This year’s Isha Yoga Summer Programs for Children just winded up, and it was an eye-opening experience for both children and adults alike. A volunteer shares, “Seeing how most city children were so alienated from basic elements of nature like trees, animals, sky and water was saddening. But it was rewarding to see them go through the program with a deep sense of wonder and discovery about the natural world around them.”

“I was afraid they would fall on me. I could never look up at the sky when I was a kid,” Nandan confessed.

“How old are you now?” I asked him with amusement.

“Now I am in 5th grade, and then I was in 1st grade. So, I wouldn’t look at the stars. When our yoga teacher announced that we would be sleeping under the stars that night, I was not happy. I kept telling the friends I made here that I won’t go, I won’t go – I want to sleep in the hall. But my friends forced me to go.

In the night, when we went to lie down for the story sessions, I lay on my stomach so I won’t look up. But soon I saw all my friends were looking up and talking about this constellation and that. They forced me to look up at the sky too. Slowly, I half turned my face up and took a peek at the sky – and there HE was. The star! I looked at him with half open eyes first. Then I looked some more and more – and, he didn’t fall on me, you know. He was actually quite beautiful.”

Nandan was among 300 children who had come to participate in the six back-to-back Isha Yoga Summer Programs for Children at Isha Yoga Center. Children between the ages of 9 and 12 years came for one of the 4-day programs which are designed so they experience the natural world around them. There were sessions on trees, water, sky, air, and a trek into a national park in Kerala. It was wonderful to see how deeply children started to relate to nature and wildlife around them within such a short time.

Flying Light Balls

“My mother often talked about fireflies. She used to fancy them a lot as a child, but she could never show us one so far. Hearing her, I sometimes wondered how light balls can fly. But in this program, when we went to the Wildlife Sanctuary and stayed there overnight, I saw so many fireflies. I was so joyful seeing them flying here and there, here and there. It was like magic. I can’t wait to tell my mom about it,” said Vidushi.

“Yes, fire flies are indeed magical,” I couldn’t help responding cheerfully, as the shine in her eyes was contagious.

Bonding with Trees

“My story is about the trees,” I heard Lohan say plainly. We all turned to look at him.

“I never thought much of trees before – didn’t consider them as life. So when we were told to meet the tree as a friend, I spent some time with my tree. Suddenly the tree became alive for me. Not just the tree, every other life around it – the insects, the butterflies – I became aware of them and felt close to them. My tree was a huge tree full of beautiful orange flowers. I hugged him for a long time.” Lohan vouched that back home he would definitely plant a few trees around his house.

Agreeing with Lohan, Arunima shared that she never gave any importance to being in a forest before, or even had any intentions of visiting one. She would rather go to a mall or a movie instead. But when she visited the Wildlife Sanctuary, she was totally thrilled to see the animals during the safari. “I felt fresh and very happy being there. Actually, I didn’t think earlier that such animals really existed. It was simply amazing,” she gushed, unable to hold her excitement.

Aditi remembered a plant back home in Mumbai. “There is a small plant behind my house. I never paid much attention to it, never related to it in anyway. But I feel when I go back home, that plant behind my house would mean so much more to me.”

Cows & Bulls & Elephants, Oh My!

For other children, the program turned old fears or conceptions on their head. Charitha, for instance, was happy that her fear of cows had turned into a certain kind of admiration.

“We rarely see bullock carts in the place where I live in Andhra Pradesh. We see many dogs in the street there, but we don’t find cows there. So when we were taken close to cows here, I was afraid, thinking that they would harm us. But encouraged by my friends and teachers, I managed to touch one of them. She was so cute. I rubbed her for a while, and she kept coming back to me for more. I was so thrilled to be around them. They are actually quite harmless, strong and sweet.”

Meanwhile, Shashank discovered that hills aren’t small and that even elephants live there.

“There is a hill near my house that looks just like the one we trekked in the Wildlife Sanctuary. I always thought it would be so easy to climb a hill, but when we trekked the mountain in the national park, I got so tired. My legs were really hurting, and I understood hills look small only from far, but actually they are quite big and difficult to climb. Anyway, I was so happy when we spotted the elephants!”

After much coaxing, 9-year-old Ashish agreed to speak. “I was super-excited to be in a Hot Air Balloon. But then after a while I felt hot being in that basket. It would have been nice if there was a fan in that balloon too!” We all laughed.

“I enjoyed yoga,” added Surya from Mumbai quietly.

“I never imagined that I could stay without my parents for four days, but actually I had fun being away from home and made so many new friends here,” a little girl piped up.

And, the Water Story!

The program had come to an end, and I could see parents eagerly waiting for me to finish my final conversation with these children. So I thanked them and let them go. While I was watching them turning away and rushing to their parents, suddenly Vidushi turned back and came to me hurriedly.

“I didn’t tell you my water story!” she said excitedly. “Before I came here, I drank water as something I need to swallow. Water was my last option to drink whenever I got thirsty – I would rather drink Coca Cola or lemonade or something else sweet. But in the class when they showed us how water has memory and it responds to our emotions and feeling, I didn’t believe it. However, as guided by the teacher when I held the water for a while and said good things to it within me, it really tasted sweet – without any sugar or medicine. I am so happy, now I will always make my water sweet.”

“Hope your life remains sweet, too – always,” I said with moist eyes. She wriggled out of my slight embrace and ran to her parents.

Sadhguru on Children Spending Time Outdoors

A good summer program is definitely engaging and fun for children, but its benefits go beyond entertainment and even education. Speaking about the deeper importance of interacting with nature outdoors at a very young age, Sadhguru says, “If you live in large cities, it may not always be in your hands as to what kind of air you breathe. So if you have children, it is important that at least once a month, you take them out far enough from the city, where nature is in a reasonably pure state, and they can climb a small hill, walk in a forest, or swim in a river. They should do something where the breath becomes dynamic.

This is not just for aerobic exercise. If you are in pure air, it is important to bring the breath to a dynamic state with some activity. You do not have to do too vigorous an activity – just enough to breathe slightly deeper than normal for a period of time. When it senses the air is pure and alive, the intelligence in the body will make sure that the way the body breathes will be different. With this exchange of air, a certain kind of cleansing will happen within the system. Especially for growing children, this is very important because it greatly enhances the body’s integrity and strength.”

Editor’s Note: Learn about Isha’s award-winning environmental initiative, Project GreenHands, which has facilitated the planting of over 30 million saplings till date.