Madhu Mukkamala, 54, was born into an Indian family that included 100 doctors. He monitored spine cases in 10 states in the U.S. until recently retiring and now lives in the Andha Pradesh part of Hyderabad, India. “The aggressiveness of spine surgeons on patients has made me feel like I have to come out of it,” he says. He became a certified yoga instructor in Kerala in 1986 and practiced part-time but is now focused on working as a yoga instructor full time, something he also uses to deal with his own spinal issues. “I would like to help people who have back pain,” he says. “Yoga will make you stronger every time you have a problem and you cure yourself with yoga and naturopathy,” he says. I met him in Wadi Rum, Jordan, where he was traveling as part of five months of travel in which he was working to establish connections for places he will present his yoga workshops, including in Austria and Turkey. We talked about his yoga workshops, and he shared this story of how a volunteer position in Austria led to working with refugees there.
“I did workaway [a work exchange project] in Austria at Yoga Zentrum in Modling. It’s near Vienna. I was there one month. I did two yoga workshops for teachers in training and at the workshop I cooked so they learned how to make Indian food. Plus, I did a lecture on sattvic, rajasic, tamasic foods. You are what you eat. I kept hearing in the news that 10,000 refugees came into the country because other countries are not allowing it. Austria welcomed them. They have T-shirts saying, ‘Refugees welcome.’ They [the people at the yoga studio] decided to cook. Since they already knew that I cooked, they asked me if I could. I made pumpkin curry. I cooked three days a week.
…This little girl Maria, she would come and say, ‘No, I want…’ I said, ‘Line, please, line.’ ‘No, give it to me now.’ It took me a few days. In India, I’m used to crowds and I can be strong and say, ‘No. No food served until you come in line.’ If you want to take a situation in control, you can’t have your heart melting. You have to be strong. You can’t make the situation worse.
…You feel moved, touched when you see all kinds of walks of life are there. It’s all ages–little kids to the older ladies–whole families are walking from Greece, England, Pakistanis, Russians, Nigerians. Mainly Syrians but others, too. We heard someone walked for 200 hours or something. They’ve just been just walking. They hear that someone will accept them.
They don’t know what the future is like. But I have to take my words back because without a dream or without a vision nobody does anything. They all have a vision of America or Europe. They want to get out of this situation, and they know they have a great thing waiting for them. Or they’re withdrawing from the past. Like me, I don’t want America–that lifestyle–so you’re open to the future.”