“If you really want to change a culture, to empower women, improve basic hygiene and health care, and fight high rates of infant mortality, the answer is to educate girls.” ~ Greg Mortenson in Three Cups of Tea
Surely “Seyalay” (a Burmese word referring to a nun of high order), who invited us to Myanmar to teach Yoga to the orphans and nuns in her care knew this. It was progressive. It was unheard of. Some of the villagers and the monks at the monastery next door did not approve. This was, after all, a Vipassana style nunnery where movement was not the norm. Yet, there we were amongst the nuns teaching and sharing Yoga. We were brought on as ambassadors of strong, independent women from around the world. Seyalay saw great value in our presence, she respected the fact that the orphan girls under her care were free to choose a life they love. She runs this nunnery with an emphasis on education, making sure that each child has the opportunity at the age of 16 to continue on their spiritual path as a nun or prepare for college.
Photo credit: Om and Roam
Sadly, many young girls in Myanmar find themselves in a nunnery due to sexual trafficking. They might be a product of this practice or, often their families choose to hide them there to protect them. Coming from small rural Burmese villages they had never seen anyone who looked like us; our skin, our hair, our clothes, our light eyes – we were such a novelty. Nevertheless, the little nuns were so happy to be with us. They were all smiles and shyly lingered after each session in hopes of receiving a hug or a smile from one of us. To them, we were these strange, mysterious foreign women from wealthy countries who traveled across the planet to be there. Our intentions were to teach, to inspire, to immerse ourselves in the act of Yoga Seva (selfless service), to take part in something that was greater than ourselves. That was the idea anyway, but as it turns out we as teachers received benefits that were far more valuable than we could ever imagine.
As a Next Generation Yoga Teacher my work has always enriched my life. I have led countless Kids Yoga classes in a variety of different settings yet, never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined teaching a class filled with so much joy, so much engagement, so much enthusiasm and what seemed to be an endless wellspring of gratitude. I was honestly a bit confused as I quickly realized I was on the receiving end of these amazing gifts, “but wait”, I thought “who is helping who?” Amazingly, these little nuns were able to instantly tap into the ancient practice of Yoga. On day two, crow pose was cued and my jaw dropped as I looked across the room at a sea of pink robed nuns with their bald crowns shining all landing crow pose, even the “aunties” (the elders) were flying high. In the states most of my experienced adult students are reluctant to even try crow! There I stood in disbelief and it brought tears to my eyes. Many of these girls had never experienced Yoga before and the joy in that moment was palpable as the girls were giggling and beaming brightly. I will forever be inspired by this moment and by this incredible group of girls who had so little in life but were still so rich and brimming with open hearted enthusiasm.
Photo credit: Om and Roam
This perspective has greatly enriched my life and I share this story with you in hopes that you find the inspiration to find a way to give, to share with all your heart because, the more you give, the more you receive. Ironically, research shows that the more time and money we invest in a worthy cause the more affluent we feel. Perhaps wealth and abundance is less about what we have, and more about a way of being. May we all find value in love, in community, in good health and, in service.
Next Generation Yoga Teacher
Melissa Hawkins has been working with young children for 16+ years with over 10 years of experience teaching kindergarten and is currently the lead teacher at Fidalgo Nature School. Melissa also serves as the Director of Teachers for the Next Generation Yoga Teacher Community. She enjoys inspiring and supporting NGY teachers as they grow their skill set as Kids Yoga Teachers.
As a practicing yogini with decades of experience on the mat and a Registered Children’s Yoga Teacher (RCYT) she works to share Yoga as a tool for educators, parents and children. She believes that mindfulness combined with movement helps lay the foundation for a lifetime of success.
Through her own personal practice Melissa has found Yoga to be the ultimate gift that keeps on giving. It has taught her to stay connected and fully engaged with every moment. Noticing and finding beauty in seemingly mundane and ordinary moments is the cherry on top of her ice cream!