One day in 1995, seven children from the Munger town came up to me and said, “Swamiji, there is going to be a yoga championship in Chandigarh and we want to go there.” I said, “Go ahead.” One week later these children came back and said, “Swamiji, our parents could not organize our journey, we have had to cancel our program.” I told them, “If you had gone for the competition, you might have simply received a document, a piece of paper saying that you participated in the yoga competition. You might have even received a document saying that you excelled in yoga practice. But where would that have got you? Why don’t you instead create an organization where grown-ups don’t give certificates to you, but you give certificates to grown ups instead?” This is how the seed of Bal Yoga Mitra Mandal (BYMM) or Children’s Yoga Fellowship was planted in 1995.
These children are not only devoted to or practising yoga, they are fully trained and well-versed in yoga. This is a movement which is managed by children, for children and created by children, all in the age group of 10–14.
The mandate given to them incorporates three principles: samskara, appropriate performance in life, swavalamban, independent effort, and samskriti prem, love for culture. By receiving good samskaras, they are able to live a good life. Swavalamban means being like the river that finds its own path – not being dependent on anyone but possessing the ability to stand on one’s own feet and being happy. The third aim, samskriti prem, refers to the spirituality-based culture of this country. To love and identify with this culture is an aim given to these children.
Samskriti has been defined as samyak kritena iti samskriti. When every behaviour and action in life is samyak, balanced, then this balance is called samskriti. The BYMM children associate with these three aims in life. Yoga is something they learn naturally, as part of their play, but when they go out in the world they carry these three acquisitions with them.
The children receive their training through a four-year syllabus. It is a progressive course in which the last stage of training is that of a yoga teacher. So at the age of fourteen they are qualified yoga teachers with four years of experience. For one year they have to be yoga demonstrators. They are introduced to yoga practices and learn asana and pranayama along with the theory associated with the practices so they have some idea of what yoga postures can do to the body.
In the second year, they are taken to another level and become yoga instructors. As yoga instructors they are taught the intermediate group of practices along with more theory. At this level they also learn yogic games, which help improve their awareness, concentration, attention span, creativity and memory. In the third year they are promoted to yoga propagators and are trained for one year in advanced yoga techniques.
When the children cross the age of 14, they can join another children’s organization – Children’s Youth Yoga Fellowship, Bal Yuva Yoga Mitra Mandal. There is a third organization – Youth Yoga Fellowship, Yuva Yoga Mitra Mandal, for those above 18.
Each organization has a different function. In the Children’s Yoga Fellowship we train the children in yogic principles, theory and practice, teach them how to take classes and practise yoga, and give them some exposure outside in conducting classes in schools at various locations. During summer holidays, BYMM conducts a massive five-day yoga training program for about 6,000 to 7,000 children. They manage this entire program; Bihar School of Yoga has no role to play in that.
The members of the second group, Children’s Youth Yoga Fellowship, between the ages of 14 and 18, are sent out to different cities to help organize seminars, programs and conventions, and to conduct classes on a short-term basis of 15 days or one month. The members of the Youth Yoga Fellowship are given training to go to rural areas, to calamity affected areas, and work for the development there, whether it is service, relief or any other work.
The children come to the ashram every weekend and spend the whole day at the ashram. Besides yoga, they also learn music, self-defence, chanting, painting, music, literature, languages and scriptures, and they are exposed to different levels of yogic culture. Over a period of three years, with continuous association with the ashram, they develop into children with special qualities. They develop immense self-confidence and can do anything under the sun.
I have found that these children who have adopted yoga are exceptional. Their brain, their mind, performance, comprehension, memory and creativity is blooming. When yoga becomes a part of children’s life, it comes alive in them. They express yoga naturally whereas we have to think, ‘How would a yogi behave under these circumstances?’ With their yogic background, these children can change the world. Where we have failed, they will succeed. Therefore, I call the Children’s Yoga Fellowship the crowning glory of the Satyananda Yoga tradition for it also reflects care and consideration for the future of the earth, civilization and humanity.
Swami Sivananda used to say that the mind of children is as sensitive as the microphone of a tape recorder. It can pick up everything from the environment. Children are, by nature, intuitive. The intuitive faculty is active until the age of eight. When intelligence kicks in, when they go to school and learn a, b, c, d and math, the education process overshadows the intuitive nature and stimulates the intellect. However, the intuitive receptivity can be stretched until the age of fourteen with the practices of yoga. After fourteen when other hormones kick in, they need another set of yoga practice, but by then they already have a good foundation of asana, pranayama, the meditative and mantra components of yoga. They develop a deep understanding of things which one would consider impossible for a child. This is how we teach yoga to children.