Youth Retreat ‘Sadgamaya’ this year took place from the 8th to the 10th of May, 2014 at Amritapuri. Around 1800 children attended, 1000 boys and 800 girls, all in the 10th Grade of Amrita Vidyalayam schools in Kerala.
The Amrita Yoga Classes, led by Brahmacharini Shobhana in the very early mornings, were an important part of the 3 days’ Sadgamaya schedule. The Archana was done a little earlier, so that at exactly 6am the boys’ class could start immediately followed by the girls’ class. Some were very sleepy but everybody was in a good mood.
We tentatively said, “yes,” along with about 50 other International volunteers to support these classes. The volunteers helped mainly for directing the hundreds of youth into their tiny spots in the bhajan hall. They also helped to keep an eye on the discipline of the students, to help them to follow the instructions of the teacher so that no one would hit or injure another by walking out of the line.
We had many meetings to prepare our plans to organize for what many of us thought would be a gang of unruly youngsters for 3 days. We were mistaken! One of the main coordinators Rachel Korbee from Netherlands had her room just next to ours, so she would always inform us about the meeting and timings, and she also shared her ideas with us. She put her enthusiasm and creative thinking into action. It was like a fire consuming all of us. Out of the 50 people, we saw nobody looking bored or impatiently waiting for the end of the program. Everybody gave whatever energy they could.
To begin the day, the teacher proposed a dynamic and playful yoga to these energetic youngsters with hand clapping and laughter. Shobhana played them like a flute, being accustomed to years of children’s yogasana sessions at such schools all over India. She gave them choices, asked them to participate, and encouraged lots of enthusiasm.
She asked, “Did you sleep?”
“NOOOOOOO” many replied.
“How many hours of sleep did you get? One? TWO!!!”
“YESSSS!” some replied.
Sleepy eyed, they were given the choice of calm or energetic movements each day, and each day they chose ENERGETIC! More of the girls than the boys wanted the calm yogasana, but both majorities chose the sweat-based variety!
Obediently, they lined up, kept to their markers on the floor, and followed Shobhana’s lead. Everyone was so attentive you could hear a pin drop for all three days! The international volunteers were constantly encouraging them.
We were able to see Shobhana on the stage, giving instructions to the children while demonstrating the postures at the same time to them. She was going very fast and the children really enjoyed this. She kept them following one united stream of movements by talking to them all the time; she was really engaging.
When Shobhana did some advanced postures on the third day, they all broke into cheers and clapping! They loved to be challenged and were impressed with the expertise of the teacher.
The tree pose moments blew us away. The sea of students looked like stone, rooted and relaxed with very little wobbling. Some wobbled a bit more, like willows, but everyone was valiant in their efforts. As a 65-year old some of us are wobbling on TWO feet and this was very impressive.
There was really an atmosphere of unity and harmony created. After all the heavy bodywork, a real relaxation took place. We saw many enthusiastic faces willing to try even those postures that were much too difficult to them.
The teachers asked the students to touch the international volunteer’s feet at the end of the last class. It was with such sincerity and sweetness that many volunteers had tears in their eyes as they received the traditional sign of respect and youthful gratitude. Sleep deprived as they were, they remained disciplined, attentive and respectful throughout the 3 days.
The small art exhibit of these 15-year olds by the stage ramp was dazzling. Hanuman and other gods were portrayed with feeling, creative brilliance, and innocence. Some felt so alive that they almost jumped off the paper! A school play of Sri Rama accompanied Amma on stage on Saturday. A warrior stance on one boy exuded Sri Rama’s qualities and energy, with eyes radiating power as they angled downwards. Kaikeyi seemed to be a jumble of nerves, words tumbling out restlessly. Even her eyeballs fluttered in stress! One would wonder if they were children or professional actors. Under the makeup, these were mere kids. Lakshmana came into the scene, striding with a touch of anger, not fully accepting Kaikeyi’s decree, and demure Ma Sita, radiant and humble, walked towards her fate.
At the end of the play, an innocent voice, reverberating with sincerity and emotion, called out, “WE LOVE YOU AMMA!”
When Amma announced more such camps at Amritapuri before She left for Japan and USA, almost everyone nodded happily. It seems to be a testament to the power of discipline coupled with care and sensitive support in Amrita Vidyalayam Schools.
The 50 volunteers took Amrita Yoga class with Shobhana, as a final gift. Brilliantly, she started with the tiny tots sample for 20 minutes, then lead us through the 8-12 year version, then the teen version, and finally with the adult version. It was a reminder as if we were just born in Yoga and was culminating in the real union through the silent mental chant of mantras. Thank you AMMA for that amazing event and for the Amrita Yoga teacher for sharing with us the storybook content of your yoga classes.
Authors: Veena Paulson and Purnima