In a fitting way to bring 2018 to a close and welcome in the new year, we spent New Year’s Eve with Vikram at his gym in Auroville. Vikram is an former Indian national team cricket player who left the world of professional athletics in search of a more personal form of movement. We were told to dress in athletic attire to experience his “workout,” but we found what Vikram had prepared for us was a different type of exercise.
This was the first year Vikram was included as an organization for the practicum. His gym is not necessarily engaged with sustainable development in the way other NGOs from the practicum are. But Vikram essentially aspires to apply the philosophy of sustainable development to the development of our own selves. When we look at the traditions of modernity that sustainable development challenges — disrespect for the health of the environment and our bodies, focus on money and material goods, quantity over quality of production — the same approach can be applied to our own lives. Vikram’s approach to sport focuses on the power of movement rather than the aesthetics of exercise. There’s no mirrors, no blasting music, no entrance fees. Vikram designs his personal training sessions based off the intention of a client, whether it be a physical, emotional, spiritual, or mental goal (though I and Vikram would probably argue all of our goals are inspired by all four).
We were introduced to Vikram’s philosophy right away, though without realizing it at first. He asked us to quietly enter the gym, find a space on a mat, and lie down. We then laid still, without opening our eyes, and listened to our breath. He guided us through a 10-or-so minute mindfulness practice, finally asking us to rise and stretch. He then offered the invitation to explore what inspired us in the gym and said goodbye.
Many of us felt confused. That was it? Why are we wearing shorts and sneakers just to lie down? Did any of us even break a sweat (besides from the heat)? You could see Vikram smiling in response to our furrowed brows. That was exactly the point: We were expecting one experience and the fact we were so shocked by what we received lends evidence to Vikram’s whole philosophy. To us, we had one static idea of a workout. To Vikram, we just needed a little wiggle room to see what else we could explore. I felt a strong connection to this philosophy because I myself have followed a philosophy of sport that is based on the joy of movement rather than goals or achievements. But I found myself intrigued by Vikram’s inclusion of the personal intention. Many students who visited Vikram for a session brought intentions that weren’t physical in a traditional sense — some people wanted to relax, be more present and less fearful of the future, to let go of pain and to develop a stronger sense of self. Vikram designs movement to allow the body to explore itself and let the mind stretch as well. It was a refreshing experience that, like most things in Auroville, brought some much-needed fresh air.
By Madelaine VanDerHeyden