Yoga Reflections from Beyond the Surface…

In a time where there are countless interpretations and expressions of yoga being practiced across the globe, I am grateful for any and all yoga moments when I am reminded of what matters most……and for me it’s not found in a handstand, although handstands are fun, what matters most is found in the heart. A recent experience I had in India while filming Beyond the Surface offered me the perfect yoga moment, and it reminded me of why I embraced the practice in the first place.

As part of the film project we spent a few days exploring fellow team member, Emi Koch, and her involvement with the local Kerala community. We spent some time with a group of children involved in an outreach project called SISP. SISP stands for Sebastian India Social Projects, and here is a little more info about the organization:

“SISP is a small Indian Non-Governmental Organization (a charity) operating in the southern state of Kerala in India. SISP aims to raise the quality of life of the poorest of the poor. We work to provide free education, social care and other benefits to the most socially disadvantaged people from Vizhinjam, a fishing village in Kerala, south India, and the surrounding area, regardless of sex, caste, politics or religion.”  ~ borrowed from the SISP website

 

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(** Side note:  A heart-wrenching fact, but one worth sharing, is that upon meeting the children I assumed most of them were 8 or 9 years old based on their size and appearance. My assumption was incorrect. Many of the kids were actually teenagers, but malnourishment had contributed to a major delay in their physical development. Needless to say, the kids we met had not been dealt an easy hand, yet somehow, even through their hardships, their spirits remained bright and strong. Even without words they managed to teach me about life, and I hope their faces will remain with me forever.)

We were given a tour of the facility and I found myself deeply moved by the commitment and dedication I witnessed in everyone involved in the program…from the cooks, to the teachers, to the kids. SISP is a well oiled machine driven by love and service, and we could all learn from their efforts.  

 

Beautiful SISP chef  Photo by Crystal Thronburg Homcy

Beautiful SISP Teacher
Photo by Crystal Thornburg Homcy

 

One of the benefits these kids receive through SISP is that they practice yoga 3-5 times a week. They have an outstanding teacher, Prem, who leads them through a really fun and playful yoga class which serves as a respite from the more traditional school related studies. We were lucky enough to jump in and practice with Prem and the kids, and this experience will remain one of my favorites from the trip. Outside it was about 95 degrees with no wind and high humidity, and inside it was even hotter. We were pretty much drenched in sweat before class even started, but the room was all smiles. Any physical discomfort quickly disappeared the moment we were surrounded by such happy and cheerful kids. Prem lead us through a series of postures, and everyone participated with enthusiasm. We saluted the sun, we stretched, we balanced on our arms, and we balanced on our legs. The room was filled with giggles, curiosity and joy. It was a perfect class.

 

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The energy calmed at the end when we all took some time in a brief meditation followed by savasana, which also served as nap time for some of the kids. The icing on the cake was when the boy next to me reached over to hold my hand during his nap… so sweet. It is reassuring to know that these kids are learning healthy ways to take care of themselves while simultaneously and subconsciously developing tools to handle life’s challenges. These are great byproducts of practicing yoga… you get tools for life, and these kids could really use some tools.

 

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In some ways this was just a simple yoga class, nothing more. A teacher led us through some postures, guided us through meditation and offered up some relaxation at the end. These are the bones of pretty much any yoga session. But this was more than a simple yoga class because it was delivered in love and in service. This shouldn’t stand out as special, because love and service lie at the very roots of yoga, but through evolution it seems that certain areas of the ancient practice have gotten a little muddied. In the West, I find that occasionally teachers perform more than they teach, and I am sure I have fallen into that behavior a time or two. There is a certain celebrity-dom that has somehow been infused into the role of teaching yoga, and I find it can absolutely take away from the authenticity of the experience. And then, add in the social pressures from other students and even the media’s definition and interpretation of yoga…. it doesn’t always feel like the safest, purest of environments.

In this case, Prem wasn’t acting…he was there for one reason…that reason being the kids. And these kids weren’t competing, they were playing. In this class there was only laughter, breath, an occasional “shhh”, and lots of joy. And above all that, without any spoken words, there was pure, human connection. I don’t think it gets much better that that. This is the very essence of  yoga…to me: when the human spirit can free itself from all the pressures of life, be they 1st world pressures or 3rd world pressures, and it can then experience love in its purest of forms.

Thank you SISP, and Prem, and the little boy who took my hand, for reminding me of what matters.

 

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To learn more about SISP, check out their website here

To stay connected with more Beyond the Surface news, check out the Beyond the Surface Blog!

 

 

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