Devika Gurung was one of my first yoga teachers. I met her while traveling to India to study Yoga. But Devika had just returned from India and opened a Yoga Centre in Pokhara, Nepal. I decided to spend 6 weeks with her helping her with her Yoga Centre and learning English and in exchange I lived with her like she lived in the Ashram in India. We practiced Jala Neti in the morning, meditation, asana twice a day, karma yoga, yoga nidra, and pranayama. It was an incredible experience and helped me on my path towards a daily yoga practice. She is an incredible inspiration to women and yoga teachers everywhere. I was particularly inspired by her dedication to helping Nepalis study yoga.
Below is an article published by the Guerney Times in Australia and highlights her work with the Nepali Women's Yoga Project. The Nepali Women's Yoga Project is dedicated to addressing the socio-economic problems and discriminations facing many of the women in Pokhara, Nepal. The Project targets destitute women who have often been abused by their husbands, family or others, or have been thrown out of their homes, harassed by employers, raped, sold into prostitution and victimised by society.
DEVIKA GURUNG is a woman on a mission.
This independent Nepalese lady not only runs her own yoga centre, but is hoping to improve the lives of thousands of people. She wants to empower her nation's women to stand on their own two feet and, through founding the Nepali Women's Yoga Project, she is doing just that.
Devika, 31, was born in Jomson, a rural village in the mountainous Annapurna region. One of six children, she was forced to leave school at 15.'I started working on a construction site at the airport, carrying stones in a basket,' she told me.She stuck it out for two months and earned 160 rupees a day.
'I would see students in their dresses going to school and it made me realise I could do more,' she said.
Devika did manual work in an orchard, made carpets and worked as a housekeeper, during which she learnt English, before joining her brother, a monk, at the Buddhist Meditation Centre in Pokhara, Nepal, where she worked as a receptionist.She was 18 and it was there that she met two Australian yoga teachers who took her under their wing -this chance meeting was to change her life.
'I didn't know what yoga was or what its benefits were at the beginning,' said Devika.For the following three months, she was taught hatha yoga twice a day, every day.
Although she said it was hard work, she was hooked and spent the following four months studying the form at The Natural Health and Yoga Centre in Kathmandu. Although hatha originated in Nepal, it became more widely recognised as coming from India, because that country produced a series of high profile teachers.
By the end of the year, and with the financial help of a friend and her Dutch godparents, Devika had established her own base, The Nepali Yoga Centre, at Lakeside Pokhara.
The centre is a member of the Yoga, Nature Cure and Alternative Medical Council in Nepal and has since featured in the Lonely Planet guide to the country.
'It was very difficult when I started running the yoga centre. Sometimes I didn't have enough money to pay the rent or even buy food. It was quite challenging, but I was determined to make a success of it.
I didn't see any alternative. I had to be strong because nobody else was going to help me,' she said.
There were moments of self-doubt but they were fleeting and the centre was about to receive an international boost. An Australian tourist travelling through the area wrote about Devika's centre for Lonely Planet.
'Slowly, over the following three years, things have got better and now, at last, we are able to pay the rent,' said Devika.
In 1997, she returned to the centre in Kathmandu and obtained diplomas in hatha yoga therapy, Ayurvedic massage and health food management. She had been supporting her family but when her own health took a turn for the worse in 1999, everything changed.
'I had to have a big operation and at that time I lost all the money I had earned. I was expecting to get help from my family but it never came,' said Devika. Doctors advised her to not practice yoga for a year after the operation but, with the prospect of no money coming in, she started training just three months after surgery.'It was very dangerous but I had no support, I had to do it,' she said. It was a turning point in Devika's life.
'After that I realized that I needed to do something for myself, not always giving to others,' she said. While the centre is now doing well financially, Devika always remembers the times when things were more difficult. 'I really appreciate things now. And I know if my parents had helped me, I wouldn't be where I am today.'
In 2001, Devika traveled to India and undertook a further hatha yoga instructor's course at the Indian Yoga Institute. For the past 12 years, she has spent the high tourist season teaching twice-daily hatha yoga classes and residential courses at the Nepali centre. Out of season, Devika, a practicing Tibetan Buddhist, heads to the McLeod Ganj in India to further her training.
Recently she has refocused her sights on a project close to her heart. She has set up The Nepali Women's Yoga Project which is designed to help destitute women in Pokhara to become self-sufficient by providing them with a home, as well as training and skills in holistic therapies and handicrafts.
The project targets those who have been abused by their husband, family or others, or have been thrown out of their home, harassed by employers, raped, sold into prostitution and victimised by society.
It was through the Lonely Planet guide that local woman Emma Despres found Devika and the centre. Emma attended one of her classes in May when she was in the area doing charity work. They met again by chance at a yoga centre in India the following month and immediately hit it off.
'We share a mutual passion for yoga, holistic therapies and Tibetan Buddhism, together with a mutual vision for helping to empower destitute women in Pokhara,' explained Emma.
'One day we were talking about what we could do for the women of Nepal - it was a place that had become very close to my heart.'
She and brother Ross, both qualified Yoga Alliance-registered teachers, run Beinspired, a yoga program, in Guernsey. She said Nepalese women really were treated as the lowest of the low.
'They work physically very hard but are also expected to look after the family,' said Emma.
Traditionally, one person works to support the entire family and this can mean moving away and sending money home.
Emma said that a lot of people in the country saw the West as the golden ticket, but that did not always prove to be the case.
'Nepal is the fourth-poorest country in the world. Life is very difficult there. Charity work wasn't effective. I wanted to do something which was going to empower them with a skill which would earn them money,' said Emma.
Back in Guernsey, she decided to bring Devika to the island. She would teach hatha yoga over a weekend, with all the proceeds going to the project. But it was not going to be that easy.
'It's very unusual for people from Nepal to be granted visas. I had to provide a lot of information, down to a photograph of the room she would be staying in and pictures of us together.
'It was also a big risk for Devika because if the application had been rejected, it would have been a black mark in her passport,' said Emma.
Thankfully the hard work paid off and Devika was granted a visa.
Almost 60 people signed up to take advantage of her fund-raising courses.
Devika lives in a big trekking area and in high season it is full of tourists.
Through the project, she wants to train women in massage and eventually reiki and yoga. They can then offer these services to visitors.
She is also hoping volunteers will come to the area and teach the women English.
'I want them to be able to tell their stories: what their life was like before and what they are doing now,' said Devika.
The project is about restoring their self-belief.
'These people need to appreciate themselves and what they can do.
We needed to help these women to help themselves,' she said.
In the short term, money donated to the project will not only go towards training but helping women in financial despair.
The project could fund a child's school fees or pay for clothes or food for women who have been abandoned with their children and left with nothing.
Devika believes strongly in karma - that life is 25% luck and 75% fate.
She sees yoga as a union with the Divine and with our inner-self.
'Yoga brings us harmony and balance. It helps us to develop our creativity and live a fulfilled life,' said Devika.
* For more information about Beinspired, containing local yoga class details, and further details about the Nepali Women's Yoga Project, go to www.beinspiredby.co.uk.