Elders at a village some 300 km from Beijing are not only using yoga to cure aches and pains but also to lift themselves out of poverty.
Until 2016, most of the 260 villagers of Yugouliang were poor, eking out a subsistence-level life through basic farming; their children migrated to work in cities and could barely support them.
In three years since yoga was introduced, the economics of the village has changed, Lu Wenzhen, a government official, who helped popularise the practice here as a way to alleviate poverty, said.
'The average income of the poor in the village increased by about 1100 yuan last year. This does not include government subsidies. This is all brought about by yoga because of which many people now know Yugouliang. Its popularity is increasing, so the villagers can now sell higher-priced agricultural products, like quinoa, compared to other villages,' he said.
Lu added that quinoa is mostly purchased by yoga practitioners for its high nutrient content and is considered a super grain.
'When we first arrived, the number of poor people was 254, and then decreased to 137. Now there are just 4 families of 6 people who have not been lifted out of poverty,' he said.
Lu wasn’t initially trained as a yoga teacher but later took part in a 'fitness yoga training course held by the General Administration of Sport of China'.
It’s not only the money, Lu said, adding that yoga has changed the quality of lives of the villagers.
'Their daily life is now (led) 'yoga style'. Yoga has become a new life attitude and lifestyle among Yugouliang farmers,' he said.
'Yoga does benefit the villagers, especially those left behind elderly (whose children have migrated). They are no longer lonely. Yoga has become their spiritual sustenance and pursuit of a new life. Their health level has significantly improved and their mood is more cheerful. They have more confidence in life,' Lu said.
Lu used creative language to explain basic Yoga postures to them.
'The Adho Mukha Svanasana is the posture when you keep still with your limbs crawling. At first, we called it ‘butt-flipping’ because the villagers could understand it. The locust pose, we call it flying, because the villagers feel more excited. Because my teaching objects are for the elderly and peasants, I have to use language and methods which they can understand.'
Lu said the villagers have never participated in the International Yoga Day, but every year, collective yoga performances are held in the village during major events like May Day, the Chinese National Day in October or the Chinese National Fitness Day, which falls on October 8.
Lu said yoga could strengthen friendly exchanges between China and India and draw the two people closer. “Yoga will also be a common language for friendly exchanges,” he said.