National Yoga Camp 2013: Building a Stronger Community

by Vijaya

Teenagers cope with more serious issues these days than they ever did before. It’s not just stress over studies, tense family relationships, peer pressure or puppy loves anymore, but teenage pregnancies, substance abuse, sexual abuse, gangsterism and prostitution involving innocent girls.

Issues they dare not openly discuss with anyone.

Added to all that is insufficient parental guidance, control and management. In fact, more teenagers now have ended up in homes than ever before and hundreds are loitering aimlessly in the streets.

In its second year now, due to overwhelming response from parents, the Malaysian Yoga Society (MYS), the official organiser of National Yoga Camp (NYC) 2013 and  “Learn to Teach, Teach to Learn” (LTTL) instructor course, had to come up with a contingency plan to allow more students to take part in Malaysia’s first ever Yoga Camping project for school students. Altogether more than 280 students, from 10 years old to 18 years old, took part in the programme which was held in 3 batches from the 8th of December to the 19th of December. Last year, around 170 students took part.

Master Manisekaran, the founder and president of MYS, conducted most of the classes with the help of more than 50 volunteers.

“You may read many books, know and understand your topics clearly and be an expert at them. But that doesn’t mean they have any impact on the body system. But one asana or yoga posture you do, or a single breathing exercise you do, will have a direct, positive and immediate impact on the central nervous system,” he said.

Throughout the 2 weeks, he taught the excited teens simple breathing practices like Kapalabhati (active exhalation) and Brahmari (humming bee); beginners-level postures as well as challenging ones like bhujangasana (cobra pose), chakrasana (wheel pose) and bakasana (crane pose); and a daily complete yogic relaxation technique called Yoga Nidra, which was introduced to the world by Swami Satyananda Saraswathy, the founder of the established and well-known Bihar School of Yoga in India.

The NYC 2013 syllabus covered 40 over basic and intermediate yoga postures; the Yama, Niyama values (which consist of ethical codes and rules that help regulate disturbances in the body and mind and help practitioners regain balance in life); the shatkarmas, or six cleansing techniques; fun yoga-based games; right and left brain training; Trataka, or concentration practice; and indoor as well as outdoor sports.

The Yama, Niyama topics included Santosha (happiness) Satya (truth), Ahimsa (non-violence), Swadyaya (self-study), Aparigraha (non-possessiveness) and Tapas (austerity). Each topic was delivered by MAYI Yoga Academy students who were part of the volunteers’ team headed by Iswari Vengadaraman, who is a full-time trainer.

The highlight of the programme was the students’ presentation based on their understanding of each topic. They rocked the stage with their enthusiastic show of cooperation, teamwork, extraordinary talent and showmanship.

Young Pavithra, who hailed from Banting, Selangor, preferred to keep to herself and didn’t mingle much for the first few days,  like did many other students, but by the third day, in all three camps, we could see better interaction between the students, and many became great friends by the end of their camping week. This incuded those from other races like Venchy, Zeus, Sai Chong and Kar Mun.

After enjoying a full-blown, power-packed, energetic and enjoyable yoga training session, which lasted one week for each batch, the students went home rejuvenated, refreshed and pretty toned to an extent! Especially the LTTL students who learned ‘how to teach’ yoga with Master Mani and Priya Tee.

In seven days, they learnt that a healthy body is a prerequisite to having a healthy heart and mind, and that a stress-free mind encourages maximum growth in an individual as it enhances thinking capacity, improves intuition and allows creativity to flow.

Along the way, they freely shared their feelings about the issues facing the teenage world, their concern about the future, their newly-found deep interest in yoga and their deep gratitude to Master Mani and all the volunteers who doubled up as their as teachers, security guards, mentors and caretakers. Each volunteer religiously took turns to teach the students, guide them, serve them and spent sleepless nights listening to their concerns or sharing their knowledge and wisdom regarding any subject under the sun.

With mountainous resolve to embark on a healthy yoga-based-journey, the children each poured their hearts and minds out unreservedly during their stay at the camp.

“I feel wonderful and more flexible after the camp”, said Venchy Tay Wengqi. “I enjoyed the camp very much and feel that I have improved a lot in doing the asanas.”

Ramu and 39 of his friends who came all the way from Skudai, Johor, with their Taekwondo master Mr Kalaimannan for the first batch of the camping project, said that he’s used to sitting slightly slouched and was very surprised he could sit up straight in the seven days. Master Mani clarified that sitting straight means sitting in a comfortable position with the back straight yet allowing for the natural curvature of the spine to remain intact. In fact, it’s part of the Easterners’ culture to sit cross-legged on the ground in simple Sukhasana (easy pose), especially when they are having their meals. This posture gives a gentle massage to the lower abdominal area and makes sure that the spine is as straight as possible.

“This is an entirely new experience for me,” said Thaneswary Jhagarajan from Petaling Jaya, Selangor. “I feel stronger and understand that there’s more energy and ability in me. I just need to tap it,” said the girl of 14 with a gleam in her eyes.

One marked progress we could openly see in all the camps was the teenagers’ willingness to speak out, even regarding personal and serious issues, share their thoughts and willingness to help each other out.

“The teenagers displayed so much of compassion, kindness and acceptance towards each other. We adults should learn to find goodness in them instead of always labelling them. If we acknowledge their positive attitudes and attributes, they will grow up healthier with good self-esteem. That is something I learnt as a facilitator in this camp,” said Saandhi.

On the last day, it was heart rending to see many of them, even boys, in tears, as they left the vicinity of the Sg Buloh Saraswathy Tamil School where the NYC 2013 and LTTL programmes were held.

The most touching part was the parents’ unrestrained outpouring of gratitude and hope for the programme. In these deeply troubled times, which parent would not be grateful if a responsible non-profit, non-sectarian organisation like MYS, takes the initiative to seed healthy, profitable and progressive habits in their children? A few parents sponsored meals for the kids and good samaritans like Kavi Vithya and Ng Kar Wee spent time baking vegetarian muffins and cakes for the children.

“The children of today are the citizens of tomorrow, so let us all contribute to a better world and towards their holistic development rather than only emphasising on material gains,” said Master Mani.

To ensure the kids stay on course, MYS is offering them free classes every week at its centres in Selayang and Bangsar. They were also given teenage membership cards that would allow them the opportunity to join many other projects run by MYS like the annual International Yoga Competition and other community outreach programmes.

Student’s words….

The One Week that Changed My Life

“First of all, I would like to take this great opportunity to thank Master Mani for conducting such an awesome camp that I would never forget in my entire life and I would also like to thank Mr. Sealan for making a big change in my life. I am filled with gratitude for having benefitted in many ways by attending the Yoga Camp organised by Malaysian Yoga Society in 2013.

Firstly, how did I get to know about the Camp? I still remember the first time I met Master Mani. I saw him on television on a show called Vizhuthugal broadcasted by Astro.  After the programme, my parents insisted that I must go for the camp. Well, to be honest at the beginning I was thinking that my parents will just simply say and will not enrol me so I just took things lightly.  The following day, I still remember that moment, it was in the morning and my dad was not at home. So, I went to my Mom and asked her where Dad is and she told me that he went to Brickfields to enrol me for the camp and my reaction was, “WHAAATTT?!” Then, my dad called me to tell me, “Son, I have already enrolled you for the camp so make sure you get yourself prepared,” and I said, “Okaaaay, Pa”. In my 16 years of life, the longest that I have been away from my family was about two to three days.

Attending the Yoga Camp was the first time in my life being away from my family. A week was a very long time for me but to be honest I have no regrets because I really did have a good time and thinking back, I really miss those days as well :’). Then the most pressured day in my life came upon – it’s time that I had to be away from my family for a week. I still remember, it was Sunday, 8th of December 2013. Staying at the Saraswathy Tamil School in Sungai Buloh was a bit difficult and challenging for me as I need to adapt to a new environment and the people around me. I felt like I would never like the Yoga Camp because I thought it would be really hard to make friends and get to know people. But everyone was kind and inclusive. It’s almost like I have a second family at the camp, waiting for me. For the first one to two days I was still feeling a bit awkward and missed my family but I soon got used to the environment.

Attending the camp has changed me in so many ways. Frankly speaking, I am a very hot tempered guy and I do have problems managing it because I do not know how to control my temper well but after attending the camp, the word ‘anger’ didn’t even pop up in my mind even once because that one whole week was filled with fun and joy. The environment was simply awesome where everyone was laughing around and it was so stress-free. I am also the type where I think about too many things (even unnecessary things as well), which bothered my studies a lot but after attending the camp and making many new friends, learning new things and doing many cool activities, it made me feel so calm and nice.

I feel that I am now a more responsible and humble person, and am pleasant to everyone I meet. I will never forget the line that Madam Iswari always used to tell all the students ‘GIVE RESPECT AND DON’T EXPECT RESPECT’. This line has become my pillar of strength. I am applying it in my life and it makes me feel good. The camp has also made me into a friendlier person. Now, I tend to smile to all the people I meet and I am so glad that I have changed a lot in many ways – the credit definitely goes to the camp! When I returned to school, I was elected as the school’s Head Prefect. The first time I was ever chosen as a leader was at the Yoga Camp. The experience played a huge part to my transformation. I still remember one night where there few students including me were not sleeping and making a lot noise, at that time Mr. Sealan called all of us out and we were so excited about the whole thing but after going out we realised that he wanted to send a message to every one of us. A few of us were not happy about being called out but I took it positively.

I was a very naughty and playful 16-year old without any proper plan for the future but after attending the Yoga Camp I felt that I have got a bright future ahead. My thinking level now is totally different. I am able to solve any problems by myself and I do not need to depend on others – the camp has made me independent!  In my life, I have never washed my own clothes, the camp was the first place where I did everything myself. I am really very proud of being one of the chosen ones to be part of the camp.  I have got no regrets allowing myself to be part of my second family.  Thank you, Thank you and Thank you! I would like to thank all of my loving instructors for being there for me, and taking very good care of me. I would also like to apologise if I was a burden to anyone.  Everybody was so loving and caring towards me. From a person who lacked confidence, I now feel empowered and it’s because of the Yoga camp. Thanks for everything!”

– Kisheaan Santhanasamy