Yogathon: stretching bodies, stretching minds across America
By Dipka Bhambhani
One small yoga stretch in Washington became one large Yogathon across America.
While society seems largely secular these days, there is a sign that religion and even interfaith activity is making a comeback--the yoga mat.
Only the people that schlep their rolled up rubber mats to gyms and studios all over town may not know their downward dog or cobra poses are subtle movements toward the divine.
That's why Anju Bhargava, the White House Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Council's first Hindu member, launched the country's first Yogathon on Sunday.
The Yogathon was created in the spirit of President Obama's United We Serve campaign and Active Lifestyle Challenge, by Bhargava's Hindu American Seva Charities (HASC).
HASC, along with many volunteers, mobilized the Hindu faith-based organizations to respond to the president and First Lady's call to United We Serve: Let's Read, Let's Move -using yoga as a tool to promote physical activity, healthy living and peace of mind.
Yoga is the life force of the Hindu philosophy, uniting spirituality with awareness of mind and body.
"The essence of Hindu culture is based on yoga," said Bhargava, a member of President's Advisory Council on Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. "Yoga helps us to get in touch with ourselves and what's healthy for us. By introducing yoga to children we hope it will help them acquire healthy habits at an early age."
The Yogathon introduced youth to yoga as a means to reduce obesity and to promote healthy living for all - adults and youth - while bridging cultures in an interfaith environment.
Bhargava said if all faiths come together to strengthen ourselves through yoga, we can, in turn, position ourselves better to reach out and help each other.
Thousands of children and adults participated in the free national Yogathon through one of the 106 sites across 23 states that volunteered to participate.
Bhargava twisted into her yoga poses at a Baptist church's community center in New Jersey on Sunday. I went to the Art of Living in Washington. I must admit, it all made sense to me, the nexus between community service and practicing yoga.
Before we can build, we must ensure we have a strong foundation. That begins with strengthening ourselves--mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. That strength leads to the will and ability to do service or "seva", in the Sanskrit vernacular.
Bhargava said impoverishment occurs in different ways - economic, spiritual, etal. Perhaps this Yogathon will nourish us and we'll go on and join the movement of seva and continue on this path of community service, with grounded roots.
The fact that more than 100 centers attracted thousands of yoga doers together for this one event gave some indication that the country is going through a metamorphosis, a spiritual reconstruction and awakening.
The basis of life is breath. This Yogathon, and Hindu American Seva Charities' work towards it, is breathing new life into this metamorphosis.
Several Yogathon participants at Iskon Temple in New Orleans said participating in Yogathon was their personal observance of the fifth anniversary of the devastating Hurricane Katrina. One person remarked on the connection between healing oneself and healing one's community.
Yoga teachers from large organizations like Art of Living, Patanjali Yoga Peeth as well as many renowned independent teachers volunteered to conduct the classes as their way of contributing their service.
Many centers plan to hold yoga classes through the month of September and hope to offer yoga and other health oriented programs on an ongoing basis going forward. The one day Yogathon is transforming into a regular YogaSeva for the long haul.
One of the long-term missions of the HASC is to accomplish short-term service goals that will lead to Seva Centers where Americans, especially those of Dharmic (eastern) faiths, can go to find mentors that will help them deal with the physical, emotional and spiritual wear and tear of migration to this country while leveraging the talent of the community to serve the community at large. The centers will be learning centers as well as coping centers and clearinghouses for community service, resulting in sustainable infrastructures.
Bhargava said as the cultural foundation becomes stronger, the talented Dharmic community can help the population at large even more.
The idea is: First turn outward to build the Seva Centers. Then turn inward to help our communities and outward to help the population at large to eventually strengthen everyone and give them a real sense of place and peace and service.
Healthy people make healthy societies which generally lead to healthy governments and economies. It's a domino effect that starts with individual change or perhaps a pose.
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