“Yoga is not a workout, it is a work-in. And this is the point of spiritual practice, to make us teachable, to open up our hearts and focus our awareness so that we can know what we already know and be who we already are.”
This quote by International yoga teacher and author Rolf Gates is exactly what the Art of Living Foundation wants to achieve when 5000 people are set to hit their yoga mats at University of Johannesburg Soweto Stadium to celebrate International Day of Yoga 2019 next Saturday.
The event - facilitated by the foundation, and sister organisation The International Association for Human Values and various partners including Alpha World Ministries - and its participants will join 177 countries worldwide on the International Day of Yoga 2019, declared by the United Nations.
Two years ago, yoga instructor and school teacher Nisha Desai resigned from her job to pursue her love for yoga. She was introduced to the Sri Sri Yoga course and was instantaneously taken with it.
“It was a five-day course involving yoga postures, breathing techniques, philosophy and meditations. What I experienced was inner peace, a sense of gratitude, a feeling of empowerment and an overall good feeling. I was further inspired by Swami Yogasagar (Satyananda School of Yoga) and did a yoga teacher-training course with him.
“Coming from a Montessori teaching background, working with children and experiencing the benefits of yoga, I decided to do a children’s yoga teacher-training course though yoga4kids so that I could reach out and share this love of yoga even further,” she says. For Desai, a former teacher at St James Preparatory School in Jeppestown, yoga has become a way of accepting herself.
“It is a journey entirely unique to oneself. The more I practise and share, the more I fall in love with yoga. I realise that it is also about self-discipline and about helping me embrace myself and my imperfections.”
Nazih Mustapha, chief executive of Art of Living and Sri Sri Yoga teacher, was first introduced to yoga in 2008 at the age age 43.
“I started out of curiosity. My body became stronger, more flexible and fitter, my body alignment and balance improved tremendously. I started eating healthier by listening to my body.
“My sleep was deeper and I needed much less sleep. My mind started to be more focused and I gained much more control over it. My energy level stayed high, even when I was working long hours or travelling around the world.
“My relationships improved and I was just happier for no apparent reason,” Mustapha said. The aim of this year’s third annual event in Soweto is to have a greater impact on the youth. “Having acknowledged the invaluable impact that yoga and a more mindful lifestyle will have on these young adults, the university has offered to host our annual event this year,” said Desai. “It allows one to bring energy to one’s work, offering a path to relaxation.”
Aneshree Naidoo, Business Consultant and Art of Living facilitator, said since 2005, Art of Living has been working with schools and youth organisations in Soweto to bring yoga and meditation through youth camps and courses.
“Those who have experienced these programmes have found that through yoga they have greater flexibility and feel lighter in the body and in the mind. The children from age 8 to 18 love how the activity of yoga can result in deep rest and stillness in the mind. Yoga nidra (final resting posture) and meditation was always the cherry on the top for them.
“Many reported having greater concentration and therefore an improvement in their school work. Others reported that having that inner peace helped them in their relationships with others. This year’s event is focusing strongly on getting more youth introduced to the many benefits of yoga,” said Naidoo.
Dr Anita Khoosal, Art of Living facilitator and general dental surgeon, said yoga was not a mere workout or exercise, but rather a blend of physical postures, breathing techniques, meditation and wisdom.
“Our mind is like a pendulum; swinging from past to future, regret and anger to anxiety and fear, happiness to sorrow. It is yoga that enables us to maintain equanimity.
“The uniqueness of Sri Sri Yoga is that it gives a balance of effort and ease. We give effort to get into the posture and then we relax. Yoga brings that balance in every aspect of our life. It teaches us to put effort and then let go, getting detached from the result. Yoga increases our physical flexibility and expands our mind.
“Yoga has to be done in sync with the breath and with full awareness. For me, it is as graceful as a dance, gliding into one posture from another,” said Khoosal.
The organisers hope all participants on the day will walk away “with a bigger smile that will last for a long time”.
“When we are happier, more focused , healthier, more energised...we start to appreciate more and more upon what we are doing and go deeper in any of our practices, be it spiritual or other. In Sri Sri Yoga we have instructors and participants from all faiths and walks of life.
“Connecting with your inner self and inner stillness brings outer dynamism,” said Naidoo.
* Be part of this world event on Saturday, June 22 from 8.30am to noon at the University of Johannesburg Soweto Campus Stadium, Chris Hani Road. Contact Aneshree Singh at 0827734137 or Pastor Maureen Sibadela, Alpha World Ministries at 0119808329 for more information.