Meet Simranjeet, Kartar Sangat and Arjan Jot – three inspiring Sevadars from Belo Horizonte, Brazil, who share Kundalini Yoga and meditation practices with teens and adults through prison system programs.
Can you briefly describe the Seva you are doing?
Simranjeet: I coordinate a team of teachers primarily based in Belo Horizonte that offer Kundalini Yoga classes in a prison for teenagers (integrating into the socio-educational system). We are five teachers alternating classes once a week. We prepare our classes based on the technical wisdom of Kundalini Yoga joining with the discussions and practical analysis of Humanology – which are based on Sikh Dharma values.
Kartar Sangat: I work with Simranjeet’s program for female teenagers (12-17 year-olds) and also teach male adults (20-34 year-olds). When teens are arrested they can’t be with their families anymore. They lose that support system and often keep committing crimes. They usually remain at the juvenile detention facility for anywhere between six months to two years. I run Kundalini Yoga programs in these locations once a week, generally in the form of 1.5 hour classes. For the classes with teens I love focusing the content on self-esteem and intuition. For the men’s classes, I focus on kriyas for the nervous system and glandular system. These classes are helpful in reducing stress and giving participants a new experience. We also offered a gatka program at the male prison. I dropped off supplies and meditation resources to the prisons to last several months at the beginning of the COVID lockdown.
Arjan Jot: I work with Simranjeet and conduct Kundalini Yoga classes for female teenagers who are arrested and experience a measure of restriction of freedom for committing crimes. I work with other fellow teachers in this Seva and we take turns to teach classes once a week. This Seva project is about three years old now.
Can you offer advice and inspiration to those in the Sikh Dharma global community who might like to do similar Seva in their communities?
Simranjeet: Serving teenagers who are in prison conditions is a gift and a challenge. We have the blessing of offering an opportunity to invite them to see themselves differently, and to expand their notions of self awareness. As Kundalini Yoga can be practice in almost any context, a prison can be a good place to practice and to invest time on one’s self. We understand that this technology can bring hope, patience, inner strength and mental clarity to face their own conditions and to carry this opportunity (to be in jail) as a good moment to step back and review some priorities in life. As any Seva, there are challenges as well. But these are seen by us as Hukams to bring excellence and grace to our work.
Kartar Sangat: Reach out to other teachers in your region to spread the teachings to locations near your own community. It’s a place to love. Don’t hold anything back. It’s your chance to love, love whatever happened, whatever the person is. We are called to this opportunity. Look past the conditions that hold you back and just do it.
Arjan Jot: Considering that this kind of location has restricted access, the first contact should be made with the management responsible. They also have to understand and support the Seva. If it is possible, they should be included in the classes, along with the workers on site. I have seen a real change in the vibration of the environment. It’s also important to go to the classes with an open heart because everything can change just a minute before class or even during practice.
Can you share some tips with our global audience on how they can start their own Seva project?
- Recognize the other is you.
- In a way, for Seva, there is no need for previous experience. You learn how to do it with the reality being at work in the field.
- Make a team that can function as a collective or as a Sangat, where one can be a support to the others.
- See the reality and find the needs or demands of each plane and environment. To serve is not an ideology, it is an opportunity to make a difference in the world.
- See in each block an opportunity and a Hukam to experience your self and to make the other experience him/her self.
Kartar Sangat: For those wanting to serve in prisons, it is important to prepare yourself. It’s not a regular environment or easy place. Keep your meditations going and do everything you need to do to be at your best, all the time. You can’t just go and see what happens. You have to be prepared for everything. Different situations come up. Open your ears to listen there. The most important thing is to talk with people you are serving first, and understand them. You have to look to the human being inside of each one. What they often show is just a layer of protection that they use inside the world that they live in. You need to go further all the time and help them reconnect with their inner selves.
- It’s important to think about whether your project is temporary or long-term.
- If the answer is long-term, I recommend mobilizing a group of teachers who will be able to sustain the work over time.
- This group must be consistent and aligned with the purpose and values for a practice that makes sense. They can often meet to talk about experiences and impressions. They can also create a shared document to record each class.
- Be committed and serve!
Do you encounter any challenges when doing Seva? How do you overcome them?
Simranjeet: Yes, there are many. There are different challenges and they change constantly. The mindset is to receive the challenge as a sign of the reality, to understand better which are the steps that should be taken. I like that Aquarian Age Sutra that the Siri Singh Sahib shared with us: There is a way through every block. When we serve in groups it’s very interesting and healthy to share the challenges and to keep an alignment with the group, so the energy moves and new possibilities appear.
Kartar Sangat: Challenges come up every day! I don’t remember a day doing this Seva that there hasn’t been challenges. All kinds of distractions and problems come up. Sometimes we have trouble gaining entry at the prisons, or the prison administrators become skeptical of the programs. Sometimes we encounter religious or culture misunderstandings with the teachings. We tell the participants in our programs not to do things blindly, and to focus on their own personal experience with the practices. Sometimes we have problems with transportation and dead car batteries. Sometimes Sevadars that we depend on stop participating. Just being persistent is important. This is a mission that you have in your life. You have to understand this is your mission in life, you can’t just stop it. Even if you are tired, you can’t choose that. There are people counting on you.
Arjan Jot: There are a lot of challenges in this Seva. Sometimes recent events in the unit generate a lot of excitement or nervousness which interferes with the program. We can also see that the teenage girls have a hard time relaxing and taking care of themselves. They talk a lot during class and sometimes they ask to leave. We overcome this by being connected with the teachings, with the meaning of Seva. It’s also important to be relaxed and open to changing all plans and flowing with reality.
Do you draw inspiration from Sikh Dharma when doing Seva?
Simranjeet: Sometimes I remember the stories of sacrifice of the Sikh Gurus. That helps me to keep my commitment to the Seva, and to keep away my polarized minds. Yogi Bhajan’s quotes are very useful as a personal inspiration to me and as material to work with the students as well. When I am preparing myself for the Seva I put my mind on the Gurus, specifically Guru Ram Das Ji and Guru Gobind Singh Ji, to give me compassion, courage and protection.
Kartar Sangat: We usually tell the stories of the Gurus at the male prison. We sometimes tell them the story of each one so we can understand and see examples of lives that gave everything to a cause and to human beings. This can inspire them to see another way of life, and the preservation of the mission and the other person. Guru Gobind Singh is a big inspiration, we try to teach why God exists, how God can protect us in times of war. We also teach about Guru Nanak and the history of creating Sikhism, and about Guru Ram Das. We draw inspiration from Guru Gobind Singh in times of war and His respect of people. We also explain about the Siri Guru Granth Sahib, and have gurdwaras in our community.
Arjan Jot: For me, an always important inspiration are the Five Sutras of the Aquarian Age. These five tools to live in this era are a solid support to act in Seva. We will act through compassion and trust the Universe. Another inspiration is the Sikh consciousness itself of being humble, serving everyone and bringing awareness into committed action.
Can you share a high moment or inspiring story that you experienced doing this Seva?
Simranjeet: I remember one story from my previous Seva, that was also in a prison system but for adults. After a class, a guy came to thank me, saying that he had a very expanded experience during the relaxation during the Kundalini Yoga class. He said that he would visit his family through his mind . . . The next week, we received the news that the guy received a call form his family after many years . . . I never saw that guy again.
Kartar Sangat: We created some programs to run in the male prison. One was called “The Stress of Everyday: The Authentic Men and Authentic Relationships.” After this program on authentic relationships, a psychologist of the prison told us a story. They told us one of the prisoners had received bad news from his family . . . This prisoner was told his son was having fights and other students were hitting him and getting hurt. They would fight just to create a huge problem and stress. He explained to them how to get the answers that they needed on their own, instead of waiting for the next visit with him to get his advice to get everything sorted. He had learned how to be peaceful in the face of the problem outside of him, and understood how he could teach them to be ready with their own inner guidance at the exact moment when they would ask for his advice. He shared the meditation he was taught with his family. It was very beautiful.
Arjan Jot: One day, just before going to teach, a very heavy rain fell. There was a week of storms and flooding in the city and I was afraid to go. But I remembered the students and decided to go anyway. I drove through a flood and asked Guru Ram Das for help to get there. I arrived safely and we had one of the best classes ever! The girls were very committed to the practice and relaxed deeply in the end. It was very rewarding and I was glad to really do what had to be done.
About the Sevadars
Kartar Sangat Singh – My name is Kartar Sangat Singh and I couldn’t have a better name. I have done Seva since I was 14 years old, and started coordinating Seva programs at the age of 18. I’m a software developer that loves music, technology and everything that gives you self knowledge. After three years of experience with Kundalini Yoga I became a teacher for KRI, a Sat Nam Rasayan practitioner and a Re Man meditator. I am passionate about Summer Solstice, part of the ABAKY Gurdwaras broadcast team and a Kirtan musician.
Arjan Jot Kaur – I found Kundalini Yoga in 2013 after a stress breakdown. It was so incredible that I never stopped. I remained as a regular student and decided to become a teacher in 2017. It was life changing and I embraced the teachings in my life. Since then, I have dedicated myself to continue improving as a person and to serving the world where I can reach.
Do you have an “Aquarian Sevadar” in your community? We want to share their story.
Please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, if you have someone in mind who has an inspiring story to tell.