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A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.

- John James Audubon

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Blog

Jul 23, 2015

Yoga helps kids recover from earthquake trauma in Nepal

An Indian yoga practitioner travels to Kathmandu and imparts the practice to earthquake-traumatized kids of a monastery, and discovers it helped them recover.

WRITTEN BY

The Outdoor Journal

Months after a major earthquake claimed over 8000 lives and injured more than 19,000 across various districts of Nepal, several big and small outfits reached out to help. Ruchika Wason, a yoga siromani (teacher of yoga) residing in Gurgaon in north India decided to help in her own way. She made her way to Kathmandu and taught yoga practice to children of a monastary, an orphanage and working women.

A first-person account follows.

The hottest selling item in Kathmandu these days is a surgical mask. Everyone is seen wearing one for two reasons, one for the stench as there are still dead bodies buried under the rubble and the second to prevent airborne diseases. Several health agencies have issued warnings for diseases like cholera, dysentery and hepatitis amongst several others due to damaged sanitation facilities and contaminated water sources.

But amidst all this and more there is hope and will to rebuild what has been damaged.

 

Happy Feet-Crow Pose-Kakaasana
Happy Feet-Crow Pose-Kakaasana

I reached the ‘Khawalung Tashi Choeling Monastery’, through the ‘Innovative Social Centre’, Kathmandu. At any time of the year, as I was told, there are around 25 volunteers but after the earthquake the number has shrunk. I discovered that I was the only one there. Volunteers in Nepal, these days, are mostly international tourists who chose to stay back for relief work and some are like me who arrived after the earthquake.

As a yoga teacher, my aim was to impart knowledge of the practice to as many people as possible.

The Khawalung Tashi Choeling Monastery was founded in 2005. It preserves the general Buddhist teachings and houses a school for young monks who come from remote regions of Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet. Along with spiritual education, they also get food, clothing and medical care at the monastery. There are around 50 young monks ranging from 5-21 years here. They are totally dependent on volunteers to teach them English, sports and any other language or art form but after the earthquake there have been rarely any volunteers and they have thus been lagging on these subjects.

They loved Inversions-headstands
They loved Inversions-headstands

When I reached the monastery, making friends was easy as these young monks have no access to gadgets like phones or tabs. The bond was forged by allowing them to play with my phone. And why not, I was here to win their hearts, take care of them, teach them yoga and English.

The first English word these little monks seemed to learn from me was ‘earthquake.’ “What’s the spelling of earthquake?” One of them asked. They were on YouTube searching for theNepal Earthquake Videos’. I was taken aback, specially, because I was told that they were scared of earthquake.

The monastery had two tents built on its porch for them to sleep in as their rooms were on the first floor and if an earthquake strikes again they will have to jump out of their bunks, get down the stairs and then come out of the building. That is too long for anyone to survive an earthquake of that magnitude.

It’s sad to see how paranoia can set amongst people and affect young children irreparably. And it’s not just the monastery or the orphanage but it’s everywhere. Even in Kathmandu, I saw many people living out in tents with their children while their houses are still intact.

I was determined to train the young monks in yoga and help them relieve stress, build their stamina and make a real difference in a small time frame.

Trying Halasana-Plough Pose
Trying Halasana-Plough Pose

The first morning I faced two big challenges, yoga was new to them and they didn’t understand my language. I had to invent unconventional ways of working with them. I primarily teach Hatha yoga, which is a set of physical exercises and postures designed to align your skin, muscles and bones and open channels in the body to allow a free flow of energy.

I divided the monks into two batches – 5 to 12 years ( Kids yoga) and 13 years and above (Teen yoga).  I taught the teen monks the asanas (postures) through actions, elementary English words and even drawing some on paper. With kid monks I did theme yoga sessions, like forest with animal poses and ocean and aquatic life as themes. These ideas seemed to work, to further get their participation I got them to work with story and vision based relaxation techniques. This along with yoga games and challenges got them hooked on. They were picking it up much quicker than I had expected.

Flexibility-purnabhujangasana-full cobra pose
Flexibility-purnabhujangasana-full cobra pose

Slowly the whole yoga routine – initial relaxation, pranayama (breathing practice), asanas (postures) and final relaxation became a part of their daily practice every morning and evening. It worked like magic. Within a few days the chit-chat about earthquake had noticeably reduced. Yoga became their new found common interest and topic of discussion. My phone was still borrowed by the kids but this time just to play video games.

Stanford University School of Medicine and Sonima Foundation, a non-profit for children’s wellness are conducting a study on the same subject. They are trying to determine if a daily yoga practice “in a community can help traumatized children better regulate their emotions.”

Teaching 'chair yoga' to a group of working women
Teaching ‘chair yoga’ to a group of working women

I also took out time to teach yoga to a group of women who work in a weaving and stitching workshop. They came from underprivileged backgrounds and worked eight hours a day, six days a week. Ever since the earthquake they have been living in tents outside the workshop. Since they have to work a minimum eight hours a day and also attend to their families in distress they had little time in hand, but were keen to learn. So I got them to do “Chair Yoga”, a technique that requires 15 minutes of their time and can dramatically reduce their aches and pains.

10.chin mudra depited
Little monks with Ruchika

In times like these, whether earthquake or any other disaster, yoga helps people recuperate faster and embrace life again. It helps combat trauma and strengthens immunity. You focus on the present. This experience made me believe in it even more. I saw it all happening in front of my eyes. I urge every disaster management agency to consider yoga in their rehabilitation strategies as it is relatively easier to rebuild houses and bridges than to rebuild the human faith in nature.

Story and Images: Ruchika Wason

profilingAbout the author: Ruchika Wason is a Siromani (teacher of yoga) from Mayaa Yoga Shala, a 200 hours YTT Hatha Yoga Teacher from the Sivananda Lineage. She teaches yoga at the Sivananda Yoga Centre in Gurgaon. She plans to do more relief work and is working to create customized yoga regimen for kids, people with disabilities, adventure enthusiasts, working mothers etc. You can reach her at [email protected] or [email protected] or [email protected]

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Events

Mar 25, 2019

GritFest 2019: The long-awaited trad climbing event returns

Fueled by a common passion, an assembly of seasoned climbers revive the traditional climbing movement just outside of Delhi, India.

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The wind coming off the rock face felt inhospitable, but the air itself gave off a sense of communal joy. After 33 years in absence, the thrill at the Great Indian Trad Festival, or Gritfest, emerged again for a new generation. 

We stood together in ceremony around Mohit Oberoi, aka Mo, the architect of the Dhauj trad climbing era, whose been climbing in the area since 1983. Mo, who continues to inspire many, briefly underlined the cause behind the Gritfest: a two-day annual trad climbing gathering that finally saw the light of day on February 23rd and 24th 2019. The gathering, although one of its kind, was not the first. The first one took place in 1985 and was put together by Tejvir Khurrana.

Read next: Mohit Oberoi: My History with Dhauj, Delhi’s Real Trad Area

“Dhauj is huge and there exists such an amazing playground right on their doorstep”

For those of you who might be unfamiliar with the climbing scene in India, Dhauj is where some of the country’s finest climbing began. Located in Faridabad Haryana, Dhauj is roughly between 18 to 20 miles away from Delhi. The region is home to the Aravali Mountains that start in Delhi and pass through southern Haryana to the state of Rajasthan across the west, ending in Gujrat.

The Great Indian Trad Fest was long overdue and brought together by Ashwin Shah, who is the figurative sentinel guard of the Dhauj territory. In addition to being the guy with more gear than you’d ever expect one man to own, he is also often caught headhunting belayers, sometimes even climbers. His never-aging obsession with Dhauj is also very contagious. I’m grateful to start my own climbing journey with Ashwin. In my first attempts at belaying, my simple mistake caused him to drop on a 5-meter whipper. It could have been more.

Rajesh, on the left, getting ready to belay, Ashwin in the middle and Prerna on the right

That whipper, in hindsight, transmuted into a defining moment for me. The primal squeal Ashwin let out while falling made me realize the danger of this new passion I couldn’t help but fall for myself. That being said, had it not been for Ashwin’s impressionable optimism to entrust me with his life, Dhauj wouldn’t have held the same allure that it does for me now. Ashwin started contemplating the Gritfest after his return from Ramanagara Romp in Bangalore: a three-day event that gauged the possibility of climbs undertaken during a two-day window.

Read Next: Why the Aravalli Forest Range is the Most Degraded Zone in India

The idea behind the Gritfest is to celebrate a legacy built over the last four to five decades. A legacy that should be preserved for posterity as it has been thus far. “The objective is to think about the future,” said Mo, as he jogged his memory from back in the days. Furthermore, the fest also aims to encourage and educate aspiring climbers on traditional climbing: a form of climbing that requires climbers to place gear to protect against falls, and remove it when a pitch is complete.

Mo leading Aries at the Prow.

Sadly, the fest also takes place at a time when the government of Haryana seeks to amend an age-old act,  the Punjab Land Preservation Act, 1900 (PLPA), that would put thousands of acres of land in the Aravalli range under threat. India’s Supreme Court, however, has reigned in and we will likely know the outcome in the days to come.

The know-how around trad climbing rests with a handful of members in the community. This also makes the Gritfest ideal for supporting a trad-exploration pivot in the country. Dhauj, also home to the oldest fold mountains in India, has been scoped out with lines that go over 100 feet. The guidebook compiled by Mohit Oberoi documents some fine world-class routes since the early stages of climbing in and around Delhi. With grades ranging between 5.4 to 5.12a, Dhauj has more than 270 promising routes.

The fest kicked off with Mo leading the first pitch on Aries, a 5.6 rating, 60 feet high face at the prow, while the community followed. Seeing Mo repeat some of the climbs he’s been doing for over 30 years was exhilarating to say the least. Amongst the fellow climbers, we also had some professional athletes, including Sandeep Maity, Bharat Bhusan, and Prerna Dangi. The fest also saw participation from the founders of Suru Fest and BoulderBox.

Kira rappelling down from the top of Hysteria with a stengun, 5.10a.

“Trad climbing can be a humbling experience”

While the Gritfest finally came to fruition, I wondered as to why it took so long for it to happen. One of the questions that I particularly had in mind was regarding the popularity of places such as Badami and Hampi over Dhauj. Although the style of climbing varies across all regions, the scope and thrill of climbing in Dhauj remains underestimated. For one reason, I knew that there is a serious dearth of trad climbing skills which makes it partly inaccessible. Whereas the red sandstone crags bolted with possibly the best sports routes in India make the approach to Badami relatively easier.

I reached out to Mo, and asked him to share his perspective on the fest as well as some of the questions I had in mind.

1) Tell us a little about your thoughts on theGritfest?

It’s a great way for climbers to get together and climb, form new partnerships, share information and also solidify the ethic part of climbing, especially in Dhauj, which is purely a trad climbing area.

2) What is it that the current community can learn from Gritfest?

The possibility of climbing in Dhauj is huge and there exists such an amazing playground right on their doorstep, also Dhauj is an amazing place to learn “trad climbing”.

3) Since it was the first installment, where do you see it heading in the future?

I think it will grow to a large number of climbers congregating here as long as we KEEP IT SIMPLE, and climb as much as possible. We should keep the learning workshops “How to climb” type of courses out of this. This should be one event where we just climb at whatever level we feel comfortable with.

4) Why is it that Dhauj isn’t nearly as popular as Badami or Hampi?

I’m not sure why, really. It’s possible that the grades are not “bragging” grades and climbers don’t feel comfortable starting to lead or climb on “trad” at a lower range of grades. “Trad” climbing can be a humbling experience as one has to work up from the lower grades upwards. It is both a mental and physical challenge unlike climbing on bolts. Despite the guidebook, there is a reluctance to going out to Dhauj which surprises me, that Delhi / NCR locals would rather have travelled more times to Badami / Hampi than take a short ride to their local crag.

Perhaps it is about bragging rights. Perhaps it’s about the lack of skills. Whatever the reason might be, Dhauj will continue to inspire generations to come and fests like Gritfest will serve to strengthen our community. Whether you are new to climbing or have been at it for years, there is always something to learn.

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