By Jamuna Rangachari November 2003 With yoga now being a part of the ICSE curriculum, it is helping students to keep fit and improve upon their concentration. Hopefully more schools will follow suit My medicine? Yoga!” Who do you think could have said this? A seasoned yoga guru? A person cured from many ailments through yoga? Not really. Surprisingly, this quote came from a ninth grader at J.B. Petit School, Mumbai, who has taken yoga as an optional subject under the ICSE Board. Anahita Sanjana, a dedicated yoga proponent, is teaching the subject at J.B. Petit. Anahita learnt yoga at Kaivalyadham institute and later, from Jehangir Palkivala. Also a full-time teacher of mathematics and biology at the school, she firmly believes yoga to be one of the greatest gifts she has received and wishes to pass it on to many more people. She had introduced yoga ballets and informal classes even before the school introduced it as part of the curriculum. She is now delighted with the formal introduction of yoga as a subject by the ICSE. The course is modelled on the Iyengar school of yoga and has B.K.S Iyengar’s Light on Yoga as one of the prescribed texts. The syllabus is holistically designed. Biology is an important part; the student understands various systems of the human anatomy and the effect correct postures or asanas have on them. The wonderful part of the course is the manner in which it establishes yoga as a vital part of Indian philosophy. Patanjali’s yoga sutras and his enumeration on the eight limbs of yoga are expounded, as well as the lives of great Indian sages, who symbolised this way of life. I went to the school when Anahita was practising asanas with the children. The first thing that struck me was their earnestness and enthusiasm. They have been learning yoga for the last 10 months and all of them have already made it an integral part of their lives. A couple of them are even toying with the idea of pursuing a career in it. Unfortunately, young children face tremendous pressure to perform, to compete. As a result of this premature stress, many of them suffer from health problems like insomnia. Here, they avow that yoga has made a tremendous difference to their lives. With the tranquillity that yoga has brought into their lives, they are able to cope with stress much better and enjoy proper, undisturbed sleep. Even when they have a minor physical problem like a headache or stomach ache, they try to find out which asana will help cure it. I was curious to know if all of the stated objectives of the course are actually being achieved. Course aims like: • To enable young people to generate an understanding of the principles of yogic practices so as to improve their quality of life • To develop the ability to perform appropriate yogic asanas so as to improve physical and mental conditions and emotional equilibrium • To help youngsters improve psychological functions like awareness, concentration and will power • To foster cooperation amongst the youth • To develop appreciation for Indian cultural practices that support meaningful and relevant educational strategies • To create opportunities to develop ideals, social skills and strengths. “Social skills, cooperation, emotional equilibrium? Can these be acquired through the study of yoga?” I ask the children. “Of course,” they answer unanimously. “Yoga is not just a fitness activity,” they say. “We feel much better, get less angry, have learnt to like ourselves and to tolerate failings in others. Isn’t that what social skills are all about?” Yoga has also enabled most of them to develop faith in the Almighty. An interesting reaction was: “Earlier, we felt God could be punitive, but now we feel God is our friend.” A notable experience that they narrated was how, during a yoga ballet, they felt their posture could not be sustained for long. Then, one of them asserted: “He won’t let us down”, and they held on, with renewed faith. The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, meaning to bind, join. It also means union, the true union of human will with the will of God. Iyengar says in his book: “In ancient times all the higher achievements of man, in knowledge, art and power were part of religion and dedicated to God. We, in India, continue to value the purity of purpose, the humility of discipline and the selflessness that are the legacy of a long bondage to God.” This step is surely one in the right direction, one that aims at preserving and passing on our ancient wisdom to the young generation. Though the ICSE board introduced this subject in 2000, the only school in Mumbai to introduce it is J.B. Petit where 16 students have opted for yoga in the current batch, some out of curiosity, others out of genuine interest triggered by prior exposure. The other school which has introduced yoga formally is Doon School in Dehradun. Incidentally, the teachers there, Rajiv and Swati Chinchani, have also authored a book, Yoga for Children, which is one of the prescribed reference texts of the course. It would be wonderful if more ICSE schools support this welcome move by the board by introducing yoga to their students so that other educational boards may also follow this example. As I watch the students getting back to practising their asanas with a serene demeanour, I remember the Chinese proverb: “If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.” An apt extension to this would be: “If you are planning for many generations, educate people holistically.”
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