Kunnanthanam : The yoga village of Kerala

The first rays of the sun hurry down to Kunnanthanam to wish good morning to the good souls there, but find most beds of the village empty. Where’s everyone? They are all up already, preparing to go to the yoga class!
Individually or in groups, they head to the village community hall, right from 4.30 am. A few are in a hurry to finish the class and head home to pack off children to school, but don’t want to miss the class, nevertheless. In their dhotis, lungis, salwars and saris, they walk in like ordinary villagers. But once at the session and after changing to their green and black yoga attire, the group is as energetic as a young, urban gym crowd.

These people of the little village of Kunnanthanam in Pathanamthitta district of Kerala, have turned theirs into a ‘yoga village’, where most people have been practising yoga since March, 2017. At least one member of every family is trained in it and yoga is taught in all its religious institutions, schools and cultural centres here. The Central Government’s Ayush Manthralaya, taking note of it, has now decided to extend the ‘Kunnanthanam model’ to about 500 villages across the country.

The move has added a smile on every face you meet at the village and a bounce to their steps, especially its Panchayat President K K Radhakrishnakurup. “It’s definitely a matter of pride. A few officials from the Centre had come down to learn how we have taken the yoga route to improve our quality of life, that too, without spending a single penny from the treasury. Thanks to the cooperation of the people here, it’s been a smooth ride so far.”

How it started

Yoga was introduced to Kunnanthanam by the Panchayat administration, after lifestyle diseases increased among its people in the recent years, says Radhakrishnakurup. “We wanted to create a disease-free Kunnanthanam and conducted discussions with religious and youth groups, kudumbashree and others on how we can achieve this. That’s when the suggestion of yoga came up and we decided to give it a try,” he recalls. The president himself took part in the trial and as someone who faced blood pressure issues, he could feel his health getting better. “I could even stop my regular pills,” he says.

M G Dileep, an agricultural department official who is also a martial arts enthusiast, is the main yoga trainer at Kunnanthanam. “I wanted to do my bit, after seeing more and more people from my native village falling prey to various ailments and medicine consumption going up. When we started off with the classes, people had their doubts but as the participants reaped benefits, more came forward to join.” Now, there are three batches of one hour each, six days a week, at various places in Kunnanthanam — two sessions in the morning and one in the evening. A handful of people who were part of the first batch of training are doubling up as trainers too, in other centres. “Around 12,000 people have been trained so far. We also had a 15-day programme exclusively to tackle diabetes and cholesterol, in which people were asked to come with their medical reports. After the session, many benefited,” says Dileep.

Secular yoga

Kunnanthanam has about 7,140 families and its population is 21,060. Most of them are Christians. Even as one steps into the village community hall a few minutes ahead of the session, the music and Christian adoration held at a nearby church can be distinctly heard. Dileep says, “At first, there were a few concerns as to whether the yoga sessions will have a religious or political tinge to them. So, the yoga we implemented here is secular and all-inclusive. For example, there is no compulsion to chant any mantra or do any ritual. We have yoga sessions at churches here too and even our religious leaders don’t shy away from taking part in these sessions.” Fr C K Kurian, Vicar of Vellamala Sehion Orthodox Church here, says, “At a time when the rest of the world is discovering the benefits of yoga that has its origins in our country, it’s important that we too wake up to it and do the needful.”

 Yet another priest at the class, Fr Varghese Thomas, says, “I had a persistent headache and this cured it. All the members in my parish are now into yoga after this programme was launched. There is no point turning to such things after lifestyle diseases overpower us.” As of now, about 70 yoga centres are active in Kunnanthanam.

Active women’s participation

P Jayadevikamma, a 70-year-old retired primary school teacher, is one of the most active of the bunch. She says, “Dileep was my student, now I am his! I had osteoporosis and age-related issues, but now, all’s well.” Pointing at her friend P Chembakakuttyamma, she says, “She is 76 and we came together to the class, on foot, which wouldn’t have happened earlier.” Anjali Krishna, a graduation student, is relieved that her menstrual cramps are more manageable now. “I can concentrate better in class and can even run better behind buses (laughs). But the best part is getting to meet all the women of my place at such a session,” she says.

Radhakrishnakurup reveals that for the next yoga day, Kunnanthanam plans to have an all-women yoga performance. Alongside, a yoga clinic will also be organised. “If all goes well, we will also be the gram panchayat with yoga included specially in the syllabus of all of our schools,” he adds.
source: Times of India
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