Arriving in Udaipur couldn’t have been a better first-impression of India. Often referred to as “The Venice of the East” or “The City of Lakes”, there are breathtaking views of the water with mountain backdrops in every direction. I found myself in constant awe over the artistic atmosphere created by everything from the colourfully adorned camels to the street art. But of all the magic Udaipur has to offer, the most enriching experience was out in the villages, where I easily slipped into a culture of savouring Chai by the lake and the pure joy practicing yoga with children.
The D.A.A.N. Foundation
My intention for visiting Udaipur was to introduce a yoga and mindfulness program to children at the Village Youth Centres created by the D.A.A.N. Foundation. Their focus is on developing valuable life skills, empowering youth, and cultivating a sense of love and compassion through community. Some of the after school activities offered at the centres include proper hygiene training, homework help, and educational games. Although, I must admit, more often than not, we strayed off schedule for Hindi singing or dance lessons from the kids, which ended up being some of my favourite memories.
The children see great benefit from conversing with native English speakers, which is made possible through D.A.A.N.’s helper program. Since there are two paid positions for local mentors and coordinators who take charge of all activities, they never risk becoming dependent on outside help to continue the program. Instead, the cross-cultural connections that are made between helpers and locals creates a great learning experience on both ends.
As a helper, you are offered a comfortable space at Chandra Niwas Homestay, the family home of one of D.A.A.N.’s founders, Dr. Samvit Audichya. A typical day begins over a breakfast and cup of Chai, which Samvit’s father often joins in for to offer interesting insight into Indian culture. Helpers have the opportunity to participate in some of the activities offered by Chandra Niwas Travels including local trips to the City Palace, a camel safari in Jaipur or weekend excursions to the Taj Mahal.
During the week, there is always plenty of room to help out with various tasks related to the centres in the morning from improving the space to building marketing efforts, all depending on each helper’s unique skill set. Then the real fun begins at 3pm when the kids show up to the Youth Centres.
Village Yoga Project
I’ll never forget the first day introducing yoga to the kids with the help of Samvit, beginning with the simple question, “Why practice yoga?” If you ask this to the group today, before you can say “yoga”, a room full of kids will shout “healthy body” as they flail their arms and legs in the air, “mind” pointing to their heads, and “heart” as they open their chest up to the sky and pour their arms out in either direction.
But what about relieving stress? Four out of five of the adults I’ve worked with would be quick to offer this as one of the main reasons they show up to their yoga mats. At the Village Youth Centres, no matter how we tried to explain it, through words, the Hindi help from one of the mentors, or even tensing up our bodies in all different ways, we were left with a room full of puzzled expressions… What is stress?
So why spend time trying to teach these natural born yogis? As Samvit explains, “kids have in them life energy in its purest form as far as human beings are concerned. Staying in touch with this source through yoga and meditation gives us immense power, courage and clarity which can then be used for the welfare of the whole entity.”
There is now scientific evidence pointing to the effectiveness mindfulness exercises have in reducing feelings of fear, anxiety and stress, while increasing attention span and happiness levels. I would love to imagine that these kids will spend their entire lives without any real experience of stress, but even if not, I strongly believe that having the tools to manage such symptoms of growing up can transform their adult lives as well as the lives of those around them.
It always seems to be the case with any service project that you end up gaining far more than you could ever offer, and this little village yoga project was certainly no exception. Every day, I was inspired by a group of kids that were motivated enough to extend their school day by double, whose little minds remained undisturbed by the stress brought on by adulthood and who were constantly pouring out so much love & happiness!
Teaching yoga & mindfulness is just one of many ways to help out with The D.A.A.N. Foundation’s Village Youth Centres.
For other opportunities visit the D.A.A.N. Foundation.
Learn more about the helper program with Chandra Niwas Travels.