The other day, the L&M came home looking bewildered. ‘The kids can’t bend and touch their feet!’ he said incredulously. He has been busy organizing International Yoga Day celebration in some neighbourhood schools and he was frankly astonished that young kids could have such inflexible bodies. ‘Many children can’t bend without moaning and groaning, can’t sit in the simple cross-legged position (not the more difficult Padmasana, mind you), and the majority can’t even squat!’ he cried, shaking his head in disbelief. For someone in his mid-sixties, who is active and has a flexible body, this was unbelievable.
It is actually not so uncommon to find physically unfit children today. Obesity, juvenile diabetes, even heart ailments are getting more and more common among our young. Add to that unhealthy eating habits and sedentary lifestyles and you have the recipe for disaster staring at the kids born in this century. Most of them avoid playing games. And when they do, parents are particular about them getting into some ‘sport’ rather than robustly kicking a ball, boisterously chasing each other or playing games for the pure fun and enjoyment they provide.
The importance of physical exercise and games can’t be overemphasised. They not only freshen up the mind but also provide increased supply of vital oxygen to the tired brain. They give the brain some respite and help it regain its energy for studies. One story the L&M never tires of telling is how he and his friend would sit and work out problems for a couple of hours and then indulge in a bout of vigorous wrestling on the floor before resuming their studies again! He swore that it made them feel refreshed. This was one lesson he kept drilling into the heads of the boys.
I remember my elder son not missing a single day of games all through high school. When he was in the 10th, he would bitterly complain about how none of his friends came to play, cooped up as they were in their homes, studying….In frustration, he would wheel out his bicycle and cycle for hours before coming home flushed and happy. It was only when he came to the final year he had no time as he commuted for several hours every day to attend school and then coaching classes. But he more than got his share of exercise, commuting as he did in the crowded DTC buses of Delhi!
Contrary to what parents and even children believe, games and physical exercise actually aid good academic performance. Extracurricular activities that are creative are good too. While organised sporting activities like skating/skateboarding, swimming, karate, etc. are fine, they need to be supplemented with some games that are played with complete abandon and for fun. They certainly are no replacement for these.
Our building sent many children this year to the Board exams, both X and XII and all of them about six in all – have scored above 90. One of them, who lost both his father and grandfather within a few months of each other – one just before and the other during his exams, has even cleared his IIT-JEE with a very good rank and is waiting for his counselling. What makes the achievement of these children – including the last mentioned – unique is that they are all multi-faceted youngsters. Two of the boys play percussion instruments and do a fantastic job. They play games every day, even during the dreaded Board exams, take part in cultural programmes, which involves practice, run errands for their parents and more. I am sure they are gadget-savvy and play games on their tabs and computers too, but their focus is not just limited to them. Every time I look at one of them, it brings a wide smile of joy to my lips. These super achiever kids are also old world in that they greet elders, help them with their heavy bags if they see someone struggling with them and are athletic, robust, happy and full of life.
So when I see children who are obese, surly and inactive, it pains me. While it is part their fault that they are physically unfit, the major part of the blame goes to the parents who either don’t realise the importance of physical activities and games, or feel satisfied that their children are such whiz kids with their gadgets and gizmos and are so ‘intelligent’ thanks to their Google ‘knowledge’ (shouldn’t it be information?), which they proudly brag that their children possess. Even if these children perform well in academics and become toppers, they are at best single dimensional figures and no patch on children who stand head over shoulders over them physically and mentally with their well-rounded personalties.
It is high time that parents and children realised that exercise is as important in making intelligent and bright students as studies. One of the biggest complaints from both children and their parents is lack of time and a heavy load of schoolwork for not playing games. I want to ask them where they find the time for their smartphone activities and TV watching? The last two activities, far from relaxing mind and body only make them more fatigued. Instead even half an hour of some form of exercise – even if it is just stretching or jumping up and down on the spot would do more to relax both muscles and nerves.
And for those who complain that there are no playgrounds to play games, how about running up the stairs or doing some physical work? After all, tower running is an international sport and every building has hundreds of stairs!! And then there are the yogasanas, simple one like surya namaskar, bending and stretching asanas and pranayam. Earlier brahmacharis (students) were required to do these as part of their daily routines, but of course, traditions are there only be mocked and then junked, aren’t they?
International Yoga Day might come just once a year, but for once, it is not an empty ritual, but a reminder about the wonderful gift that India has given the world. What is more, India has not even claimed IPR over it, as pointed out by our PM!
Isn’t it a shame that we junk an ancient form of spiritual exercise as hype while huffing and puffing on treadmills and tummy-trimmers in air-conditioned gyms? How snobbish can we get?
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