True Refuge Comes From Within

“We’re here in a shelter today…but where can true refuge be found? I asked my group of young male students at Salaam Balaak Trust Aasra Shelter. “Security can crumble all around us at any moment…true refuge can only be found within ourselves. Yoga can help us find this safety, in the depths of our hearts and souls, no matter where we find ourselves in the outer world.”

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In Master Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (an ancient treatise containing aphorisms on the practice of yoga), this sage begins: “Now, this is yoga.” Now, as in something had to have occurred before one can be taught yoga. A crisis. Many people think of yoga practices as simply asanas (poses) and pranayamas (breathing exercises) designed to improve one’s physical condition and appearance. The true aim of the practices, however, is moksha (complete liberation from all forms of suffering). Yoga practices transform the body and mind, putting practitioners in touch with a deeper reality, with the soul that lies within each and all. The physical yoga practices are actually only two of the eight steps of the eight-limbed path of ashtanga yoga as outlined by Master Patanjali. Yamas and niyamas are the first two steps and comprise a strict ethical code of conduct. Established in a strong ethical foundation, practicing asanas and pranayamas, pratyahara (sense withdrawal) and dharana (concentration) puts us in the ideal frame for dhyana (meditation). Through dhyana (meditation), we can reach the eighth and final step, which is Samadhi (a super-conscious, or blissful state)…

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My Salaam Balaak students were truly model yogis. Spanning diverse social, religious and economic backgrounds, these young boys (10-16 years) had experienced crises early on, when they decided to run away from home due to abuse, neglect, disease and/or extreme poverty. Though some are born more sensitive to spirituality than others, adversity more often than not creates receptivity to the practices of yoga on a more profound level, as can be seen by their expressions of blissful absorption.

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And though they had previously been victims – and perpetrators – of sexual abuse, thieves, beggars, addicts and more, when I taught them, they transformed back into innocent children, in search of a new way of life. I always admired the Aasra shelter boys’ focus, as well as their great joy. There were times when they wouldn’t even open their eyes from meditation! Though I was their “teacher,” they taught me so much, about transformation from their experiences, wisdom in their Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) stories, joy in their songs and poetry, and kindness in their greetings and good-byes…

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Javed, on staff at Salaam Balaak Trust, sat in on my classes there and informed me that he is trying to maintain the yoga, some of the kids keep talking about me and that they would love to do some staff training. I am excited to return!

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