Notre Dame Academy, Munger, about how yoga could be incorporated into schools. The next day Swamiji was to leave for his European tour. We went to the station to see him off and he told us, “Now is the time to do something in Munger.” We said, “Let's start yoga teaching in colleges.” And Swamiji replied, “No, not in colleges, yoga should begin in schools, in small schools. There is still time to begin big work so let us make a small beginning.”

This happened three years ago. Swamiji said that it was necessary to organize a parent-teacher meeting. We could not understand what we would achieve in yoga by a parent-teacher meeting, but we contacted the children from some known schools and called a meeting of the parents and the teachers. At the meeting it was decided that unless the parents realized the value of yoga the children would not learn. Furthermore the teachers at the schools needed to be trained otherwise they would not know the significance and the value of yoga.

When Swamiji returned from abroad he told us that an intellectual understanding of yoga would not do – knowledge must be based on practice. First we showed the children around the ashram before calling the meeting of parents and teachers. In this way it was the children who brought their parents to the hall for the meeting. Thus we approached the parents through their children. On 23rd October, 1994, we had the first meeting. It was a success. Then followed the yoga camp for parents and school teachers. The parents who participated were impressed. However, there were a few prejudices. For example, parents were often apprehensive about exposing their children to yoga in case the children wanted to become sannyasis. Swamiji wants the layman, not the sannyasis, to teach yoga to the children so that the parent's apprehensions will be overcome and they will not hesitate to expose their children to yoga. So we made it a point not to mention sannyasa in connection with this work. Another obstacle is that people connect yoga with religion. However in Munger we did not have much of a problem on this front as even we ourselves, after such a long association with yoga and the ashram, have not been converted to any religion as such. During the propagation of yoga we see that everybody thinks it is good for others whether or not they do it themselves. So we catch hold of the women and tell them that their husbands should do yoga. The women make their husbands do yoga. When the parents realize that yoga brings them good physical health they become inspired. Today the parents are prepared to take yoga for themselves and their children. They realize its practical value and are no longer afraid that their children will become Babajis.

In April 1995 we started yoga teaching with only seven children. By the end of October the children had formed a Bal Yoga Mitra Mandal (Children's Yoga Centre). Swamiji was pleased to see the enthusiasm among the children. He said, “We have had many mandals, organizations for adults, but this is the first organization by children for children.” He declared an asana competition and the winners were to be sent out from Munger to teach in other areas.

We realized we had a lot of hard work in front of us. There were a number of trained yoga teachers in Munger who had locked their certificates away. We approached them, explained the syllabus and provided children as demonstrators. Then we contacted small schools and began classes at 12 sites. We held a meeting to further inspire children and in only 20 days we managed to teach yoga to nearly 1,000 children. We selected 300 children from Munger for the competition.

We wanted to make sure that the asana concept did not get replaced with the gymnastic concept during the competition. The asana should remain as a yogic posture. On what basis should each child's performance be judged? We decided to give percentage marks on the following criteria: starting the asana, going into the asana, maintaining it and leaving it. Thus we kept the yogic concept intact. We decided on four categories for the competition: 8–12 year old boys and girls and 13–15 year old girls and boys. The practice of surya namaskara was compulsory. The children also had to master ten common asana and learn five advanced asana. At the distribution of prizes Swamiji announced a state level yoga competition to be held in Munger in 1996. He said that we should be fully prepared as it should not happen that we teach the whole world but win no medals ourselves. Swamiji has made a program of yoga propagation for the next 11 years. From that day on yoga training became necessary. Adults will always have other responsibilities but the children can apply themselves fully to yoga training. Therefore children should teach other children.

In June 1996 a childrens' yoga propagation course was organized at Ganga Darshan. The children were keen to teach but not to learn. We inspired them by awakening their egos. We said, “Look, people from all over the world come here to learn yoga. It is a shame that we have to bring teachers from outside to teach you yoga.” Swamiji announced that the children who took the training would be sent all over Bihar to teach other children in 1997. This worked and the children were keen to learn.

More than 50% of the children learnt chapter 12 of the Gita by heart. One small girl who was having difficulty succeeded ultimately by using the yogic method of memory recall. Many experiments are taking place in the field of yoga. However, 40 years ago a psychiatrist named Mueller carried out this particular experiment. He divided children into two groups. One group was given material to learn by heart. Another group was given identical material to memorize. The first group was told to play for half an hour before studying and the second group was told to rest for half an hour. The latter group fell asleep. After half an hour both groups were asked to recite the material. The first group displayed a recall of 26% and the second group a recall of 56%. A difference in recall of 30%. If children relax, rest and then study immediately it is very beneficial. If we give yoga nidra it will result in a difference of 70%! We never tested the children but gave them scope for self-improvement. Nearly all gained the confidence to conduct a yoga class.

When the children who accompanied Swamiji to Calcutta returned they told us something: Whenever they had previously visited a school and said they were from Munger, they were dismissed casually, but when they went out with Swamiji, they were greeted with admiration and welcomed, and when asked if they knew anything about yoga they could reply, “Yes”, with confidence.