Published: 21st July 2021
This man of the cloth preaches more than just the Lord's words, he's promoting eco-friendly yoga too
Father Baiju Varghese has encouraged several people to take up yoga through his yoga centre and is now turning online to widen his reach
The fact of the matter is, yoga is all the rage today, worldwide. From the traditional Ashtanga yoga and Iyengar yoga to the not-so-traditional goat yoga and acro yoga — it's evolved to suit the different wants and needs of a global audience. For Father Baiju Varghese, a veteran yogi, the past 12 years have been about teaching yoga and also caring about the environment at the same time. In fact, he helped build an eco-friendly yoga centre near Vyttila, Kochi — Athma Yoga Academy — using only recycled materials, in 2016.
Father Baiju speaks to us about his journey during his seminary days, how he was led to yoga and why he built an eco-friendly yoga centre. Excerpts from an interesting conversation:
Yoga pupils at the Athma Yoga Academy
Where did you get the idea for the eco-friendly yoga centre?
The Archdiocese of Ernakulam had an open-terrace space of about 2,500 square feet on the top of Naivedya Ayurveda Hospital and Research Center in Vytilla, Kochi, which is owned and managed by Sahrudaya, the social service centre of the Archdiocese. I approached an architect to understand what best can be done to convert this into a space for yoga. The architect suggested using recycled waste for this project. So, we came up with the idea of procuring about 250 used saris from the ladies working at Sahrudaya Welfare Service Ernakulam and we used those to create the false-ceiling. We also used about 90 tires and about 90 waste paper rolls and vegetable sacks as part of the structure. To block direct sunlight since it's on the terrace, we set up a vertical garden to give us shade. Ultimately, we wanted to incorporate the 3Rs — reduce, reuse and recycle.
Are there any plans of expanding the activities of the yoga centre?
We want to provide the knowledge of yoga to people and we have qualified people doing that. Right now, we are expanding our online presence. We are also planning to open an academic centre to impart internationally-certified yoga courses. Our activities not only include teaching yoga but also training people to become yoga trainers themselves, so that they can earn from it and make a living too. Currently we are providing courses and workshops on Skype.
What led you to yoga in the first place?
During my days in the seminary, I had to live in the hinterland of Gujarat for a year. I was enjoying the deep silence in the forest at that time. I come from an agricultural family so I have always been very close to nature, right from my childhood, and everyone knows that yoga is attuned to nature, so that is how I was led to yoga. That was the seed that grew into this love I have for yoga. After that, I did my diploma in yoga at Kaivalyadhama Yoga Institute and Research Centre in Lonavla, Maharashtra.
How has the perception regarding yoga changed over time?
When I was doing my diploma, I was the only one from South India, despite the presence of people from 14 countries. At that time, yoga was not that popular. In educated circles, there is a sudden concern for health. In the last month itself, I have conducted nine yoga workshops. Even if it is free, not many people from Kerala attend. Most of the participants are from North India and other countries.