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May 30 2011

What I learned by interacting with a person of another faith

I’m sitting in my spacious flat on a Sunday afternoon, drowsy from the heat of the sun’s rays coming into the large windows and doors that are west-facing. The only thing that keeps me awake is the knowledge that my yoga class is about to start. I’m waiting for students to arrive, and finally, one (the only one for the day) does. Ironically, she comes from an Islamic background, in a country where Muslims and Hindus have been at odds with one another for generations. Yet we sit together for the class. In a country where religion divides, yoga binds. Yoga’s power to create peace comes through its physical, philosophical, and truly heart-felt power to change each of us within. Helping us individually learn compassion and forgiveness, it develops an atmosphere of serenity within and peace towards others. For me personally, I gained more than can meet the eye. A muslim woman sat across from me on her mat, and I saw her just as a human being seeking refuge and rejuvenation from her life stresses–the same thing that took me to yoga many years ago. Since that day, my eyes opened and I’ve been more free and receptive to people who are different than me, knowing that deep down, we are the same. Here in India, I’ve managed to casually befriend a muslim woman in full burqa (I could hardly see her eyes); an educated woman living in a village; and a man who fights for women’s rights. In these moments, I’ve learned how the divides that separate us are only skin deep– because the truth is, we are one humanity. Thanks to yoga, I’m able to see beyond the external and reach deep within. Sowmya Ayyar

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