The nuns in their starched sky-blue habits are a picture of concentration, sitting cross-legged in the open courtyard of St Joseph’s Convent at Kunnamthanam village in Kerala.
They are warming up for their daily yoga session, getting their breathing into a rhythm before they launch into more demanding asanas. Their instructor is Lincy Varghese, who has already taught 40 nuns in another convent. “Last week, I started instructing at this convent. The elderly ones have also shown interest, and I have asked them to sit on chairs and practise,” she says.
Kunnamthanam is a small, sylvan village in a remote corner of Pathanamthitta district near Tiruvalla town. It is Christian dominated though its panchayat is led by the Left. Kunnamthanam recently became Kerala’s first ‘complete yoga village’, meaning almost its entire population of 20,600 practises yoga.
Of course, this didn’t happen overnight, and not without some resistance. It was a priest who helped win converts to yoga. Father C K Kurien, the vicar of St Mary’s Sehion Orthodox Church in the village, first learnt yoga before he started preaching its benefits to others. When the panchayat hall was not available, he offered the church auditorium plus complimentary coffee and refreshments to participants. He even urged his flock to take to yoga during Sunday sermons.
“Because of the vicar, people from the church started joining the yoga classes. The number is increasing even now,” says Jibin Thomas, laity secretary of the church.
Earlier this week, a report of the Syro-Malabar church branded yoga as anti-Christian. Fr Kurien is aware of the latest diktat but says: “Please don’t give the tag of any religion to yoga. I am witnessing such a change among the residents here. Yoga is more than just a physical exercise, it is mental,” he says.
In fact, the classes have helped improve communal harmony with Hindus now coming freely to the church, he adds.
Instructor Lincy Varghese says several working women, especially from Christian families, have approached her for special sessions in the evenings. M G Dileep, a government employee and yoga teacher who designed the yoga course for villagers, says he conducts four sessions on all days except Sunday. The first session begins at 4.30am. “Children to 85-year-olds attend the classes,” he says.
Another priest who swears by yoga is Fr Varghese Thomas, vicar of St Mary’s Orthodox Church in Manthanam, also in the panchayat. He says it has helped him get relief from headaches and joint pain.
From June 1, all panchayat schools and institutions will have half an hour of yoga before classes and office hours. The village is also conducting classes for migrant workers.
Panchayat president K K Radhakrishna Kurup of the CPM says they want to take the project to the next level. “‘Patient-free Kunnamthanam’ is our aim,” he says.
(Times of India)