BY: +World Yoga News ©°
Balakendra offers children of Indian descent a chance to connect with their cultural heritage at the Hindu Temple of Hampton Roads
At the beginning of Balakendra, Dr. Dilip Sarkar, in front of class in white, leads about 50 children through a 20-minute yoga class at the Hindu Temple of Hampton Roads in Chesapeake on a recent Sunday afternoon.
About 50 children scurried to place their rainbow array of mats on the floor at the Hindu Temple of Hampton Roads in Chesapeake on a recent Sunday afternoon.

They were preparing to begin Balakendra, a youth program designed to immerse children of Indian descent in their heritage and culture.

According to Jigisha Reddy, the main coordinator for the program since 2012, Balakendra means “youth group” and the classes meet on select Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. after an adult yoga class.

The program began in February 2000 when the initial founders decided to design and implement teachings into the daily lives of their children through the use of stories, arts and crafts, bhajans (spiritual songs) and the celebration of cultural and religious festivals.

According to Reddy, the main purpose of the lessons is to enable children to draw closer to their roots in a fun and interesting way while learning about Indian culture, history and geography.

After a 20-minute yoga class, students break into two groups: the “munchkins” (ages 6 to 9) and the “seniors” (ages 10 to 14). While the younger group learns basic concepts, the seniors go more in depth on their subjects, such as learning about how India achieved its independence.

“We focus on Hindu religion, but there are so many religions in India, like Sikhism, Jainism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity, of course, so we do field trips to different kinds of monasteries. They get exposed to the different religions and how they pray,” Reddy said.

On a recent Sunday, the youth exercised in the fellowship hall amid decorations for today’s Diwali celebration, the Hindu festival of lights.

“The first year, I was so impressed,” said Jyoti Basnet, a native of Nepal and mother of two children, Anuradha, 8, and Archita, 3.

Basnet said Anuradha has attended since she was 5 and Archita can’t wait to start Balakendra in two more years.

“At home, we cannot have the opportunity to teach our culture and religion and all those things,” Basnet said. But after just a few classes, Anuradha was coming home and discussing what she had learned.

Basnet even invited her friend Rama Bhattarai to bring her three daughters to Balakendra. Bhattarai said her daughter, Suniva, 7, just started taking the classes this year and was eager to learn.
“She is more calm and learns about the culture and religion,” Bhattarai said. “At home we cannot give it to her, but here she gets to meet with all of her friends, so it all comes together here.”
Yoga was incorporated into Balakendra in 2010.

“Our kids are fortunate to receive their instructions from some of the foremost experts in yoga therapy,” Reddy said.

Dr. Dilip Sarkar, a retired vascular surgeon, led the recent children’s yoga class after teaching an adult class earlier the same day. Sarkar said yoga connects the body and the mind and creates a balance.

“We want them to achieve balance and we want them to quiet down the chattering of their mind,” Sarkar said. All the video games and apps children are constantly exposed to make their minds hyperactive, he said, but yoga teaches the children to slow down, breathe deeply and relax their bodies and minds.

Sarkar, who has long led adult yoga classes, has been teaching it to children for more than four years. The children learn basic yoga techniques to improve their health with simple stretches, balancing poses, breathing exercises and meditation. Sarkar said yoga helps the youth in school as well as in their daily activities.

“They are more focused,” he said.

Pallavi Sappati is impressed with the group. Her children, Sahish, 6, and Varish, 10, both attend Balakendra. She said the program motivated her children to attend temple and that they are noticeably more relaxed after the yoga classes.

Sappati said she has noticed that her children also perform better in school.

“They are more diverse and this really benefits them, and at school, they can talk about Indian culture and it helps them to know certain things,” she said.

“The vision for Balakendra is to continue to instill a strong sense of Indian heritage and help our kids realize that they can be proud of their Indian lineage,” Reddy said.

INTERESTED?
For more information about Balakendra and other programs at the Hindu Temple of Hampton Roads, 217 Sampson Creek Road, visit www.hindutemplehr.org or call 382-7777.

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