Yoga as a Tool for Learning and Creativity

Swami Yogabhakti, Founder and President, RYE, Acharya, Satyanandashram France

My regards and thanks to Swami Sivananda, who started the lineage we are devoted to. Along with our gurus, I would also like to thank Mother Saraswati who is the goddess of intelligence and education.

The theme I am dealing with today has a lot to do with the application of yoga in society. Just before I came to India, I went to the Paris Yoga Festival where I was invited to present the topic of yoga in the school system. I spoke alongside other representatives of groups who introduce yoga into the police services, into the army, into banks, into corporate enterprises, and so on. So there is definitely a revolution going on with regard to the introduction of yoga into society.

In July 2013, yoga began a partnership with the Ministry of Education in France with the statement that it would be introduced into all French schools. Recently, Yamuna Devi, a good friend of mine, who is present here today, received the announcement that yoga has been introduced into a leading centre of medical research in France. This is an achievement that was proposed to me by Swami Satyananda to implement as a mission.

From teacher to yoga teacher

I would like to tell you that I, being French, have my samskaras as a French teacher. First of all, let me share the story reported by Mulla Nasruddin, who one day saw at the window an extraordinary bird. I don't know if it was an eagle also, but it was an extraordinary bird, fluttering with vitality. He took hold of the bird and said, "That is not a complete bird yet, we have to cut the beak a little, curl the feathers, and trim it." He did so and then said, "Ah, that's a real bird now." You see, that is the samskara of educational systems all over the world. Every country has its own bird, tailored to its particular ideologies.

The samskara I have inherited is the fact that in France, for more than one century, we have been under the law which ensures a strict separation between Church, or spirituality, and the State. Therefore, it is necessary that when you want to introduce something like yoga, you must pay attention to secularism, which I have had to do for forty years while I introduced yoga into my English classrooms.

It was actually not difficult for me, because I paid attention to the fact that every student, every schoolboy and schoolgirl, is entitled to be a good citizen. It is because of this that I referred to the fantastic bird with the light in it, which is the aim, the goal, the objective to preserve. When I realized, through Sri Swamiji's wonderful teachings, through the practice of yoga on myself and through this experience of mine, I wanted and wished to introduce this experience to the children. I kept in mind this light, this wonderful light that every person born on this earth keeps inside.

With this in mind I was able to lead two public lives: one as Swami Yogabhakti, dealing with the transmission of the techniques to adults, such as yoga and meditation and yoga nidra, for instance; and the other one, Research on Yoga in Education (RYE), using my social name, Micheline Flak. With this I did not feel a split in my personality. No, I did not feel schizophrenic; I felt perfectly one, because I never lost sight of the fact that I had a mission to introduce yoga officially into the system, because the system needed it.

Balance between secularism and spirituality

What did I do? People keep asking me, "How did you manage?" I realized that all over Europe, children were not at ease in the present system. Children like to be free, they like to run about and not remain confined within walls. They like to do things, to make things with their hands, but their brains were stuffed with subjects they might not ever use later in life. They like to move around, but they were confined to benches for hours on end. These are the constraints of education, and they have been so for centuries, maybe even millennia.

Therefore, yoga seemed to me to be the means, as tantra teaches us, to accept the limits first, and then to transcend them. The first thing to teach children is accepting facts as they are. That is, becoming aware; to become aware if they are standing or sitting on a muddy, slippery ground, for example. Let them realize this first, and then feel that they can find solutions to improve it.

The first thing we did and still do in our group – because we are training teachers in this line – is to develop attention and attentiveness, the capacity to feel the air in the nostrils, to feel the clothes on their body, to feel their buttocks on the chair. Starting from these bare facts, they can then feel the joy of living.

After this great point of developing awareness, we lay emphasis on the training of RYE teachers. As we cannot allude to any spirituality in the classroom because of the tenet of secularism, even though we know that spirituality is so important in discovering the core of the self, in our training of yoga teachers we insist on the capacity to understand the essence of yoga: ida and pingala, the koshas, and the great texts like Samkhya Karika, Sage Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, the Upanishads, and so on. We pay attention to the tradition. Therefore, our teachers are aware of the source to a great extent.

Another point we emphasize is helping the children to decondition themselves from the fascination of the outside world, so that they learn the art of developing their subtle senses. Turning inside is the beginning of spirituality. Therefore, we try to develop imagination and creativity through exercises derived from the teachings of our beloved guru, so that when it is dark outside and the system does not really help us find our basis in this world, we can imagine the storm is abating and the sun is shining again like the light within us.

Children as ambassadors of yoga

On account of all this, we have the feeling that yoga is necessary and well received. The children are our best ambassadors. When I first introduced yoga in my classes without asking for permission, I must admit – I asked for it later on – the principal's first question was, "What do the parents think of it?" I said, "The parents agree," because the children had told them that they liked this relaxation session very much. He said, "Well, I am worried about it anyway. I am going to ask my wife." (You know the role of women in yoga!) So he asked his wife at lunchtime and in the afternoon he called me again and said, "My wife agrees."

The next principal I had was like a miracle. She discovered the techniques of yoga that she wanted me to teach her and we developed a friendship which continues up to now. It was she who decided to invite Swami Satyananda to the high school, College Condorcet, where I was teaching. It was an event for which we invited inspectors, children, parents, journalists.

Guidance of gurus

Sri Swamiji came and sat in geru with a lot of bubbling joy on the table of the establishment. It was an event which went so far as to have the report published in the famous newspaper Le Monde, and then more journalists wanted to come to my classroom. One did come, and he wrote that if he had started learning English that way when he was young, he would be able to speak it fluently. It is a fact that yoga develops cognitive faculties also. Not enough research has been done on this subject, and I rely on my colleagues to do some neuroscientific experiments with children to publicize the fact that yoga develops concentration and learning skills.

I met with many obstacles, but I don't remember them. I don't remember them because what I received from Sri Swamiji and the gurus, Swami Niranjan and Swami Satsangi, is that they are people who promote education for children not only at school, but throughout their life. I would like to pay special tribute to Swami Satsangi as a woman who develops and promotes the education and dignity of village girls in a male-oriented context. I think the work she is doing is tremendous for India and for so many other countries.

Holistic approach

I would like to emphasize the fact that in order to do this work, you must also have contact with other currents in the field of education. I have always been interested in working with those people who are trying to improve the systems of education in the world. I really believe that through this link with the modern world and yoga, something new will evolve in society. When the systems of education are improving – and they are going to improve slowly but surely through the introduction of yoga in all countries – the world will become less violent, less fanatical. This is what I am dreaming of and I am sure that you also have this vision.

I don't know what my next mission will be, because I have finished this one, and I rely on my gurus to tell me what to do next.

Address, 25 October 2013, Polo Ground, Munger