Yesterday was the 4th International Yoga Day and all over the world, yoga was being practised and celebrated in various ways. I spent the day at the House of COmmons at the APPG on yoga in society, where i found myself pinching myself again and again at the incredible steps we are taking towards the acceptance of yoga as a healthcare initiatave and as support in education.
Theorists say that an idea goes from Ridicule to Rejection to Acceptance. Any of us who have worked in yoga in education or even yoga in general can bear testimony to this. In the 70s Yoga was seen as cultish and hippie, in the 90s it became fashionable among the cognoscenti and today it is being rolled out in all areas of society with government getting on board. Yesterday at the House of Commons, I was invited again to participate in a meeting for the APPG on Yoga at which I represent the Education vertical.
Listening to the peers and experts speaking about yoga and yoga in schools in particular, it is clear that we are at the beginning of a burgeoning surge in interest for yoga. Julie Montagu spoke eloquently about the importance of bringing yoga to everyone as she shared her personal journey from anguish to joy and went on to reiterate the importance of using social media to bring awareness to the general public.
Dr Justin Varney, who works in Public Health outlined the criteria for bringing yoga into the Health Service in a meaningful way. He reiterated that the research on yoga is fundamental and that in 2007 there were only a few meaningful research papers and today there are around 400 research papers being produced every year. This indicates that there is a rise in interest and serious enquiry into the effects and supposed effects of yoga. Josefin from Sweden gave us an overview of yoga in Prisons all over the world, from Mexico to India and Sweden. She gave us some beautiful quotes from prisoners who felt their violence and anger drop away in yoga, positing that the re-offending statistics could drop significantly if many continued with yoga outside of prison, thereby saving countries money and saving lives.
Preaching to the converted, around 100 yogis sat smiling and content that finally what they knew all along was being explored and expressed, namely that yoga brings peace and when practiced extensively could potentially change the heart of our nation, bringing it to joy.
As head of the Education vertical in the APPG, I feel the importance of bringing a solid and unflinching cohesion to the community of yoga teachers working in schools or with children outside of school so that we speak with one voice clearly and concisely, working together in solidarity. When we report to government in this way, our voice wil be heard loud and clear and acted upon without hesitation. This is a call to all kids’ yoga teachers to come together in harmony and move in the same direction, to bring yoga to young people all across the UK in an optimistic, simple and compassionate way. I believe that yoga in schools and for kids could be the answer to so many issues that we are tackling today: obesity, anxiety, disembodiment (and all that that entails) and failing schools. Mindfulness has paved the way and the UK has been a long-term innovator in society, so let’s lead the world in this vision of yoga for children as a way to bring harmony, authenticity and joy to our kids and for our future. Maybe the yoga community could model a new way of leadership, that supports and empowers, that listens and brings together and that moves as one, adhering in this way to the fundamental principles of yoga.
Yoga is a science of wellbeing. It is designed to take the student from a place of lethargy and disengagement to a place of optimal wellbeing through 8 steps:
- Ethics/ civic attunement
- Mindset/positive thinking
- Breathing practise
- Inward reflection
- Balanced and sustained joy
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.
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.
..said no one ever… well you may be surprised that we were recently approached by a parent who was worried that yoga may be harmful to young bodies.
So I thought it would be a good opportunity to put the record straight.
“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.
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.
The bashed up Nissan appears on time – nods of approval and respect from the onlookers. This doesn’t happen often! Bumping along on sandy tracks into the centre of town, we pass women with massive plastic buckets balanced firmly on heads, filled with more plastic – shoes, flip flops and kitchen rolls. Her vibrant dress sways with her head held high. Boundary between car and pedestrian, between oncoming traffic and us is blurred to the point of questioning – are we driving on the pavement? Is it right or left hand traffic here? And bump, another dust cloud billows into the car and plasters our sweaty bodies with a film of dirt.
We have a meeting at the Army Headquarters to speak to the officers about the importance of yoga for the army and for the country. Their corporal and many of his soldiers are participating in the course, inhaling every word, every suggestion. Their motivation is unified – “to make the country great again.” After two decades of unimaginable suffering, Sierra Leone is determined to find peace, especially within the army, where they were in the frontline of horrors only known to us through video games, leaving many deadened and numb. These soldiers see greatness differently from our brothers n the WEst, when asked Corporal Felixon says “I believe passionately that yoga can unify us, bring love and peace into our hearts and when we have it in our hearts, then others will follow – schools, hospitals, everyone!”
Sport England have funded 1 in 7 active graduates of Teenyoga, either by paying for the course or by grants for teaching yoga classes to young people.
However, this is changing. Sportivate was a fund set up after the Olympic Games running for 6 years, to support more interest in sport among young people in England.
2017 sees the end of the Sportivate funding. Last week, I had a meeting with several managers of Sport England. It is clear, that although the funding has come to an end in half of the regions, there is still some funding for Year 7 in 27 regions. These applications need to be in by around the 17th of February.