This wonderful couple passing on the spirit of yoga to Sydneysiders

By Sudha Kumar

Suresh Khatav speaking at the workshop  on ‘Benefits of Yoga’

Spirit of India (NSW) Inc. ( is a not for profit organisation that was established in Sydney, Australia in May 2004 under the able guidance and inspiration of Mr. Vijay Patankar of Shri Ambika Yog Kutir, Thane, India.  The organisation was conceived with a vision to make every person take responsibility of their well-being (physical, mental, social and spiritual), and educate them to take control of their health the yogic way.  Suresh Khatav and his wife Chhaya Khatav are the founders of Spirit of India (NSW) Inc. and to this day remain unconditional and committed in realising this vision.

Suresh and Chhaya Khatav arrived in Australia in 2001. In 2004 they started Yoga classes at Ryde and Epping. When enquiries abounded after about two months they started a session for seniors in Epping. Soon they commenced childrens’ classes in Doonside. In 2006- 2007, started sessions in Wentworthville for adults and children.

Between the years 2005 and 2007 Spirit of India also started yoga sessions for inmates at the Dillwynia Women’s Correctional Centre located in Berkshire Park, New South Wales, Australia. Dillwynia Women’s Correctional Centre is a medium security gaol which houses 260 female inmates. What is interesting and inspiring is the simplicity and the single minded focus by which this eventuated.  Suresh just walked into the then MP’s Office and simply stated that he was interested in offering yoga classes for inmates free of cost. He was politely told that the message would be conveyed to the Justice Minister’s Office.  But goodness and good intentions always prevail, and soon Suresh heard from The Minister’s Office and then from the Dillwynia Correctional Centre.  He conducted lessons once a week for two years for the inmates. There was not a single instance of negative or challenging behaviour from the inmates. 

Graduation Ceremony of students

Following this in the year 2008 he was contacted by the NSW Correctional Services Transitional Centre at Parramatta.  The Parramatta Transitional Centre supports female inmates serving longer sentences who are also preparing for release. This transitional support is designed to help the women successfully return to the community, and minimise their risk of re-offending. Suresh offered Yoga classes to these inmates for about nine months.

By May 2008, Spirit of India had yoga centres operating in Ryde, Epping, Wentworthville, Quakers Hill. Every one of them run by volunteers. The fees charged are just enough to cover operating costs. All centres are operational with new batches offered every sixteen weeks. Participants are from an average age range of 13 years to 80 years. There is a weekly turn-out of about 350 individuals at the various Yoga centres for children, adults and seniors. A new batch commences every sixteen weeks and attracts about 100 to 120 new enrolments.

Workshop held in Dundas community centre on ‘Benefits of Yoga’.

Spirit of India has participated in the ”˜Relay for life’ event organized by the Cancer Council NSW for 13 years. During this period the organisation collected donations of about $38,000. It was fun to relay walk for 24 hours with volunteers and other participants. Spirit of India also organizes in which many volunteers participated.  There are lectures by visiting Yoga experts, workshops and interactive sessions on Yoga organised on a regular basis. I was one among the first batch of Yoga learners when Spirit of India started in Ryde in 2004. I am still learning.

So what is the inspiration and motivation for this wonderful couple who have given their time and energy to this movement over the last fifteen years? And for no significant monetary returns. What is it that attracts people of all ages and spheres, from stay at home mothers to corporate executives, to sports persons to University students to recuperating patients to Spirit of India.

Yoga as a practice is a beneficial one. It involves the mind, body and spirit, and as such is not easily quantifiable. And yet, once experienced, the benefits cannot be ignored or denied. There are numerous personal stories of positive effect on health. Most learners keep coming back for the practice sessions. Life today is busy as never before, and stress entrenched in various forms.

Here are some comments from volunteers and participants:

Dr. Shivashini, a volunteer, commenced learning for very personal reasons, mainly to help manage stress levels. Says she, “Over the years, I have gained strength, flexibility, self-confidence, and the ability to remain calm and more in control of myself. Today, I feel more prepared to face the everyday life challenges.”

“While my initial motivation was entirely for my own personal benefit, this very quickly evolved to internal satisfaction of service to the community through the yoga volunteer program. Now, I turn up to yoga classes every Saturday looking forward to making an impact on other people’s lives. It’s a great feeling.” 

Another volunteer, Chartered Accountant, Hema says, “Sureshji’s and Chhaya ji’s passionate and dedicated commitment in helping people realise the benefits of yoga and their contribution to the community is very admirable.”

It is not often that we come across people with such a deep spirit of giving.

When asked what was the greatest challenge he faced, Suresh responds that he hardly remembers any, because eventually everything works out for the best. He is of the belief that one of the most fulfilling acts for a human being is in ”˜giving to others’. He works with the NSW Government. And yet this weekend community activity brings him more joy and fulfilment. And he is fully supported by Chhaya.   

Kalidasa in Kumarasambhavam (5.33) said : ”˜Sharira madyam khalu dharma sadhanam’ meaning this body is surely the foremost instrument of doing [good] deeds.

Suresh and Chhaya are a true personification of this. And have been supported by many people who have contributed time, thoughts and energy in their journey of imparting wellbeing through yoga. Sydneysiders who have all benefitted continue to be under the tutelage of this wonderful couple.

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