In the western world, we tend to associate yoga with exercise. People go to a gym or a studio, and they often expect to sweat, stretch and strengthen their muscles.
But yoga, in its original context, is more a way of life and ethics. Thousands of years ago, the sage, Patanjali, wrote about yoga. In the Sutras, he referenced yoga asanas (postures) just a few times.
What Patajanali made clear were rules for living. The first is Ahimsa, meaning non-violence, or do no harm (see more on Ahimsa at https://thenamastecounsel.com/yoga-blog/). Other key yogic principles described in the Sutras are contentment, selflessness, and eliminating greed and desire.
To live the life of a yogi, you need to follow these commandments, known as yamas and niyamas.
Anu Aggarwal lives those life rules. She’s a social worker and a yoga teacher. But her path was an unusual one. Born in India, she was a high-end supermodel and actress, traveling all over the world. She lived “the good life,” and discovered that it wasn’t “good,” and that she needed to help others find the good in their lives.
After recovering from 29 days in a coma and a total temporary loss of memory, she went to the slums of India. Following another yogic principle, detachment, Anu sold her house and chose to live a life of service. Karma Yoga.
“I was away from the city in self-imposed exile for 12 years doing advanced Buddhist meditation, tantra, karma and hatha yoga and sufism. In the hinterlands of the Himalayas, I realized the nature of actual enlightenment,” she says. “I needed to get back to my tribe and share what I’d learned.”
She chanced upon an NGO sheltering kids in the slums of Mumbai. “It was one of the most depressing things I saw,” says Anu. “Kids eight to 16 years old were completely energy-less. Response-less. Dead. Like living dead. I went in and started talking to them. I told jokes. No one laughed. I didn’t even know if they heard me,” she told a group of yoga therapists in South Texas.
Anu knew she could transform the children’s lives simply by sharing holistic tools of yoga therapy.
At first, she faced great resistance. The director of the NGO was focused on the essentials: food and shelter. She told Anu that the children didn’t need yoga. So Anu converted the director into her first student so that she could understand the transformational elements of yoga therapy.
“I inherited the belief that we all need to be happy and we are happy beings. I wanted to bring happiness to these kids. I saw what yoga can do. I started teaching them fun yoga. First with the animal poses. I got their mind off their depression. Within a month, they were laughing, smiling, jumping.”
Before she got them laughing and jumping, she brought them into deep levels of silence. Mindfulness stress reduction. She drew upon her experience living as a saddhu or wandering ascetic when she didn’t talk for four years. “The tongue is the easiest organ to move,” she half-jokes.
She practiced Yoga Nidra with the children. Although nidra means sleep, and one hour of nidra is equivalent to four hours of sleep, Yoga Nidra is a mindfulness practice. Under a veil of sleep, one remains awake and aware listening to a guided meditation that produces deep relaxation. Numerous studies have provenYoga Nidra’s effectiveness, in particular for those with PTSD or sleep disorders.
Anu also incorporated Ayurvedic music therapy. When a rock band was visiting from Hawaii, she shared body-mind modalities with the children. Within a year of Anu’s yoga therapy, the kids were transformed.
“We live in a world today rampant with aggression, stress, ill health, and depression. Despondency is not limited to the forlorn adolescent kids from low-income groups in slums. The emerging coalition of Holistic yoga and neuroscience has a vast scope in treating these ailments by working on the neuroplasticity of the mind.”
“Yoga is the ultimate connection with the supreme self,” she continues. “ I’m not the same person I was. There was a girl called Anu Aggarwal. A superstar traveling the world who I don’t know anymore.”
Anu’s non-profit is called Fun Yoga for the Slum Kids. She accepts donations and volunteers. For more information, visit http://www.anuaggarwal.org