Yoga for Elephants

by Vivien Skuodas

I grew up with a feeling of profound connection to these magnificent beasts, as I am sure many of us do.  They are mammals, they live in family communities and they seem to understand us.  Whenever I visited a zoo I would be transfixed by the majesty and beauty of something so enormous and yet so graceful.

As a child my earliest memories of elephants were from the cartoons of the Disney corporation and watching elephants on television perform tricks that they seemed to do so with an ease and elegance that seemed completely natural.

A few years ago a visit to India brought me into contact with an alleged elephant sanctuary.  I was allowed to wash an elephant which in itself was an extraordinary experience, but all around me I could see that the elephants that were there were either tethered by chains or strictly controlled by their mahout (elephant handler).  I had been told that elephants functioned best in family groups but I witnessed many elephants standing alone. Worse still, was seeing the elephant that gave rides to about 50 people, plodding backwards and forwards up and down a dusty track.

Upon my return I became friendly with a member of Red Hot Yoga, Jane Stevenson and began to talk to her about her experience of visiting an elephant sanctuary in Thailand.  The difference between her experience and mine could not have been starker.

I began to question my ignorance around what was really going on, especially within the world of entertainment and tourism in places like Thailand and India.

Many of us are aware of the plight of the African elephant and the horrors of poaching, but less of us are aware of the plight of elephants throughout Asia.  We are fed a diet of misinformation on the merits of elephant rides and tourism.  We are told that it is something the elephant loves to do. We are led to believe that elephants can paint pictures, play football and do tricks.  Elephants can indeed do all of these things, however, what I discovered was that elephants are forced to do them because of what can only be described as torture.

Every single elephant that gives a ride, performs a trick or paints a picture has been subjected to physical abuse.  Young elephants are ripped away from their families in the wild and put through the ‘crush’ or phajaan.  Words are not sufficient to describe quite how brutal this is. Suffice it to say every time I have watched it I have been disturbed beyond belief.

I felt overwhelmed and saddened by my own reading and research, but Jane’s testimony had inspired me to see what was possible when enough people band together to create a change in understanding and culture, how elephants can be rescued from horrendous circumstances and given respect and dignity within a safe setting, where any kind of abuse is not tolerated, but where members of the public can visit and still gain great pleasure from these beautiful beasts.

She inspired me so much that I volunteered myself and my husband to work at the sanctuary to witness first-hand what happened there.  It was a life changing experience.  An experience that inspired a need to share a little knowledge, to inspire and hopefully allow us all to take a little action towards helping save these beautiful beasts from near extinction.

On June 26th we hope to inspire you too.

Please join us.

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