A yogi in Bahrain

Looked on by a thousand pairs of eyes, my body sped against time to perform 100 sun salutations (Surya Namaskar) in ten minutes. My mind was surprisingly relaxed and at ease. It had been a long tiring day - coming from Bengaluru to Hyderabad, waiting an entire day for my turn to perform. However, at the end of those ten minutes, the tiredness was replaced with peace and calm. It stayed with me while judges and audience of the popular talent show, India’s Got Talent, applauded me. 

The judges had liked my short yoga ensemble and selected me and 22 other participants from a pool of 2,700 for the next round. Though I was not shortlisted further, that event was the beginning of a new journey. After some time, I traveled more than 2,000 km taking the calm and healing touch of yoga to thousands. It was an unbeaten career path for an engineering graduate hailing from a small village in Uttar Pradesh, India. But my choice of walking the road less taken went far back.

A rare eye infection and a road less taken

Four years ago, from the day I performed at  India’s Got Talent, I sat quietly perched on a chair at my uncle's place in Agra, preparing for my 5th-semester engineering exams. That is when I felt an intense pain in my eyes. Amidst the exam stress, I didn’t pay much attention. Later, I found that my retina had developed a rare type of fungal infection. The doctor declared that the infection is incurable and that I will slowly start losing my vision.

My family and I swung from panic to action. On my brother’s recommendation, I joined The Art of Living’s Happiness Program where I learned the Sudarshan Kriya, a powerful breathing technique. Within six months of practice, my retina infection disappeared, my vision was restored, and I never had to wear spectacles again. 

I was fascinated with what the breath could do. It relieved an incurable disease and also made me calmer and confident. I wanted people to experience the power of breath. I decided to become a teacher of the Happiness Program right after college. It was an unconventional career choice. My parents were reluctant, and peers amused. 

Yet with the guidance of my mentor, I traveled across the country, teaching Sudarshan Kriya in colleges. The testimonials from the program participants were encouraging. They reported less stress, more confidence, and an ability to go through tough times with a smile.

I had found my calling to help people find inner strength and happiness. My previous goal to get a good job now seemed like a goal from another lifetime.

A year passed. I started working at The  Art of Living’s Bangalore ashram. That is where I found my ability to perform sun salutations at a greater speed than most people and I landed on India’s Got Talent. Soon after, I became a yoga teacher on the suggestion of my Guru, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Thus followed my next adventure.

The children who beat fear, adults who found depth in their prayers

The hall of Bahrain’s Ibn Al Hathyam School pervaded with stillness. I could only hear my amplified voice and the sound of 500 children shuffling to it into yoga poses. It was my fifth yoga session with them. Compared to the first yoga session, the kids were more silent, attentive, and a little more convinced that yoga is not just for grown-ups.

It was one of the regular yoga sessions that I facilitated while my stay in Bahrain as a yoga and culture representative of the Indian government. Deployed by the Indian Council of Cultural Relations, I was among the 118 yoga teachers that were sent to different parts of the world in the year 2017.

While teaching yoga in Bahrain, I saw it transform the lives of children and adults, irrespective of their religious and cultural beliefs. However, my favorite students were the younger ones. I was marveled at their openness and enthusiasm for learning something they thought was only for adults. Looking at their recorded testimonials, I can’t help but smile.

One student said that these sessions helped him eliminate fear and that his board exams didn’t scare him anymore. Another said it felt like everything is going to be awesome while another said she resolved to never compare herself with others after these sessions. Some even resolved to adopt healthier lifestyles, minimizing their intake of junk food. 

Yet, the most beautiful testimonials came from reluctant adults. I remember one session for practicing Muslims. After learning yogic breathing exercises, they sat for their daily prayers while I waited. As soon as their prayers got over, many said that their prayers were much deeper and they felt more connected to God. Now isn’t that the whole idea of yoga?

Back home

I have never charged anything for the yoga programs I have led in India or in Bahrain. But the money has come alright. The stay in Bahrain was also a special blessing. While I was not so financially well-off in India, the stipend from the embassy in Bahrain allowed me to support my cousins’ higher education. 

However, more than the money, the love, and support of people on a foreign land remain etched in my memory. I arrived in my village, Jamuanw, one morning after my 2-year stay in Bahrain got over. As I looked on the greens and my proud farming family standing in front of our house, I grinned and hugged them. The villagers I had taught meditation and breathing techniques in the past had also come to meet me.

As I discussed spirituality, my adventures in Bahrain with the village elders that evening, they asked me, ‘what next?’. With a smile, I said, “The same, to serve the society in whatever means possible.”

     - Rudresh Kumar Singh, Yoga Teacher and Faculty, The Art of Living, IAS aspirant