First, I would like to thank Swamiji Niranjanananda for the honour given to me as an invited speaker at the World Yoga Convention, the Golden Jubilee of the Bihar School of Yoga.
My father's grandmother was a full Native American of the Choctaw nation and my mother's great grandmother was a full native of the Cherokee nation. Our tradition believes that it will be seven generations after the coming of the European invaders before we are completely healed, and at that time we will be called upon to heal Mother Earth.
I came from a poor family, but from a very early age our parents stressed the need for an education, and how to manage money. I started my first job at the age of ten when my sister, who is two years older than me, and I were hired to deliver newspapers near our home. On the payday we were given 25 cents for ourselves, 25 cents that went into the bank, and the rest of the money we earned went for our clothing and school needs.
Though dyslexic, I always had a passion for reading, especially the newspaper. When I was about ten years old, I read in the newspaper about a man in India named Mahatma Gandhi. What I remember was thinking that there could not be such a living person who was as saintly as him. What I admire most about him today is that he never projected his problems on to others or other things. When he was in jail and many rioted and were killed, he did not say, "I told them not to do that." No, what he said was, "I have not done my job properly, or this would not have happened." He took the blame on himself.
When I was twenty-three, I met Vasishtha and very soon we were married. He told me then, "I do yoga." I told him to go ahead, I didn't mind. For me, yoga meant standing on one leg, eka pada pranamasana. However, I never saw him standing on one leg. So after a year or so, I asked him to tell me about yoga. He gave me three books to read, The Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramahamsa Yogananda, At the Feet of the Masters, by J. Krishnamurti, and an Egyptian text, Light on the Path by Mabel Collins. That's how my study of yoga began, not with asanas and pranayama, but with the philosophy of yoga.
When I turned thirty, I met Sri Swami Satyananda. That was 1968 on his first world tour. After a couple of years Sri Swamiji said to me that I should study the works of Dr. Maria Montessori and start to work with children. I did as he suggested and since that time I have taught yoga to children of all ages, from two-and-a-half years to sixteen years of age and older.
Today, Bihar Yoga techniques devised by Sri Swami Satyananda are being used by many schools in many countries the world over. If anyone is in doubt about why they should teach yoga to children, there are a couple of books available, Yoga Education for Children: A Manual for Teaching Yoga to Children by Swami Satyananda and Yoga Education for Children, Volume 2 by Swami Niranjanananda. In the time I have to speak I would like to talk about some applications of Bihar Yoga techniques with children and their effects.
We heard this morning from Swami Yogabhakti about RYE, the association for Research on Yoga in Education, which is well documented in many countries of Europe. I would also like to mention YES, the association for Yoga Education in Schools, which was started in Canada and together with Sannyasi Nawaratri has 'not for profit' status in Texas, USA.
In Austin, Texas, YES is being called upon by the largest public school system in Austin since 2001 to teach not only the physical aspects of yoga, but also to teach these children how to relax with yoga nidra and how to change their behaviour, in 300 elementary schools.
There, YES is also working in Children's Shelters and in one in particular there were a group of twelve children who met once a week for one year. One child (who was thought to be a boy) attended but would not join the group and flung himself on the sofa nearby, displaying anger and swearing quite a lot; he even threw his shoe at the yoga teacher. The child was invited to join the yoga class any time he wished. The yoga game that was played at the end of the class was questions about things they had done. When those who participated could not answer, the one who had refused to join in knew all the answers.
The following week, the child returned, this time wearing a dress, so the teacher realized it was a girl. She still refused to join the class, but on her third visit she joined the class and seated herself right in front of the yoga teacher. She stopped using the foul language and became one of the best students.
At a public elementary school for problem children, YES was also asked to give classes once a week to all grades, one grade at a time throughout the day. Being Texas, a Bible-belt state, Om was not chanted. The children got confused after three weeks and asked if they were really doing yoga, since there was no Om chanting.They asked to chant Om, so it was started from that day.
The teachers found an immediate difference in the children's behaviour. The teachers reported that when the children had to line up for break, or library or lunch, their behaviour had been chaotic and unruly. Since they had started chanting Om, the children would form a line and chant Om and were on their best behaviour to and from the class. This stands to reason because we know that O causes beta rhythms in the brain and the M brings on the alpha, associated with relaxation.
YES, this time in Canada. Swami Bodhananda had just returned to Canada after spending five years at the Bihar School of Yoga in Munger. She is a trained teacher so I suggested she start to teach and through being in the system she could bring some yoga techniques into the classroom. She was hired by the Toronto Board of Education and was given a class in a very rough area of Toronto. That year they decided to put all the troublemakers in one class and they gave this class to her.
From day one, she started their day with yoga nidra. After a week, she asked who would like to teach it and the students responded. By the end of the year, all the students had had a chance not only to practise, but also to actually give a yoga nidra practice with the teacher lying on the floor with the children. By the end of the year, she had the best behaved class in the school.
In Canada, YES gives yoga sessions to children in four schools. In one, it is a club that meets before school. The session consists of some asanas, breathing and usually some visualization. When I met the parents at a parent-teacher meeting (the principal insisted that I be there), they said they had asked their children what they liked about the yoga sessions, and they replied, "They are fun." When I explained to the parents that practices such as trataka and nada yoga were important, as well as the physical exercises, because they help the child to develop their ability to concentrate, some mothers there said, "I'm going to tell my child to join the yoga club."
One of the young boys, an eighth grader, has been diagnosed with ADHD, attention deficit hyperactive disorder. His teacher has started to give a simple form of yoga nidra in the classroom. During the seven to eight minutes of the practice, he remains absolutely still and relaxed. His response is always, "That was fantastic." Over a year, with regularly giving the yoga nidra, he is learning to calm himself and now knows how to relax.
When I meet with the preschool children in the other schools and give them a yoga class, they are already very familiar with the asanas. They do those with their teacher, who is one of my students, and they are also learning practices such as surya namaskara from their physical education teachers. The physical education teacher, who sponsors the yoga club, said that surya namaskara is a perfect warm-up exercise for track sports, which they have to cover in their syllabus.
When I was living in the north of England, the brother of one of my students entered the eleventh year of study and the teachers started to prepare them for the Ordinary Level Exams that would come at the end of that year, by giving them a mock-timed essay to write every Friday. He liked history, but for the first essay he wrote, he received 13 points out of 20 possible points with many remarks on the margins by the teacher. The sister convinced him to do a short yoga nidra and to listen to the chapter he would have to write the mock exam on, which he had read onto a tape. She had him repeat this at least three times during the week. The following week his marks went up to 16 out of 20 with only one comment by the teacher, 'Excellent'. The third week his marks went up to 18 out of 20 and the teacher called attention to him, which embarrassed him, but the remarks of the teacher on that essay were 'Excellent, high standard maintained'. His average for the twenty essays he wrote that year was 17 out of 20 and 'A'. The remarks of the teacher were always, 'Excellent, high standard maintained'. He earned 'A' at O Level and went on to Advanced Level, which was necessary for attending university in England. At the A Level he also earned 'A's, and at university he earned a double First. He earned a First in Political Science and a First in Economics. Today he is a banker in London. He came from a simple family, but with the practice of yoga nidra he was able to develop the ability to learn easily and thoroughly. He supplied me with a copy of these essays as well as a tape he used for preparing for the exam.
In Uruguay I found the most open approach to Yoga Education in Schools. While there in 2007, I visited two schools that were based on the ideas of yoga. Each child had a yoga session every day, the same as they would have a math session. RYE and YES are both well represented in Uruguay, and it is through these two associations that the Bihar Yoga techniques are being introduced to children. Even the very young children are being introduced to the ideas put forward by Rishi Patanjali in ashtanga yoga, which are related to their own stage of development and understanding.
In Brazil, representing YES, I had the opportunity to visit a school with the two swamis that run the Satyananda Yoga activity there. It was a very relaxed session but thorough. There was a lot of playfulness with a very positive purpose. I remember the old parachute that we all hoisted up and down, and then someone ran into the hole at the centre and shouted a word of upliftment, such as trust, hope, knowledge, honesty. It was lots of fun and several parents were there, and we did a song and dance in Portuguese.
In Colombia, especially at the ashram, there are many opportunities for children to learn and practise yoga. The two books referred to earlier are both available in Spanish through the ashram there. They also visit schools and bring yoga to the children.
Many people in Australia are involved with teaching children yoga, following the techniques of Bihar Yoga. Swami Kalikamurti reported teaching yoga in a primary school for children about eight years old. There were about 200 children in the one-hour class and lots of teachers trying to make them be good. Her instructions to the children were to have fun, have a go, that they couldn't do anything wrong, they were not to trash anyone else's experience, and there was no forced participation.
They did shake-outs, asanas, yogic breathing techniques, awareness and short relaxations. They did some breathing with Om chanting. She told them about how yoga helps you to be in control when life was hard. How to have things to help them do that, how in their heart there was a star with a candle flame and how they had to keep it alight no matter what, that it was their job to keep it alight.
The teacher asked some of the children to write her a letter about the yoga. One little boy wrote her to say that he had learnt from one hour of yoga that he did not have to be angry a lot any more, and that if he was angry he could hit the wall instead of hitting someone else.
Swami Kalikamurti also addressed one of the major problems in schools today, which is bullying. She reported that Katie came to prenatal and kids' yoga classes for about a year. Later, when she was eight years old, she told her mother that she was angry and could not sleep and wanted to come back to yoga and see the swami. Katie was being bullied and Swami Kalikamurti was not sure she knew what to do, so she taught her ujjayi pranayama and talked to her about energy – how the bully's energy was affecting her once it was in her energy.
She talked to Katie about the yoga she had done and liked. They did some visualization about her energy being transformed from feeling down to feeling it as being protective of her. They then did Gayatri mantra. Katie came back a few months later to let Swami Kalikamurti know that she was transforming the energy received from the bully into protection. She then sat up straight and sparkled and said she was filled with protective energy, and the bully left her alone and that she felt sorry for him. Today she is a sparkling, dynamic eighteen-year-old. In this example, the child even realized that it is the bully who needs help and felt sorry for him. When we have a low self-image, we look for someone we can feel better than in order to feel good about ourselves.
Therefore, in the schools that are using Bihar Yoga techniques with children with behaviour and learning problems, we are finding positive results. The Bihar School of Yoga is not just concerned with the physical body of the child or the mind of the child, but with the development of the whole personality of the child: the physical body through practices of asana and pranayama, the emotional personality with practices of specific breathing techniques, the intellectual aspect of the personality with practices such as yoga nidra, trataka and nada yoga. Children who do yoga regularly develop physical stamina, emotional control and have a positive self-image and are self-assured, have self-control and exhibit self-initiated creativity.
I will end my talk with a story from my people.
One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, "My son, the battle is between two 'wolves' inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith."
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: "Which wolf wins?"
The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."
—Address, 25 October 2013, Polo Ground, Munger