Published: 04th December 2019
Tour de Yogi: Three youngsters are cycling from Kanyakumari to Kashmir to teach Isha Hatha Yoga in govt schools for free
Ajay Mani, Shivanga Solberg and Annie Liebman started their spiritual journey in September this year and hope to complete their mission in October 2020, after impacting as many children as possible
Thirty-two-year-old Ajay Mani Raj from Vellore, 27-year-old Shivanga Solberg from Norway and 31-year-old Annie Liebman from California, US, have a few things in common: they are all certified Isha Hatha Yoga teachers who have a penchant for travel and share a close friendship. So it was only fitting that these Bicycle Yogis (as their union is now called) decided to embark on a long spiritual journey from Kanyakumari to Kashmir in a bid to teach Isha Hatha Yoga to children in government schools who may not have access to it otherwise. But this is not just any journey – the trio has been cycling their way across the rough, uneven and sometimes unforgiving terrains of rural India since September 3, 2019, and has covered the whole of Tamil Nadu as of now, impacting over 16,000 students. Their current stop is Bengaluru, Karnataka.
Initially, the plan was to do a world cycling tour, but later it was decided that they would start with India first as it was ‘she who gifted the science of yoga to the world.’ “We have been teaching and travelling for several years already. We were all inspired by Sadhguru and Isha Hatha Yoga and thought of imparting our learning to others, especially children. During a discussion with each other, we conceived this idea of taking this form of yoga to schools in rural regions because we believed that the education systems in place there would greatly benefit from this initiative,” says Annie who had been acquainted with Ajay since 2012, and only recently renewed their friendship. Shivanga and Ajay underwent the Isha Hatha Yoga teacher training programme together at the Isha Foundation in 2015.
Ajay taking Yoga classes at Jothi Primary Govt Aided School, Azhagappapuram, Tamil Nadu
They inform us that they usually reach out to government schools beforehand through their network of Isha volunteers and acquaintances, though an occasional change of plans is to be expected. “Sometimes, we just approach schools by Googling about them and schedule classes we go. Though we focus mostly on village schools, we have also taught individuals in orphanages, old age homes, special schools and more,” explains Shivanga who also tells us that they chose cycling over other modes of transport as 'it allows for easy interaction with the common man.'
Was there any language barrier as such, since they were dealing with government schools where regional language dominates more often than not? “Thankfully, we have friends (who are also Hatha Yoga teachers) all over the country who will help us when the language barrier becomes a difficulty. Annie and I handle classes in schools where students understand even a little bit of English. In Tamil Nadu, Ajay was handling most of the classes as he is from Vellore and can speak fluent Tamil. Now that we are in Karnataka, there is a friend who speaks Kannada who is aiding in translation. We are able to manage somehow because there are people from different places who will join us on this journey when we reach their state of origin,” Shivanga smiles.
The yogis also engaged in green activities such as planting saplings in schools
The three friends strongly believe that Isha Hatha Yoga helps enhance memory power and learning capacity of students. “Practicing yoga for just 15 minutes a day could bring considerable positive changes in the lives of children, helping them grasp topics better and become well-rounded individuals. Meditation can help the students grasp concepts in a short period of time and be less stressed out,” explains Annie, who adds that their ultimate aim is to make sure that Yoga is made a compulsory subject in the Indian curriculum as it has so many benefits that students cannot afford to miss out on. Ajay, Annie and Shivanga hope to complete their journey in October 2020. “Till then, we will take each day as it comes and teach what we know best – Yoga!” exclaims Ajay.
The trip is being largely paid for by a crowdfunding campaign on Milaap: https://milaap.org/fundraisers/bicycle-yogis