The Catholic experiment to make yoga popular

October 17th, 2011 - 9:18 am ICT by IANS  

Agra, Oct 17 (IANS) Efforts to take yoga to the masses is nothing new. But they remain largely restricted to trained instructors and camps. In a rare initiative here, benefits of the ancient discipline are being publicised in a school exhibition.

A 6,000-square-foot gallery has opened in the St Peter’s College campus, adjacent to the historic cathedral, in which embossed reliefs and paintings show the benefits of ‘asanas’ or postures to health in general.

Each day students, parents, drivers, rickshaw pullers, cyclists and pedestrians stop to read and admire Hindi descriptions of each asana, elaborately explained in simple language.

The paintings are bold and invite attention. One can take a leisurely walk through the gallery, taking notes or shooting pictures.

A brainchild of Father John Ferreira, principal of St Peter’s College, founded in 1846, it has taken two years of hard work conceptualising and executing the project in a unique style.

“The idea was to bring the esoteric science of yoga to the masses from the closets of ashrams and libraries. The visual appeal had to be striking and the message simple to relate with the needs of the common man,” Ferreira told IANS.

Five years ago, when John Ferreira took over as the principal, he introduced a one-hour daily yoga regimen for students.

“Not just the Catholic church but parents, teachers stood up in opposition. They thought it was a waste of time and energy, but today the miracle has been achieved. The boys are regular practitioners of yoga.

“Some of them have become yoga teachers; the Catholic priests are also yoga fans, including the archbishop. The whole campus exudes positive vibes. Other schools too have taken to yoga and the various school boards are now planning to introduce yoga in the curriculum,” Ferreira said.

He has built a huge yoga hall on the campus, which is open to the general public morning and evening to practise and learn the intricacies of yoga. “I have stopped all junk food on the campus and brought out a series of calenders on various diseases and how yoga and natural cure methods can help.”

As one enters the portals of this grand institution, it is difficult to miss the huge painting of Jesus Christ in a yogic posture, in sublime tranquillity.

“You will not find this picture anywhere in the world. It’s unique in every respect,” says Ferreira, who switched over to yoga 30 years ago. “I was perpetually sick and had lost all hope of living a normal life. From then on, there’s been no looking back.”

He says the record was not the objective.

“It just happened,” he says. “We are now trying to get this listed in various record books, including Guinness and Limca. It’s a permanent and durable project. The embossed pictures have been sculpted with special cement and adhesive materials and follow a pattern.”

An exclusive Neem-Vatika has been developed. “An eye-sore for so many years, a huge mound of garbage has been cleared to make way for a Shanti Vana. The morning assembly begins with chantings from scriptures, the echo of mantras and Om resonate,” explains mathmatics teacher Anubhav.

Father John says, “It is always good to start early in life. No point doing yoga when your body becomes a factory of diseases.”

(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at

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