On Monday I shared how I conducted a class on Hinduism to 44 5th graders at the Village Community School in New York City. The class also included a 5 minute guided meditation. Today I received a very sweet testimonial from the teacher sharing how the meditation had influenced the students.

How inspiring to hear that they loved the meditation. It’s practical and applicable in their lives and they see this. What enlightened “young grasshoppers” they are.

Here’s the teachers email to me:

Hi Dandapani,
I have a wonderful anecdote to share with you today, from our music teacher, Jeannette. Yesterday, many of the students performed in a Winter Concert (singing and playing instruments). They performed twice, once for the school, and the second time was for the parents in the evening. Apparently, our students had such a good time with the meditation you lead (it made such an impression on them), that they proposed to the music teacher to have a meditation session before each performance, to calm their nerves and get them ready to perform!

For each meditation, a child from one of our classes lead the whole group (at least 40+ kids), in a round of breathing, and they said exactly what you said: “breathe in and out, get a good thought, hold on to it…”

What was so funny was the music teacher had not been to our meditation but when she told me about it, the words were exactly as you had said them! How fabulous! I just thought you should know what a success the time with you really was for them.

Many thanks again,
Natalie

Village Community School

 

Here’s a video of Muni Natarajan, one of the teachers, leading the youth in a few Shiva bhajans/kirtans at the Hindu Youth Camp in West Virginia that took place last week.

 

Watch video highlights from an unforgettable afternoon of two and a half hours filled with African music and dance as Hindu and African youth gather for an unplanned unity of two cultures. Special thanks to Nana, Mwatabu Okantah and Olu Manns for helping facilitate this. To know more about this cultural exchange read yesterday’s blog post “Unity, the Beat of a Community“.




 

We continue with our coverage of the Hindu Youth Camp at West Virginia University in Morgantown. On the last afternoon of the camp our new African friends invited us to participate in a drum circle that they had planned. Earlier in the day they had attended a yoga and meditation class.

Our youth group turned up at 3pm at one of the larger halls on campus to find our friends there along with about 30 djembes. Djembe is an African skin-covered drum meant to be played with bare hands that has its origins in West Africa. Individuals from both groups teamed up and before long the hall was filled with drum beats. Our friends were patient as they taught us basic beats on the djembe. It wasn’t long before the young Hindu campers felt confident to beat along with the Africans.

The two and a half hours that followed was the highlight of the camp for many. Besides learning how to play the djembe we also learned some African dance steps. It was an afternoon filled with music and dance, an unplanned unity of two cultures, strangers the day before and friends today. It was an experience that will live long in the hearts and minds of all those that attended.

Indian African Cultural Exchange

Our young campers learning how to play the djembe from our new friends

Indian African Cultural and Music Exchange

It was certainly one of the highlights of this year's camp

Indian African Cultural and Music Exchange

Indian African Cultural and Music Exchange

12 year old Nidhi is all about playing the djembe

Indian African Cultural and Music Exchange

Both groups truly enjoyed getting to know one another

Indian African Cultural and Music Exchange

Indian African Cultural and Music Exchange

Both groups gather to capture this wonderful coming together of two cultures

Teachers and Coordinators. From left: Mr. Krishnasamy, Olu, Muni Natarajan, Mrs. Fuller, Mwatabu Okantah, Dandapani and Nana (Nana is a term of endearment that refers to a chief in the Akan traditions)

Teachers present one another gifts that are sacred to their culture.




 

Here are extracts from a few of the notes of appreciation and gratitude that I received from various campers. As part of their exercise in expressing appreciation and gratitude to their parents, counselors and a person of their choice, a few of them chose to write me some very thoughtful notes which I felt inspired to share with you.

Dear Dandapaniji or Dear DPG…

“…you came into my life when I needed help the most…I do feel blessed to have someone like you in my life that listens and helps me find solutions and is a friend to me. You’re a REAL rockstar…”

“…You are the first person that has truly made me feel like a good Hindu through my every day actions and decisions. …As a teenager I know I make things over dramatic…but you take me seriously and make me feel as though my opinions/actions/decisions/thoughts truly matter. You helped me through a very difficult time last year, and the way you affected my thought process has really changed the way I look at everything. Thank you for inspiring me.”

“…You put the entire religion into a perspective that fits my lifestyle completely…”

“DPG, thank you for teaching so many different things this week and for being insanely awesome.”

“…I appreciate how you are always patient with us.”

“…I gathered more from this week than my past 9 years at camp combined…I’m indebted to you for your advice on all matters. I felt like your lessons called out to me personally and will affect my future greatly. I really can’t wait to see you next year.”

“In terms of teaching and learning things in camp this was the best year by far. I learned how to apply Hindu traditions in a way that would enhance my life…Overall, camp would not be the same without you because of the way you help every individual person in camp with their own problems. I hope you come back to SV Temple camp for many years so that the campers will actually benefit from the classes.”

“Thank you for teaching us how Hinduism can be used in everyday life. You have made what used to be a 2 hour class of boring lectures to a fun and interesting class that seems to go by in 10/20 minutes…It is nice because you have gone through a similar lifestyle and can/have pointed out main points of Hinduism that can help us deal with our parents, friends and people who we don’t necessary get along with…”

“…I would also really appreciate it if you would be willing to come back to camp next year and help us continue our spiritual as well as our life journeys….thanks again.”

“You’re the BEST! Thanks so so much for all of your teachings. They are honestly so applicable to life and I really appreciate that. You are awesome and hilarious but also teach amazing lessons that have stayed with me for the past 3 years and will remain with me in my mind throughout my life. Thanks also for looking out for me and asking if I was alright after that serious discussion. It’s great to know that there’s someone to talk to…”




 

Our week long youth camp is coming to a conclusion and this is the final day of classes. Today we ventured into the world of gratitude and appreciation. As part of today’s class exercise each student was asked to write a note of gratitude to their parents. In doing so they had to be specific about what they were grateful for. They were also asked to write a note to their counselor and one other person at their week long camp.

In addition to this, in the older group’s class a skit was enacted about how first generation American born Hindu parents can use the guidelines and spiritual tools of Hinduism to guide their children with everyday challenges that they face in the world. Well prepared and excellently executed, our campers proved to be wonderful actors!

Children writing notes of gratitude and appreciation

Children writing notes of gratitude and appreciation

Children writing notes of gratitude and appreciation

In expressing gratitude they have to be specific.

And when they present their note of appreciation to the individual they have to look the person in the face and say 'Here's my note of appreciation that I wrote for you'.

Members of the older group perform a skit on Hindu parenting.

The skit was very entertaining and educational

A young camper gives his counselor a big hug of appreciation!

A message from one of the younger campers!




 

Yesterday we invited our African brothers and sisters to join us in our morning Hatha Yoga and meditation practice. This was something new to most of them. I began the class by leading them through a few rounds of Surya Namaskaram (sun salutations) to get them warmed up and stretched.

Then we dived into some Hatha Yoga asanas (poses) followed by some basic pranayama (breath control) which involved regulating the duration of the in breath and the out breath. After pranayama we began the guided meditation. We used the analogy that the mind is like a vast land with a variety of landscapes from mountains to rivers and oceans, to deserts to cities to jungles and more. And the same way we travel from one area of a land to another we can similarly travel through the mind as well.

Our guided meditation then took us first to the land called happiness. We visualized being happy and also filled our entire body with the feeling of happiness. We emphasized the importance of visualization and feeling in the practice of meditation. From the land of happiness we moved to the land of contentment and finally the land of love while practicing visualization and feeling for each of those areas. To conclude the meditation we returned our awareness to the room we were in and slowly opened our eyes to adjust ourselves to our surroundings.

We were very happy to have our African siblings join us for our morning spiritual practices and we are looking forward to their drum circle this afternoon which they have invited us to participate in.

One God, one world!

Hindu youth doing yoga and meditation

Starting our series of Hatha Yoga poses

Hatha Yoga

Dandapani teaching yoga asana

Hatha Yoga

Dandapani teaching hatha yoga

After practicing various Hatha Yoga poses we did some pranayama (breath control) exercises followed by a guided meditation.