Yoga Gurukul – Seed Sown

Mrinmayee Belsare (Minoo), USA

What is the image that conjures up when you hear the word ‘yoga’? Some may visualize it as an old person sitting utterly steady with eyes closed, trying to keep his/her back straight for hours at end. A few may think of it as twisting and turning of their bodies in the most impossible postures possible. While some, may visualize it as going away from the pleasures of civilization into the wilderness in search of peace! Conventionally, a Yoga Gurukul flashes before our eyes, a forest with snakes, tigers, scary wild animals and amidst all this we stay and practise asanas and pranayama.

But would you believe if I tell you that I experienced 30 days of pure bliss and joy without engaging in any of the above stunts? Those 30 days which I cherish even today, have been the best part of my life which I enjoyed during my summer holidays while in elementary school. Sounds awesome, right?

The Bihar School of Yoga, founded by Paramahamsa Swami Satyananda Saraswati, in Munger, Bihar, India, is the best school of yoga where yogic teachings are imparted by resident ‘sannyasins’ based on their experiences and not by bookish pedantic. In 1983, Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati conducted a pilot residential camp for kids between the ages of 6 and 12. The kids were to stay in the ashram for a month, without their parents, and learn yoga. “What? No Parental Supervision?” I had my initial apprehensions on learning about all this and wondered what was in store?

As we gathered for our first meet, we were introduced to a young, smiling and charming sannyasi, Swami Niranjanananda, who was the President of Bihar School of Yoga and the in charge of this camp. I couldn't stop noticing his wide ears and his long arms and hands that reached beyond his knees. As he explained our daily schedule, I realized that his smile had captivated everyone in the group. The daily routine that was announced seemed very simple and sounded like fun. We were grouped by age for all the classes. The medium of instruction was mostly in Hindi; which some of us did not comprehend, so we were clubbed with sessions which were in English.

Ashram routine

As the camp began, I was up every day at dawn, all excited about what the day holds in store. During this camp, I learnt to start my day with a prayer to request the grace of all the divine powers. Yogic postures and practices starting from the basics and progressing to advanced were all included in the day’s routine. Our typical day started at 5.30 am with one full hour for yoga exercises, followed by a breakfast, then the ritual of cleaning karma yoga for 30 minutes. We then played various games in the playground for an hour. A good luncheon was very refreshing after these activities.

Afternoons generally were quite hot, so it was time for some indoor activities. Reading some good books in the library, a few indoor games and a session of guided yogic sleep called yoga nidra was followed by an hour of independent time. After enjoying a snack, we were allowed to play games and indulge ourselves in nature. Dinners were early at 5.30 pm. An hour after dinner, we gathered for Satsang (thoughts of wisdom to reflect upon), some bhajans and kirtans which was accompanied by some singing and dancing. Lights were turned off by 8.00 pm.

Every day we had to take care of our bed, clean our own dishes, wash our clothes and keep our rooms clean. Initially all this seemed like formidable tasks but very soon all of us got adjusted to these chores and started enjoying. There was no “time out”, no homework, instead we were encouraged to take our own decisions and behave responsibly. We enjoyed two field trips outside the campus and got an opportunity to swim in the holy river Ganga!!! I thoroughly enjoyed all this and had already made-up my mind to come to this place every summer.

We were taught about the various breathing techniques and the shatkarmas (different cleansing techniques like neti, kunjal, shankaprakashalana). All these practices would be very useful if practised regularly in life. How to relax and maximize our energies through the conscious relaxation practice of yoga nidra, was a daily practice which we learnt. I distinctly remember my instructor describing the most exotic cakes imaginable and some mouthwatering treats during this practice. Time flew by fast and the four weeks went by in a jiffy.

The learning

Back home, it was impossible for me to forget all that I learnt at the ashram during the camp and I was very eager to demonstrate all that I had learnt to my parents. They were very supportive and allowed me to practise what I learnt. I was transformed into a more disciplined and a responsible kid. That one month of my ‘Ashram Life’ has really become a turning point in my life. Increased awareness, unwavering focus by tuning out the noise, concentration and the ability to memorize were a few immediate effects that were obviously evident. Self-discipline and accountability were ingrained at a very young age during the camp, which led to independent thinking. Decision making became easy. Setting the priorities was second nature. How to experience joy in every activity we do is something that I cultivated through various teachings.

Over the years, I returned to the ashram many times with my family and recharged myself with the positive energy and the valuable teachings which have enriched my life. A few years later, I was very lucky to get diksha from Paramahamsa Swami Satyananda Saraswati. Today, I wanted to take this opportunity to share my amazing experience of the ‘Bal Yoga Camp’ where I did a lot of active learning, valuable for life.

Some key takeaways which I wish to highlight

It is very important to align with the divine forces as we start our day. This creates a positive aura around us, generates tranquillity of mind and resonates with our inner self.

Peace and happiness are within us. We should not waste our time searching for them outside. Every act, when done selflessly generates joy and peace.

It is important that we allocate time and manage it effectively to achieve goals. One of the most important habits I developed was to set priorities, make small goals and divide the time to achieve them. As a child, the goals gyrated towards completing homework, playing games and studying for exams. Over time, these have immensely helped me in effective management of time in accomplishing my tasks.

Without any doubts, I can say that the seed of samskara, the blue-print of impressions, was sown during that one month, which I am successful in nurturing all this time because of the teachings. I hope children get the same opportunity to experience the pure joy at the ashram as I did.