Proponents of yoga evangelize the discipline’s ability to improve physical resilience and mental clarity.
Now overcoming poverty can be added to that list, at least for practitioners in the remote Chinese village of Yugouliang, where yoga has transformed daily life and economic prospects for scores of people, according to the Globe and Mail.
The idea of fighting poverty with yoga came from Lu Wenzhen, a government official sent to the town to improve the economic prospects of villagers.
At first, Wenzhen tried improving agricultural and trade outcomes by connecting villagers to buyers in faraway cities through WeChat, but transportation costs proved too steep.
When this idea fizzled, he turned to yoga as a way to improve his health and decided to teach it to villagers, who were mostly older than 60.
“Since we were sent here to reduce poverty, some people were unhappy because they wondered why I didn’t just give them money,” Wenzhen told the Globe and Mail. “Some even suspected I had joined some kind of evil cult.”
Even though the residents were initially skeptical, they warmed to yoga after they noticed their bodies changing for the better. Their postures improved, they regained flexibility, felt renewed energy and strength, adopted more positive outlooks, and even experienced improvements in their digestion patterns.
As a result, they were able to spend more time working in fields and felt empowered to pursue new opportunities.
Now the village is being touted as an epicenter for yoga, which officials hope will attract tourism and bring financial prosperity to the community.
The poverty-fighting potential of yoga was discovered as part of a much larger effort to improve lives in the country.
China’s government wants to eliminate poverty by 2020. Currently, more than 500 million people in China live on less than $5.50 a day and 43 million people live on less than 93 cents per day.
Even as more people have been lifted out of poverty, inequality has dramatically widened.
China is no stranger to gargantuan feats of social engineering, however, having lifted 500 million people out of extreme poverty since 1981.
Many of the anti-poverty programs in effect today are enormous in scale, such as modernizing transportation systems, improving crop yields, expanding access to health care, and investing in renewable energy.
Wenzhen's approach in Yugouliang is considerably more localized.
Yoga is certainly not a silver bullet for ending poverty, and providing people with benefits such as food, shelter, and health care go a long way toward improving people’s lives.
Read More: 4 Ways Yoga Creates Global Citizens
But Yugouliang holds a lesson for people around the world and helps to situate poverty in a more holistic sense of well-being.
When people feel healthy and empowered, they’re more likely to lift themselves out of poverty.
For the people in Yugouliang, however, just being able to do yoga every day is enough of a reward.