A few years ago, Shabir Ahmad Dar, a Yoga instructor who was struggling to introduce the ancient Indian wellness regimen to people in Kashmir received a call from a highly placed government official in Srinagar. He told him that his only son needed his help.
The boy studying in one of Kashmir’s top schools had been a brilliant student. His grades started falling and the father noticed a behavior change in him. To his utter shock, he found his son had fallen into drugs. “I have searched about you from the social media and internet and I am firm that only yoga can help my son,” the officer told Shabir.
The 38-year old Shabir, a resident of Padshahi Bagh, Srinagar, is employed as the Yoga coach of the J&K Sports Council. However, knowing how Yoga works as a great therapy, he launched his NGO Yoga Society of Kashmir (YSK) to provide his services to people.
The boy was initiated into yoga and meditation and gradually weaned away from the drugs. “I am so glad to tell you that he is doing very well in studies and has also participated in a national level Yoga competition,” Shabir told Awaz-the voice.
Though it was difficult for Shabir to introduce Yoga to Muslims in Kashmir during a phase when they had become more conservative and exclusive, it did help many young men deal with depression, drug addiction, and physical challenges.
“I used Yoga as a therapy to get so many young people out of depression, acute anxiety and above all drugs,’ he said.
Shabir was a state-level athlete aspiring for glory in sports when a permanent injury grounded him. However, he took to Yoga as an alternate sport in 1997 and there has been no looking back since. He became the first qualified Yoga coach of Kashmir.
“There was a wrong conception about Yoga is about one particular religion,” he said. Cautiously, he initially introduced Yoga as therapy and sports and it worked well.
“I would see so many people struggling with health and mental issues due to the situation in Kashmir and wanted to help them; so I offered to help them.”
The acceptance of Yoga as a way of life started increasing with people benefitting from it and also realizing that it’s not going to interfere with their religious beliefs.
He says that the Yoga practice stimulates (human) body and with awareness now more and more people are coming forwards.
While leading a contingent of the University of Kashmir in the All India inter-Univesity Yoga competition at Mohan Lal Sukhadia University, Udaipur, Rajasthan, he made the participants – all Muslims – to recite Kalma – in place of a Sanskrit mantra that goes with Surya Namaskar. The team was placed at 15th position in the list of 49 participating universities and it was no small achievements for Shabir and the KU students in their maiden Yoga competition.
Dar, who has been associated first as a student and now as coach with the Yoga practices for the past about 25 years, said “many people come to us with physical ailments and return with a good message after getting Yoga therapy.”
He describes Yoga as therapy, art and sports activity, which has been recognized as sports by the Union Ministry of Youth Services and Sports, which has also been recognized by the J&K Sports Council.
He worked in the Sports Council as an Instructor since 2010 and has been elevated to the position of Yoga Coach in Kashmir.
“There was a need to involve Yoga trained youth in further development of the activity in the valley”, he said and added that an NGO, Yoga Society of Kashmir (YSK) was established in 2012.
Yoga training is being given across all the 10 districts of Kashmir valley.
Camps were being organized at all the district headquarters “These camps helped in creating awareness among the youth, who face stress because of the prolonged turmoil in Kashmir,” he said.
Being an expert at the Society, Dar said that State-level coaching camps were being held while the first national Yoga Festival and Yogasan Sports Championship in 2014 was organized in a private school in Srinagar. A seminar and Yoga workshop was organized during the camp in which students from 19 States participated.
He also hosted an international Yoga festival in 2016 that was attended by participants from 12 countries and 24 States. The venue was shifted from Kashmir valley to Jammu in September due to the unrest. This was followed by another international event on September 19-20 in which 11 countries and five States participated at Srinagar.
Shabir says many of his students have received good jobs and assignments in Yoga teaching and it’s becoming a source of livelihood for many young Muslim men and women. “At least 50 young men trained by me have got jobs,” he says.