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Teaching from the Heart

yoga, arts & english in the slums of pune, india

September 19, 2010 by Amanda Lynne

Meandering my way through narrow winding pathways between colorful concrete one-room houses, I step over a sleeping pig, escaping the heat by burrowing her head under a pile of discarded pieces of wood.

I’m in Laksmi Nagar slum in Pune, India.  Women are washing their clothes and dishes, squatting on the ground in the doorway of their homes.

Snotty toddlers are occupying themselves by playing in the dirt with sticks and ‘watching over’ tethered goats. The wafting scent of frying cumin seeds and mustard seeds fill my nostrils. Mmmm . . . I think this is my favorite smell of India. I am struck by how much I love it here. It feels comfortable and I have a familiar sense of home. I either want to live like this, or I have lived like this. It’s this strange blurred line in my consciousness between longing and nostalgia.

Teaching 60 kids for summer camp

I’ve been volunteering with India Sponsorship Committee (ISC) for several weeks now – teaching yoga, arts, and English to teens who live in this slum. ISC is a child-rights based organization that supports children and youth living in impoverished areas by providing early childhood education to communities, a gender program for youth, and educational support throughout the school year.

My first 2 hatha yoga classes were offered through their summer camp – and I had 60 kids! Om Namah Sivaya. We had circle upon circle of mountains, trees, tortoises and cranes. Incredibly, they were all extremely well behaved and although I had to yell to be heard through the noise of the traffic outside and pockets of whispers and giggles inside, the classes were a great introduction to the power of silence and stillness of yoga. Tadasana became my tool for discipline and ‘crowd control’ – and 60 silent, standing mountains was a sight to behold.

Laksmi Nagar slum youth in Tree Pose

Now, my classes are three times a week, and a manageable 10 – 15 students. They are both challenging and hilarious. In her pastel salwar kameez and her two braids in ribbons, Pooja is the youngest at 10, and Vikas, with his following of younger boys, is the eldest at 18. The youth speak little to no English (except Vikas), and I speak little to no Marathi or Hindi, so we end up giving each other a lot of puzzling looks and doing a lot of giggling, but the beauty of yoga is that little to few words are needed.

Teaching English is another matter . . . I am called to be more creative then ever, and have decided to forego any ESL guidebooks and just start with, “I feel ____”.  We say and act out the different emotions (distracted, focused, anxious, calm) together and experience how they affect our breath and movements of the body.  Every class now, the students take turns in ‘conversations’ describing how they feel in each pose.

"Seek the good, the positive, the creative."

There’s an intuitive part of me that knows what to do, when I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. This part is simply surrendering to the moment, and connecting to these young people in a way that lesson plans and language skills transcends. They are definitely making progress, and I am also learning heaps. A quote by  Swami Radha keeps me going:  “Seek the good, the positive, the creative.  Then that is what you open yourself to and that is what you respond to.”

Amanda Lynne Jahnke is a YDC graduate and former teacher through Radha Yoga Youth Outreach in Ottawa. This reflection was of her 2010 summer teaching yoga through the ISC in Pune, India. The rest of her journey will lead us on a pilgrimage to Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh.


  1. How wonderful!

    Comment by Sharon Colling — September 19, 2010 @ 1:52 pm

  2. This is beautiful Amanda! It’s lovely to find out more about your experience in India and how you are able to open to the moment and allow. Thanks for sharing this!

    Comment by Joan Gamble — September 19, 2010 @ 5:57 pm

  3. Wow, that is totally inspiring!

    Comment by Julie — September 19, 2010 @ 6:29 pm

  4. Inspiring, Amanda! I was just imagining/calling forth something similar for myself, so this article strikes particularly close to home! Thank you for sharing the Light!
    om om

    Comment by Sylvia-Tara — September 19, 2010 @ 7:18 pm

  5. I love it! I could actually hear your voice as I read the piece. Miss you and Paula lots – so great to hear of all the light you are sharing!

    Comment by Michael McCarthy — September 20, 2010 @ 7:11 am

  6. thank you for keeping in touch in this beautiful way Amanda – again – you are an inspiration

    Love and Light, Faith

    Comment by Faith Stuart — September 20, 2010 @ 7:30 am

  7. wow Amanda! way to go!! You are inspiration personified!

    Comment by Eva Arros — September 21, 2010 @ 10:49 am

  8. Thank you so much everyone. ISC is a truly inspiring place that ignited my enthusiasm again for connecting with youth in vulnerable sectors. And even though their living conditions, their lifestyles, their culture is so different, they are still teenagers, you know? They’re just kids, growing up, like you and I. What was different though, was even though none of them had ‘done yoga’ before, it was just amazing how effortlessly they eased into chanting, sitting quietly and finding postures. There was no need to explain what mantra is, or what Namasate means, or what an asana is – the language, the spirituality and concepts are already central in their world. They thought it was so incredible and funny that I, a Westerner, knew about these things! I think they felt quite proud.

    Comment by Amanda Lynne — September 21, 2010 @ 12:24 pm

  9. Amanda Lynne! Thank you for taking the time to share this rich, inspiring adventure. This is so beautiful. I love the quote by Swami Radha, it’s very appropriate for the life situation you speak of as well as so many others. It’s a good one to remember and live by. Much light to you and the child you speak about. What is happening with them now, are they still with the ISC, with other projects, teachers? They must miss you!

    Comment by Melina — September 25, 2010 @ 2:22 pm

  10. Wow, so happy to read about your journey – to have shared it in India with you and to see in words how it touches you. Thanks for sharing.


    Comment by paula richardson — September 28, 2010 @ 6:59 am

  11. Amanda Lynne! Thank you for sharing your experiences. I love picturing all of those wonderful youth and children in Tadasana…. mountains of wisdom! Yes! I look forward to reading more about your journey. Much light!

    Comment by Sarada — October 3, 2010 @ 8:58 pm

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