We have not met Sowmya Ayyar in person, yet we’re awed by her creative efforts to spread love and forgiveness through her life and work. She is founder and executive director of Prafull Oorja Charitable Foundation (meaning “Radiant, Blooming Energy”), an organization in Bangalore, India that serves special needs children, rural groups, those who are HIV+, and others, using yoga, reiki, acupressure, dance, art, water, and other natural material therapies.
Our connection with Sowmya started with her 2010 request for our Love | Forgiveness | Compassion conversation cards. Little did we know that months later, her lovely profile picture would appear on Facebook with another request, then another, and another—and not just one deck, but hundreds!
It’s fitting, then, to introduce you to Sowmya as part of a series of interviews where we'll spotlight experiences and efforts of people to cultivate, teach, and live into love, forgiveness, and compassion in their daily lives.
Yoga has influenced Sowmya throughout her life. She grew up in Northern California studying yoga philosophies, turning to formal study after a personal trauma, and eventually receiving her teaching certification through the Southwest Institute of Healing Arts in Arizona. While in graduate school in Europe, Sowmya developed “Yoga for Peace,” a course for universities in Austria and Costa Rica.
She recently took time to share with us her thoughts about and experiences with love, compassion, and forgiveness.
What is your most treasured everyday expression of love?
Hugs and blessings. Ammachi (my guru, Sri Mata Amritanandamayi, or Ammachi, as she is known) has given me hugs and blessings over many years or even janmas (lifetimes or reincarnations). Beyond that, she recognized my specific needs and has given me something that helps my situation. For example, a couple years ago in Kerala, I stopped by and when she saw me, she took me by the hand to watch the children play. Pulling me to sit next to her, she gave me a hand massage—her way of consoling my aching heart.
My grandmother also gives pearls of love this way. She always tries to do something nice for others, whether it is cooking their favorite food, knitting socks, scarves, and sweaters, or finding a special gift. My grandmother does not differentiate when it comes to family and others—she makes each person feel special in their own place. I would be happy if I could even do an inch of what she does!
And last and not least, I receive love from all the beings I interact with everyday. That is amazing!
What is your greatest obstacle to love? How do you overcome it?
Sometimes I find I have expectations of people. For example, I expect my service partner to do things the way I do. Eventually I have to remember we have to forgive ourselves for not being perfect. I realize that none of us know what is right or wrong, and that we can only stand up for what we think is dharmic (right). I study the Bhagavad Gita and Mahabharatham to remember/realize what dharma is.
Who in your life taught you most about forgiveness?
My mother. No matter what I do, my mother just loves me. Even if it's something that she may not agree with or even if it hurts her, she forgives.
Also, I would say that the people I interact with daily, like friends and neighbors, make me realize the importance of forgiveness.
What is your most treasured everyday expression of forgiveness?
Letting go of what I think is right. Being able to let go and accept another view or action is forgiveness.
What is your greatest obstacle to forgiveness? How do you overcome it?
Remembering that I am not right and that everything takes time. It takes a lot of time and some yoga practices—pranayama (breathing practice), yoga nidra (deep meditative sleep), supported balasana (supported child’s pose—a resting pose), viparitakarani (legs up the wall—resting pose), reiki, and reading the Love cards—from Fetzer—to remember.
When did you begin using and sharing the conversations cards?
I began using the conversation cards when I was in graduate school in 2010. My use of the cards has evolved over the years. I use them in all facets of my work and in my personal life. Here are some of the ways I've used them:
- I keep a pack of cards out on the table in the yoga studio so people can peruse them while they wait. I often hear people saying "oh this one is so relevant to me."
- I ask parents of special children (with issues such as autism, ADHD, Down’s Syndrome, and Cerebral Palsy) to read them to their child and though the child may not be able to discuss, it is a way to impart love and forgiveness. Often, the child feels unloved and cannot express themselves in an emotionally stable way. This allows the parent to read and also reflect. Further, parents often feel they have made some bad karmic mistake, so the cards help them to forgive themselves and others.
- I use them in our yoga teacher trainings on special needs. A lot of teachers and therapists have received them and read them outloud in our groups.
- I used them when leading an international peace-building group for a week-long program. I started the day with a card/quote that was a reflection of the day's theme (consciousness, serendipity, humility). I asked people to return to their reflections throughout the day.
- I ask local youth, from underprivileged backgrounds, to use them as English vocabulary cards. They can put one word at a time together to create a meaningful thought, and then translate it to their own language. They can also put into cultural context and see where the same concept is used in their locality—in current or historical times or in mythology.
- People from around the world come to meet and stay with me for short times. I often make them a welcome basket and add a pack of cards because this gives them guidance while on their travels. Being in India can be trying, and remembering to forgive is important.
- I have used them with Rural Women's Health Camp, where we use the traditional lifestyle system of yoga to impact participants. The cards provide an opportunity to discuss ideas of compassion, especially toward each other. Through using the cards, women are empowered to talk, despite coming from backgrounds where women are usually not asked for opinions.
- I give them as a peace offering when I am not able to give anything else, even monetary funds. I remind people that these thoughts will have much more impact than the money could!
- Sometimes, when I give someone a deck, I provide an extra one for them to pass on during their travels. Many people I meet are globe-trotters, so the message is like a peace offering to their next host or friend.
- People have told me how much they enjoy reading one a day so I feel I must continue to give them. I think it is a great opportunity and way to remember the beauty of the maya-swargam (heavenly illusion) we are in, and those around us. It gives a change to the day, when normally we read so much online.