The Social Impact Interview Series spotlights real-life stories and voices from yoga change-makers who have engaged in Yoga Alliance outreach work, detailing how their teaching and practice have directly benefited their personal lives, those they care for, and the communities they serve.
Sowmya Ayyar is the Founder-Director of Prafull Oorja Charitable Foundation, a Bangalore-based non-governmental organization (NGO), which trains yoga therapists to implement sustainable programs with communities in vulnerable conditions. Prafull Oorja has impacted hundreds of yoga teachers, special educators, and thousands of beneficiaries. Sowmya is also a musician (vocals, violins, keyboards) and performs Carnatic and global music, bhajans, and mantra chanting to bring peace and joy to those she serves.
How did you find yoga?
I first came to yoga through my matrilineage: from my mother’s spiritual inclinations leading me to the lap of my Guru, Mata Amritanandamayi; from my grandmother, having lived with Swami Sivananda; and from my great-grandmothers being devotees of Sri Ramana Maharishi. Years of living with great Gurus such as Amma and her senior disciples allowed me to learn about the philosophies of yoga in an organic manner.
I began attending yoga classes in my teenage years in California. Later, when I was faced with a traumatic situation in my 20s, I sought refuge in the practice of yoga at a nearby studio, using restorative practices and slow yin movements to heal myself. This then led to me pursuing a teacher training certificate.
How would you explain yoga in one sentence?
Yoga is awareness of self in relation to the universe and all its living and non-living beings.
How has yoga benefited your personal life?
Yoga’s impact on my personal life is a story intertwined with how it has benefitted the communities I have served through my non-governmental organization.
Yoga has opened my heart and soul through its philosophies, helping me to recognize its therapeutic capacity for myself. Through my own healing, I was able to then offer the teachings of yoga to others, first by seeing the connections between yoga and peace. Yoga gave me a calling, to develop myself through the capacity of yoga to serve in a multitude of methods in the world. I began looking at yogic teachings in relation to service to humanity, service to nature, organizational management, personal sadhana and spiritual development.
This allowed me to see guru in all: children with special needs, who taught me openness, gratitude, love, and acceptance; prison inmates, who taught me simplicity; rural women, who taught me perseverance, grit, and strength. Others have been my teachers in different ways, helping me realize how little I know in and of the world, the universe, and even myself, thus allowing me to learn more, slowly, slowly, slowly, as I forge my path to union with the Divine Feminine Energy, Shakti.
How has yoga benefited your community?
Every community that my NGO has served has been supported in different ways: physical, emotional, mental, financial, and/ or spiritual.
Children with special needs have been able to gain fine and gross motor skills, better relaxation and sleep, reduced anxiety and frustration, increased speech and verbalization, and focus and understanding.
Several communities who had experienced trauma were able to release and heal through the yogic counselling methods and specific asana practices, connecting the individual to the characteristics found in nature, though physically removed from nature.
Children of migrant workers, living in a large slum area with tent housing, used yoga to learn words such as “cat”, “tree”, “sun”, and “rock”. They practiced counting in a local language which was different than their own. This helped their ability to communicate and become integrated into the local community.
Our service also inspired some women from rural areas to become certified yoga teachers. Other communities have contributed to the community through their handmade yoga products: eye pillows, mats, mat bags, etc. They receive an equitable payment for their efforts and excellent products.
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