Last March (2013), when the young and energetic ashram residents were away in Sabarimala for the Amalabharatam (ABC) clean-up drive, another age group carried on the show at Amritapuri ashram. Many international senior women participated in a therapeutic workshop, and I went as an observer.
The senior women here, between the ages of 50 to 80 years, are mostly renunciates, long-time residents and visitors to Amritapuri who are already on the spiritual path. The young may need vigorous techniques, but the seniors know better than to indulge their bodies in tricky postures with big technical names.
One participant remarked that the practices offered “make our body, mind and spirit flow into one another, and make us feel good within ourselves.”
As said in the very opening of the session, “It helps us to discover the divine within, and to see the divine without.” True to the spirit, the instruction includes recurring remembrance of Amma’s presence. Brahmacharini Shobhana instructed us, “Rest the back of your heads on Amma’s feet, and relax.” She also encouraged conscious involvement of Mother Nature in expressions such as, “Hug the Mother Earth” or “Turn in the direction of Mother Ocean.”
“It is an organic system,” says a participant. “It is a thoroughly organic system with all the traditional elements chosen and woven into one system of Yoga. Amrita Therapeutic Yoga is, indeed, an “Art straight from Mother’s Heart,” commented one participant.
Amma says, “Be in the present.” Another participant with a fresh approach remarked, “I take these classes in that same spirit. I am not learning anything so that after going home, I will practice and become perfect in it. On the other hand, I am practicing it all here and now, being present totally. And I am greatly benefitted.”
These participants know that their body is an instrument and they aim to make it more useful in their spiritual pursuit of discovering divinity within, with more flexibility and with less pain. Amrita Therapeutic Yoga gives just that, say the participants.
While all of them are high in enthusiasm and making the sessions feel like “one consciousness at work,” some of their bodies are less flexible. They would find even normal sitting or standing positions challenging if asked to remain in them for an extended time. Over the five-day Therapeutic Workshop with one and half hours every day many gained more flexibility and manageability in their joints. An arthritic lady, who could only walk with her walker, was able to walk some distance without it after the very first day! Several of the women have had knee surgeries; one still has artificial kneecaps, and another has a replaced hip. Several of them have acute lower back problems. A few of them have lung problems. One of them, who is 80 years old, has had a pace maker for her heart for the last 37 years. Despite these limitations on the body, all were able to participate and benefit.
“Amma had instructed me to do this for the sick, old and people with disabilities. Even for those in the wheel chair, Amma had emphasized,” says Brahmacharini Shobhana, the Program Director of Amrita Yoga. Aging is a passing phase. Just like being born, going through childhood or youth, it’s a phase in one’s life. The body came when we came; we have an existence because of this body. Amrita Yoga’s opening instructions reminds us of one’s innate divinity, whether the body is young or old.
The participants were deeply moved, many with tears, that there was a special class for them. Some come from very cold countries, very different climatic conditions and varying comfort zones. Inspired out of sheer love and dedication to Amma, they travel to Amritapuri and adjust to the differences. After years and even decades, their bodies have come to need something more and Amma has offered it through Amrita Therapeutic Yoga. This is the first of its kind, and by the response of the participants, it looks like it will continue to blossom making many people happy and spreading peace and awareness.
The participants didn’t wince, but wore a smile on their faces when they did a difficult leg-lift or an elbow-bend. Most have had a lot of experiences with various other yoga classes in their home countries, Europe and the US, before they met Amma. Some of these participants are not over fifty, but have had some chronic problems in their spine (lower backs or necks). Each one was given modifications of postures according to their needs, including variation even in Savasana. All the necessary props such as yoga mats, cushions, blankets, blocks and belts are availiable to particpants to assist modifications. The non-competitive nature of Amrita Therapeutic Yoga accepts all levels of flexibility without a trace of judgement or comparison.
The class started each day at seven thirty in the morning. At nine o’clock, as the practice closed with Shanti Mantras, the participants got up to go their own ways. One day, before they left, I made my request, asking the participants to stay for a few more minutes. I was surprised that most of them didn’t have any time to spare. They were all busy with their seva schedules. They said politely, “Oh, I must be going. It is time for my seva.” However, they did stay a couple of minutes extra for a photo session. One of them, a poet and an aspirant with a rich stock of experiences in many spiritual paths of the West, is a cashier at the western canteen. Another, a busy nurse at Amrita Kripa, is known as a terrible perfectionist; another is an advocate and previously a legal advisor. Another is a speech therapist; she sensitizes people about the use of words in speech. One of them is a vermi-compost specialist at the ashram’s compost department and also serves coffee and cappuccino at the canteen. Yet another is known to many as the mantra instructor for those who take mantras from Amma. All of them Amma’s Darling Daughters!
“Beloved Amma, what grace You shower on us with this gift! You show us we are never too old to move the outer in order to experience the Inner more deeply,” wrote one of the women about the workshop.
Amrita Therapeutic Yoga class focuses on linking consciousness with the body to feel the spirit within and all around us. In this system, the body is a tool to deepen our awareness of the Self. Small movements done with great love and attention can move mountains within. These shifts are many times remembered at the level of cell memory, by the body throughout the day. Mantras like “MA-OM,” the Gayatri Maha Mantra and other vedic chants are interwoven rhythmically into the fabric of Amrita Therapeutic Yoga.
In this sea-side yoga shala, one gets to hear the screeches of kingfishers and koels now and then against the background of the sea waves hitting the shore. From the branches on the trees outside the windows, the little birds take wing and find their way into the yogashala!