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YOGA FOR KIDS TEACHES MORE THAN HUMMING “OM”

Hera Diani, The Jakarta Post, Ciawi, Bogor

It is said to possess healing power as well as increasing the ability to concentrate.

But yoga is not exactly for kids. How on earth would you teach your young child to meditate and concentrate when getting them to sit still for more than 10 seconds is often a headache?

It is certainly not an easy task for the instructors of yoga-for-kids class, held monthly by the Anand Ashram Foundation, owned by meditation guru Anand Krishna.

Anand, 6, opened his eyes even wider when asked to close them while breathing deeply. He bugged a kid next to him until the latter cried. He kept answering “No!” to any question, before finally holding his chin and releasing a sigh, “What time will this class be finished?”

Another kid crouched and raised his hands, instead of doing the requested poses of a snake and crocodile.

“It’s a guguk (a child’s word for dog) pose!” he said repeatedly.

Although the concentration session seemed futile, the kids seemed more receptive to getting lessons through songs and drama to accept differences and to not discriminate.

It’s an important lesson in this country as people in several regions are divided by ethnic or religious-based conflicts, like the prolonged conflict in Maluku, for instance.

It was a bright Sunday morning when seven kids gathered recently for yoga class at the “Assalam” open veranda, a small spot in the spacious 3,000-square-meter compound called One Earth One Sky One Humankind.

Located in Ciawi, about a one-hour drive south of the capital, the compound comprises several buildings surrounded by trees and plantations, creating a tranquil atmosphere.

When the instructor called for a break after the concentration session, the children dispersed and ran around before eating their snacks at the cafeteria.

“There are usually more children, like 25 or 30 of them. But school hasn’t started yet, so many children are still out of town for holidays,” said instructor Dewi Hariri, adding that the fee for the class was only Rp 10,000, including snacks and milk.

The class started some five years ago, but it was not until last year that it became a fixture. Children from three years to 12 years old from any religion are welcome to take the class, as long as their parents are participants of Anand’s meditation class or have taken it at least once in the past.

“We’re afraid that there will be some misunderstanding caused by the teaching if the parents are not familiar with it,” said instructor Gede Merada.

Of Indian descent, 47-year-old Anand is known for his spiritual view that eliminates boundaries between religion. He has written numerous books, many of which discuss interfaith dialog.

Opponents often perceive the view as confusing or even blaspheming strict religious teachings. In 2000, it resulted in the withdrawal of Anand’s books from the market following a protest by Muslim groups.

“Children from any religion are welcome to join this class. Through this class, we want to educate from an early age the value to love each other, to accept differences and not to discriminate against others,” Gede said.

“We’re not mixing up religions, but appreciating all of the religions.”

The principle was in clear view on the veranda, adorned with symbols of the country’s five main recognized religions. From the ceiling hung heart-shaped styrofoam banners with words like victory, devotion, quality and enlightenment.

“We don’t just teach yoga, which is aimed at increasing children’s concentration. We teach moral values as well. That we have to be nice on others, that the symbols of religions may be different but the purpose is the same,” Dewi said.

The break was over, and the children sat in a circle to do some role play. They sang as well, with lines like, “Be careful with the mouth what you say/be careful with the eyes what you see”.

They also recited prayers according to their own religion, after the instructor chanted, “Be sure that every prayer recited will go to the same God”.

Parents, like 40-something Djoko Herinanto, expect their children to be more open-minded through the class.

“Religious instruction teachers often say bad things about other religions. I want to counter that, so that my son will appreciate differences. There are so many conflicts rooted in fanaticism about religions,” said Djoko, who brought his son Ryan, 6.

Then the children sang one more song, saying greetings of peace and ended the around two-hour session with handshakes and hugs.

“It’s about sharing the love, because it’s the only thing that we can share,” Dewi said.

For more information on yoga for kids, contact Dewi at 0818922434