Meet the people taking yoga to every house in Thavanampalle, Andhra Pradesh

Total Health’s Arrjava Warriors, a group of yoga practitioners tell us how the ancient knowledge has changed both their lives as well as their students’

Balance, strength, and sync.

The dance yoga sequence choreographed and developed by the Arrjava Warrior team in Total Health rests on these three principles. Today, the team is performing for a team of doctors who have travelled all the way from Mumbai to the village of Aragonda in Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh.

“We must have performed over a 100 times so far, and as far as possible we have not repeated them,” says J Vedamba, the oldest of the group of 9 yoga practitioners and its de facto matriarch. The group has been sending each other YouTube links of various pyramid variations, to include in the choreography. “We try to add many complex asanas, even if we have to prepare for it in under half an hour. That’s the challenge for us.”

It is a matter of pride for each of them: Vedamba, S Radha, N Rajini, K Shoba, R Kavitha, M Nagaveni, BD Shobana, M Irfan, and NJ Anjaneylu Reddy – are local yoga influencers in the 32 gram panchayats they teach. Each of them takes 6 yoga classes daily: 4 for the community, in shared spaces such as temples, and 2 for school students. Overall, every month, they take the principles of yoga to almost 2,800 people in the community.

In 2015, Vedamba became Total Health’s first yoga teacher. “Yoga came into my life at a very fortunate time. I had severe shoulder and back pain, and at the same time, Total Health was facilitating yoga classes on the weekend, taken by a Bengaluru-based organization, Prafull Oorja. So I joined it as well.” From thereon, the yoga chapter of Total Health grew organically – whatever Vedamba learnt over the weekend, she would pass on to school students during the week.

A year later, S-Vyasa (Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana), Bengaluru, collaborated with Total Health to study the impact of yoga on people with diabetes in 6 villages in the Thavanampalle mandal. Once a marked improvement was observed, Total Health arranged for yoga training courses for Arrjava Warriors, resulting in its first group of teachers who began holding classes for the community.

Changing lives

The biggest draw for the Arrjava Warriors to spread the knowledge of yoga is the improvement they have witness in their health. “My stress levels have come down massively. Anger management used to be an issue for me, but I have learnt how to control it, due to yoga,” says Kavitha. Adds Shoba, “I would get anxious about a lot of small things, but practising yoga daily has helped me build mental strength. It has also helped me regulate my thyroid disorder.”

For most, it was more than physical and mental health – a job as a yoga practitioner brought them out of dire straits. “In 2015, I lost my husband and – in the process of grieving for him – I lost my job at a factory,” says S Radha. “I suddenly became the sole earning member, with two kids, aged 8 and 10 then, to take care of. This job came to me when I needed it the most.”

To M Irfan, this job was an escape from a difficult domestic situation. And Shoba can now afford to pay her children’s school fees from her own pocket. “If not for this, many of us would probably still be housewives without financial independence,” says Kavitha. “Today, we have respect in the community.”

Working together

Being on similar journeys has brought them closer together. Once a year, the yoga team gets together for a potluck lunch. “Our day is incomplete without meeting back at the community hall over chai, and discussing our days,” says Irfan.

The group shares their family issues with each other, supports each other financially if needed, and celebrates each other’s birthdays by throwing parties – a relatively new tradition for Aragonda, says Vedamba.

“See, it’s like this…” she continues, “Hardly any of us has experienced college life. We did not study after school; we got married at a young age. So, for us, this group is like a glimpse into what that life could have been.”

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