Yoga for Peace, by Tingting Peng
Namaskar, October 2009
As Typhoon Koppu stormed through Hong Kong on September 14, exactly one week before the International Day of Peace, the energy in the city felt anything but peaceful. In the days that followed, rain continued to drench the streets and contingency plans were being carefully made at Cyberport, for Peace International Foundation’s second annual Peace Day celebrations. As the organizer of the kick-off event Yoga for Peace, I, along with my fellow teachers Peggy Chiu and Vincent Hewitt, hoped that our intention for a day with good weather would manifest as timely as possible. In the meantime, the word spread about the free community class we were offering and people began to learn about the story behind September 21.
It all began in 1999, when filmmaker Jeremy Gilley tirelessly set out to document his efforts at establishing the first ever annual day of global ceasefire and non-violence. Two years later, the 192 member states of the United Nations unanimously adopted September 21as the UN International Day of Peace and it has been celebrated ever since by various organizations worldwide. Similar to Jeremy, Maria Ying-Matthews, Founder and Chairperson of the Peace International Foundation, was also seeking to engage the different communities in Hong Kong in observance of an end to conflict and an awakening of consciousness, inner peace and compassion on this very day. I met Maria a couple of months earlier over coffee and was deeply inspired by her mission to create a grassroots effort in peace education and children’s outreach in a place seen by many as a city of excess and extremes. At the time I was looking for ways to start up community yoga classes and so we joined hands and Yoga for Peace was born.
Fast forward to September 20, 8:00am on a partly sunny Sunday morning and the birds are chirping in the trees of the Cyberport Outdoor Podium. Peggy, Vincent and I, decked out in our bright yoga gear sponsored by lululemon athletica, began welcoming our first participant arrivals. People signed in, collected their free yoga accessory and yoga journals (also sponsored by lululemon), and rolled out their mats onto the grass, some strategically scouting the best spots for a shade or a breeze before settling down. Within minutes, the grassy steps of the podium were a rainbow display of colorful mats, eager participants of all ages and ability levels. Peggy, who happens to be the latest lululemon ambassador, led the group to three soulful Om’s to commence this year’s Yoga for Peace community event.
Asking the participants to each set his or her own intentions for making peace with at least one aspect of their lives, Peggy reminded us of the importance of breath in connecting to our inner stillness as she flowed through a series of Sun Salutations. She transitioned seamlessly to Vincent, who continued to playfully challenge the crowd with poses such as garudasana, ardha utkatasana, and bakasana. Finally, I invited the participants to try out some balancing poses, vrksasana and uttitha hasta, in pairs, encouraging them to share in the positive vibes of their neighbors and friends. Closing out the practice with a short meditation, I encouraged everyone to find a place of silence within, to carry their intention through the remainder of Peace Day and to inspire to have their inner stillness eventually reflect outwardly onto all aspects of their lives.
Despite moments when it felt like sunbathing on a hot summer day, Yoga for Peace turned out to be great fun. I found it tremendously rewarding to be able to share the experience with Peggy, Vincent, and all of our dedicated participants. We hope to continue this tradition in some form or other because connecting to peace isn’t something to be done just once a year, it is a journey of self discovery and a way to contribute to our community through all that we do each and every day.
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