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Elderly Kerala nun teaches yoga for spiritual growth

The Franciscan Clarist nun stopped working to learn and teach yoga

Elderly Kerala nun teaches yoga for spiritual growth

Sister Infant Treesa does a yoga posture, in Kerala, southern India. The Catholic nun believes the ancient Indian system can lead to holistic health and spiritual growth. (Photo by T. K. Devasia) 

T.K. Devasia, Kochi
India

September 8, 2017

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By the age of 66 many people have retired or are contemplating doing so.

However, Franciscan Clarist Sister Infant Treesa not only stays busy practicing yoga, she teaches it to others.

As a student medical nurse 41 years ago, she suffered severe back pain that did not respond to modern or traditional medical treatments.

A yoga guru successfully recommended stretching and other remedies.

"I then decided to make the holistic science a part of my life," Sister Treesa said.

The nun stopped working as a nurse at a government-run medical college in the Indian state of Kerala 11 years ago. However, she continues to learn and teach yoga in the picturesque southern state in order to strengthen her religious beliefs.

She uses yoga — a set of physical, mental and spiritual practices — as a "medium" to communicate with God.

And Sister Treesa believes fellow nuns could elevate their spiritual life if they also learned yoga. Her congregation has some 7,000 nuns working across India and abroad.  

Sister Infant Treesa in her habit does a yoga posture as she teaches yoga to a group of her students. (Photo by T. K. Devasia)

 

About 5,000 people have studied the practice of yoga at two centers she established in Kerala and there are also yoga teacher training courses.

Sister Treesa attends yoga conferences held in different parts of India and abroad every year. The Bharatiya Janata Party, which came to power nationally in 2014, has promoted yoga as an important and ancient part of Indian culture.

Though many consider yoga as only a physical exercise where people twist, turn, stretch, and breathe in complex ways, the present government believes it has great potential for treating not only the body, but also the mind and spirit.

Some critics see promotion of the practice by the government as being linked to Hindu cultural hegemony.

However, Sister Treesa believes yoga is beyond culture and religion.

"It is a union of physical, mental, intellectual, spiritual, and emotional elements," she said. "It is a discipline and holistic science. It touches all aspects of human life."  

She added that many people misunderstood yoga because of the Sanskrit Hindu mantras (incantations) traditionally uttered.

"I have been reciting Christian prayers instead of the Sanskrit mantras while practicing yoga," Sister Treesa said.

Yoga could help people become better Catholics. "By doing yoga, we can experience the peace that Christ promised us," Sister Treesa said.

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