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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From trauma to joy in Africa

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!”

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The end of Sportivate?

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.

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