Abha, who runs Shradhanjali, an Auroville unit producing beautiful paper products, is an Auroville hatha yoga teacher. For a few years she has wished to bring yoga back to the local people. An autorickshaw driver in Pune had planted the seed in her heart when he complained that the poorer strata of people in India no longer have a chance to learn the yogic philosophy that started centuries ago in this land because no one bothered to teach people like him. She promised herself then that she would do something about that. For some time she taught yoga to the trainees and staff and to the Women's Federation members in Auroville's Village Action Group office at Irumbai. After the tsunami, while visiting Nedukuppam near Auroville with Anbu, Suryagandhi and Peter, she was asked to teach yoga to the women of that village. Starting immediately was the only option!
It was a challenge from the beginning: the kuppam women (the fishing community) are a passionately independent group, they have never worn clothing other than saris and there was not a large hall available. Fortunately, a huge box of Punjabi dresses was provided by the Auroville Tsunami Relief and Rehabilitation Project for the women to wear; initially they refused to wear the strange clothing, but over time they asked for it themselves, giggling about how they looked. Now most of them arrive early to change without comment into their punjabis .
About twenty women meet in the rather small, very dusty village schoolroom; there are no mats or fancy outfits or cooling breezes or soft music. It is hot and humid.
There are clusters of children outside, laughing, coughing, peeking in or calling now and then to their mothers. Despite these obstacles, the atmosphere is very cheerful, relaxed and focused; the normally-loud and animated Tamil women become quiet.
Abha, who speaks basic Tamil, starts the class with a short lesson on yogic philosophy, explaining that yoga consists of more than the asanas that they will learn in class: this week she speaks of ahimsa and karma yoga and suggests that they should also be aware of cleaning their village as another aspect of the yoga. Some concepts are explained by Shanti or Gayathri, the Tamil field workers with the Auroville Tsunami Relief and Rehabilitation team who join her each week. The group continues with a meditation and the asanas , everyone participating happily and giving each pose their best effort – even the salutation to the sun! Abha walks around and corrects the poses individually.
She ends with a relaxation exercise. Afterwards they chat. The women are happy and explain that they come to yoga for their health and to ease back or leg pains.
Abha will continue working with this group of women and she hopes that it will have a “ripple” affect, spreading perhaps to other villages, perhaps qualified Aurovilians will teach in other villages. She plans to do an assessment with Anbu, the Village Action coordinator, to see how the women feel about their progress and continuation of the programme.