A WILD LIFE
Isha Yoga Summer Program for Children (earlier known as Nature Awareness Program) (NAP) is a four-day program for children, held at the Isha Yoga Center. It allows children to explore the natural life around them, in a day and age where exposure to natural settings is almost nil.
This year, the program’s photographer has put together a photo journal of her adventure in NAP.
On the first day, we woke up at 5:30 AM and went for a jog to the Isha Home School grounds. We entered the grounds and saw a few people were already there, a trampoline was set up on one side and next to it was a huge yellow plastic sheet covering the grass.
The kids were asked to tug onto a rope tied to the sheet on one end, and at the other end of the sheet was some kind of a fire-blowing device. Slowly the big yellow sheet started filling up with air and we realized it's a hot-air balloon!
Everybody started cheering and clapping and we watched, transfixed, as the balloon slowly became upright. The first set of kids hopped on into the basket, some clutching on tightly for dear life and the others waving at their friends with both hands, as the balloon started to rise.
It was "tethered ballooning" which means the ropes tied to the balloon stop it from flying away with the wind. I was very excited when it was my turn to fly and I secured my camera and climbed awkwardly into the basket with a couple of other volunteers.
The balloon rose slowly to the top and the view was absolutely breathtaking. We could even spot the newly constructed Adiyogi Alayam amidst the trees! It was a short flight and felt like it was all over too soon. But what an amazing experience!
NAP also includes the 'Children's Yoga Program' in which the kids are taught suryanamaskars and a part of shakti-chalana kriya. I had volunteered for the advanced programs for adults before, and what struck me the most was how effortlessly the kids seemed to learn the practices!
Most could bend and stretch with ease, and although there were the occasional 'peekers' (when asked to sit with eyes closed) the class was much more disciplined than I had anticipated!
A big part of NAP is the kids' interaction with nature and the many different forms of life. We were taken on a trek or a safari every day, where we spotted black nilgiri langurs, wild gaur, malabar giant squirrels, wild boars and many kinds of wild birds.
At the Parambikulam Tiger Reserve, we came across two types of deer- the sambar deer and the spotted deer. The kids got very excited at one point and started chanting "I too spotted the spotted deer!"
Swami Nagaroopa would disappear for a second and then reappear with a wild lizard or a huge crab or tiny worm-like snakes in his hands.
We learnt how to catch tadpoles in streams, how to look out for various animal foot prints, and we even found a tiger pug mark in the forest!
Swami Nagaroopa conducted a 'Snake Awareness Program' where the children were introduced to various types of non-venomous and venomous snakes commonly found in India. In the controlled environment, the kids could see the snakes up close and the brave ones even held them in their hands.
The high point of the class was when Swami pulled out from a cloth bag, a spectacled cobra! The kids ooh-ed and ahh-ed at its beautiful markings. Many of them were very curious and had lots of questions to ask Swami, who seemed to know all there is to know about these often misunderstood creatures.
At the end of the class, many of the kids shared that they had got over their fear of snakes. Every single one of them proceeded to pose for the camera with a rat snake (non-poisonous) draped around their neck!
You never knew what to expect with Swami Nagaroopa around. One day it would be tortoises and white mice and the next day it would be a big black kite! Yes, he got a kite (often mistaken for an eagle) which was about two months old. I had never seen such a big bird up so close before! It seemed quite unafraid of people and let the kids stroke its feathers. It would fly around the hall and come back to Swami's outstretched arm. It was so magnificent; I only wish I could have photographed it in natural daylight!
After getting used to two meals per day at the ashram, having food four times a day was an extreme indulgence! And what food! From peanut-butter-jam sandwiches to maggi and finger chips, vegetable biryani to pineapple rasam and rice, topped with plenty of mangoes!
The last day of NAP we had dinner around a bon-fire with SOI playing the drums.
The program ended with a message from Sadhguru, urging the kids to recognize the life in everything around them. They all received saplings to take care of and plant in their homes.
Editor's Note: Isha Yoga Summer Program for Children (earlier known as Nature Awareness Program) is a fun-filled, four-and-a-half day residential summer camp for boys and girls in the age group 9-15 years. The program instills the love of nature and the power of yogic practices in growing children. Find an upcoming program.