That Indian Yoga Guy
On a beautiful spring Friday afternoon, I decided that we would spend the first few minutes in circle discussing friendship. I had "inside knowledge" that two of my young yoga students, sweet, bright little girls, were having significant problems with their peers. As we sat in a circle and opened class, I announced that friendship was our topic and asked for questions. Susan made the first request and everybody nodded with approval, "Can you tell us more about that yoga guy from India?"
Earlier that winter, I had introduced Gandhi to my students because a number of girls were writing about or studying war. One had recently written a heart-felt poem that was published in the local paper, about her grandmother's experiences during WWII. The poem described how her grandmother, as a little girl, would pull down all the window shades in her house at night to hide from the "enemy" and lived with the constant worry over the source of her next meal. Another of my yoginis was completing a school project on the Civil War and trying to wrap her head around the notion of slavery, the fact that one person can "own" another. I still don't understand that one, myself!
Yet another girl was completing a project on Anne Frank. The story of Anne Frank was so far from this little girl's reality that she just couldn't grasp what it must have been like for Anne, a girl almost her age, to hide in her father's office building during the German Occupation in the Netherlands during WWII for two years. Who can really understand that? I don't remember being so interested in war when I was in elementary school some 50 years ago but such is the world we live in today and so, I introduced my young yoginis to Gandhi.
With that history, it shouldn't have been too surprising to me that my students wanted to hear more about Gandhi, that Indian Yoga Guy, as we began to discuss friendship. Gandhi was a peaceful warrior....such a contradiction in terms....peaceful war.... and these girls, having their own daily squabbles, fights and tears within the context of their peer relationships wanted to learn more."How can you be peaceful," they wanted to know, "when somebody makes fun of you?"
We talked about how Gandhi used total non-violence (ahimsa), non-cooperation, boycotts, fasting, and peaceful resistance as a means of resisting social injustice. He led organized protests and always spoke the truth. I could see the wheels turning in these young and open minds...in their world, how do you remain peaceful and stand up for yourself when somebody verbally slaps you in the face? It's a good question that most adults I know still struggle with. We talked about how this could apply to their lives. "What does that Indian Yoga Guy have to teach us" I asked, "about friendship?"
Savannah, a bright young girl who always seems pretty confused and a little hurt by her relationships with her friends, particularly girl friends, and comes from a loving yet fairly cerebral family. One summer afternoon, as she was playing outside near her house, a peer pushed her down and ran away, leaving her alone in the woods with a skinned knee, scraped elbow, and tears running down her face. Although only Savannah and I knew that this story belonged to her, I asked of the group, "What if Gandhi was a student here at our school and a "friend" pushed him down and ran away. What do you think he would do?" He'd go tell the teacher. He'd go tell his mom or dad. He'd try to talk with the person. He'd refuse to play with this mean kid. He'd help everybody be more peaceful. He'd teach friendship not war. All good suggestions that I am sure Gandhi would approve of.
After our deep and very philosophical discussion (who knew young girls would find such philosophical discourse so engaging!) our afternoon yoga class continued on with our body work (asanas) starting with, of course, Virabhadrasana II...warrior pose II, all the while thinking about that amazing and peaceful Indian Yoga Guy.