Yoga for the Future

Sannyasi Gangadhara (Alcione Cassia Dos Santos Ramos, Satyananda Yoga Centre, Brazil)

This is a report of an experience of yoga classes for children, undertaken by the Satyananda Yoga Centre of Brazil in a school classified as a ‘city outskirts school’ because it is attended by underprivileged children living in ‘areas at risk’ within the outskirts of a large urban region.

Brazil is a developing country in South America, with approximately 170 million inhabitants. The country’s population, similar to the world-wide trend, is concentrated in big urban areas, which causes demographic imbalance and social derangement. The shanty towns or slums (known as ‘favelas’) are poor or depressed areas inhabited by people of scanty resources which gives rise to social injustices and causes every kind of disruption. Each day we live with scenes of robbery, drug dealing and ever increasing rates of violence and criminality.

If we are to devise some basic solution, then we most certainly need to think of education; however, not an education that represses, conditions and imprisons, but an education that can liberate the positive potentials of human beings.

If we are also to consider how we should act to do our part in being instrumental for growth and evolution towards peace in the world, then we must certainly think of the children. They are the pillars of our future society. Accordingly, if we are to consider a methodology that will engender higher awareness, a practice that will make a difference, then we need to think of yoga.

Therefore, inspired by the words of Swami Satyananda: “If we wish to see a golden halo glowing on the horizon, it is not you or me but the little children who must be spiritualized”, and guided by Swami Niranjanananda’s encouraging words and his vision of yoga as an instrument for transformation, we decided to contribute toward a better world, by attempting to take yoga to those who would otherwise have no means of experiencing it.

For two years our energies have been directed to a group of almost 150 underprivileged children. We started out not knowing how we would be received, but to our surprise, the children received us with open hearts. Actually, the children involve themselves in the yoga practices more freely because their minds are still unfettered by cultural conditioning and standards. We can see this clearly in their ability to learn the techniques; what we teach in the morning, they can do in the evening. So this is what is occurring: we are observing the arousal of creativity, respect and truer independence with regards to discipline, that is, an expression of inner peace as a result of a yogic and spiritualized education.

Once a week the children, aged between 7 to 11, have yoga classes lasting 40 minutes, where they learn dynamic asanas such as surya namaskara and rajasic asanas as a means of channelling their vital energies. The asanas transport them to unknown and enchanting realms involving camels, elephants, heroes, tigers etc., all absorbed in a flight of imagination. Furthermore, the asanas contribute to the building of stronger bodies that are less vulnerable to disease. Pranayama is practised after blowing soap bubbles in the open air, which not only strengthens the children’s lungs, but also relaxes them and leaves them less anxious. Bhramari, with the imaginary buzzing of bees, calms their minds, while nadi shodhana balances their vital and mental energies. Many of these children live in areas of risk and are continuously exposed to conflict and turmoil. They often relate how they use the yoga practices to help remain calm during stressful events. Yoga nidra becomes an inner journey where the children can express their samskaras (unconscious impressions) or even recover from a poor night’s sleep. This practice is sometimes followed by drawing sessions where they can express their visualisations and impressions.

We chant mantras, accompanying them with mythological stories to help the children concentrate their distracted minds in a lucid and gentle manner. During such moments, we can observe what the Swiss psychiatrist Jung called the ‘collective unconscious mind’, because the children pronounce Sanskrit words as though they were in India.

Here are some testimonials of improvements in the children’s quality of life. Eleven-year-old Ellison Dias da Silva wrote to one of the yoga program teachers: “The first time I practised yoga, I felt very happy and calm. Yoga is good for many things; it calms the soul. My mind remains tranquil after class, and one thinks of the sky-blue colour. Thank you very much for helping us. You have helped us encounter the good side of life.”

Eleven-year-old Thiago wrote: “I used to wake up during the night before I started practising yoga. Now I sleep the whole night through and no longer have pains in my body. It has also taught me to see the good side of things and not only the violence.”

Considering that yoga is good not only for children, it also allows their teachers to better understand that in order to educate another person, one must also educate oneself. Furthermore, if they want to see their children grow, then they too must grow beyond their own complexes. Accordingly, yoga classes are provided for the teachers, the majority of whom are nuns, on a monthly basis. Here are some of their comments.

“When we take yoga practice seriously, we perceive extraordinary changes in our day-to-day lives. I am becoming a happier and calmer person. I no longer get anxious or very stressed,” said Professor Iraci.

“After I began the yoga practices I became calmer within myself and with others. Yoga is helping me in my relationship with my group and with myself as well,” related Professor Elizabeth.

“The children are calmer after yoga classes, despite living amidst so much violence. Their reasoning in class is now quicker, and they are also more respectful and interested,” said Professor Elza Silva.

We have also obtained positive results to questionnaires replied to by the teachers regarding their students.

What is most important for us at the Satyananda Yoga Centre of Brazil is to see how yoga can be a means of transformation. We know that we cannot change the world, but we can make the world a better place for us to live in. Such experiences with yoga can generate positive samskaras that will influence the children’s behaviour and attitudes in the future. If we provide opportunities for the children to integrate their feelings and minds, then their personalities will grow just like flowers in a garden. And we have only to be thankful for this.