The power of the teens’ voices at Instill

At the weekend, I had the privilege of hosting and attending the Instill conference about yoga for young people in London. I was struck by the powerful voice of a group of teens who concluded the day. 

They ranged from 13 to 18 years old and spoke passionately and eloquently about facing mental health challenges in their short lives. One girl recounted that she had tried 5 different therapies to try to relieve her crippling anxiety without any luck. Finally, she found yoga. Her experience, like the others, was that when she started to release tension in the body and the mind, she became more able to control the mind and guide it towards a more positive way of thinking. As she started her path of reflection and in-time, she felt more able to unhook from social media and connect with herself and more deeply with others.

The final speaker, Flo, 13, mentioned that they all know someone who takes drugs to alleviate some kind of mental illness, they are only too aware of the problem, but why have they not been given tools to support them and resolve the issues? She found yoga and wants it to be in the curriculum. 

This student-led approach to life-long learning – embedding a skillset into their life for the better, is the way forward, to reach out to young people and empower them to support themselves and each other in ways that are meaningful to them.

We need to empower young people to find their own truth, their own path and their own  future which I firmly believe is full of hope.

From Nicki Ledgard

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Thought for the day

Yesterday in my village, big red poppies popped up on lamp posts along the pavements. Remembrance day- it is with mixed emotions I gaze at these reminders of bloodied battlefields and realise how lucky we are to live in a time of peace.

Every year on the 21st of September we celebrate the World Peace Day with yoga sessions across the country. The reason is simple, we experience that when we are at peace with ourselves then we can be at peace with others.

On a daily basis, we are at war, resisting others, resisting the status quo, even resisting ourselves due to the impression and misunderstanding that we are separate individuals, disconnected and alone.

Yoga is a method to find inner peace, through a series of actions such as body movement, visualisations, breathing techniques and physical and mental relaxation. We connect deeply with ourselves, our mind with our body, ourself with the other person, our spirit with God. We integrate our conflicting feelings and emotions, aligning ourselves with the flow of life.

Maybe for some of us it is easy to see the connection between feeling well and being kind, considerate and thoughtful. But it might be less easy to allow ourselves the permission to go ahead and spend time on ourselves, caring for this vehicle, our body and the instrument, the mind, in order that they may work in harmony and at full capacity.

Earlier this week I had the privilege of stepping inside the Palaces of Westminster to talk about yoga as a methodology to support the mental health of young people. At one of the meetings an elderly peer of Indian descent piped up quietly, “yoga saved my life – after my first heart attack, I started doing yoga at my GPs suggestion and I would suggest we offer it to everyone”

On Remembrance day in London this year, not only will there be poppies but there will also be a group of young people coming together to talk about yoga in education as the way of coming into equilibrium with themselves, each other and the world at large. I feel proud to be part of an organisation which is giving the voice to young people to explore their agency in their own wellness.

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Yoga on Remembrance Day – A powerful reminder of the importance of peace

It has struck me several times that we are holding the Instill conference this year on Remembrance Day (11th November), in remembrance of those who gave their lives in war. The link to me is obvious as it was to the young men in Sierra Leone, where I have been teaching. How does a yogi go to war? The link between inner equilibrium, peace and connection and the outward manifestation of it, is tangible for anyone who practises yoga. The link between inner peace and the future peace of our country are obvious (notwithstanding the story of Arjuna.)

This year has seen an exponential rise in the interest of yoga among policy makers, due the fabulous work that has been done by the Indian Government in promoting yoga.

Sitting at the Houses of Parliament speaking in favour of yoga in schools, I need to pinch myself as I remember schools rejecting yoga outright over ten years ago. Today, yoga is in fact being practised by MPs, Lords and Ladies alike on a daily basis at the Houses of Parliament as well as in prisons and schools across the UK.

The Instill conference is an opportunity to bring this diverse and passionate group of activists together and to showcase these differing and complementary ways of implementing yoga for the common good among young people.

We have workshops on yoga in prisons, yoga and exam stress, yoga and gender, yoga and addiction and yoga and creativity, among others. We will also be revealing the latest results of our survey on yoga for young people which is very encouraging. Dr Cartwright from Westminster University is also going to share some of her results with the audience from the Big Yoga Survey which reached thousands of people and shows some astounding statistics on the impact and reach of yoga in the UK today.

To end the conference, there will be a panel of young people who have been empowered to lead a session on their impression of yoga in lives of the young of today.

I do hope you can come and join us. If you register with the foundation (which is free) your ticket is reduced to £75. However money should not be an issue, so please feel free to contact us if you need some financial assistance.

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Ministry of Presence

If you had a voice, what would you say? Young people were asked this question and answered:

We need to learn independence in a good way, we need to learn how to say “no!” and make a good choice for ourselves, despite our parents or other influences.

The young people are looking for guidance in finding agency and they are looking for support in finding their voice, they are looking for mentorship in finding their own way to well being.

It is easy for policy makers, parents and teachers to have ideas of what is best for young people today but they face many challenges we can only imagine. Young people are empowered through social media to express themselves and to fine tune their voice, so we thought we would like to build on that at the conference.

Some of them have experience of living abroad and say that they find the educational system in the UK patriarchal and competitive, disconnected from their own needs, desires and interests, steeped in an outdated and disruptively competitive atmosphere which no longer matches the needs of our future society but rather reflects the fears and contraction of the colonial past.

Many young people ask for guidance in what it is to be well. At the Instill conference we have gathered a number of young people to create and deliver a 90 minute session on wellness, school and yoga. We are excited to embody the pedagogical approach that we favour, which is of student led discussion and exploration. In true yoga it is in fact the quality of our presence that matters more than our actions. How can we as yogis and adults minister with our non-judgmental presence in order to effectuate change?

By simply listening whole-heartedly. At Instill we get the opportunity to offer the gift of complete presence to our young people in order that they themselves may feel empowered to be the change they wish to see in the future of education, the future of Britain and the future of the world.

Join us to facilitate this change.

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Present Gift

Last week I had the privilege of spending time with 23 students and 7 teenagers in the South of Spain. There was no Wi-Fi, TV or other distractions. It was a good 20-minute uphill hike to the nearest village. We all found the daily meditation and yoga practise a beautiful reminder of how to slow right down and be present.

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Instill conference clash

After some reflection, we have decided to postpone the Instill conference to the autumn. A key reason for this is that since setting our dates, we have noticed that the conference dates clash with one of the largest yoga festivals in the UK in Reading, which many of our potential participants would like to go to.

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Yoga vs Christianity among parents

“Yoga cannot open people’s hearts to God” says Pope Francis. There seems to be some confusion, which cannot be ignored.

Is yoga a religion? Is it contrary to my Christian faith? Does the word God even feature in yoga classes?

Lets be clear! Yoga is a philosophy, a science of well-being, pre-dating Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism (and definitely Christianity!) and deeply influencing them all. Yoga has existed and flourished for thousands of years (maybe 7000). However, in no text or system does yoga require you to have a belief or faith. Rather, it is a system, a science of well being, very different from religions, since yoga incorporates practical applications on how we exercise, breathe, think, relax and eat.

The definition of religion is one of faith and ritual. Yoga, however, is about experience and practise.

For many Christians, particularly Catholics,  mentioning controlling the mind can be a massive trigger. Many parents are scared that the yoga will “control the mind” of their child. We could, instead, talk of calming or stilling the mind, in order for it to be more positive and focussed.

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Reflections on Africa

Arriving in Charles de Gaulle Paris airport, the cool, clean floor, the manicured hostesses and the orderly queues were a sight that should feel reassuring, comforting and familiar, but after just 8 days – I feel alienated.

The body aches for constant touch, senses ache for comforting sounds, smells, connection, in this sterile environment.

I am confused – we go to Africa to “help”, but as so many aid workers, we come back wondering who is actually being helped? In economic terms, it seems clear; we, the privileged West help the less privileged countries to become more stable, “civilised”, wealthy, healthy.

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