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Rural community dubbed ‘The First Yoga Village in China’ becomes internet hit


It’s an ancient exercise normally associated with India and while it’s popular among hipster urban white-collar workers in China, yoga has made a surprise – and expert – appearance among seniors in a remote mainland village.

About 200 kilometres from Beijing, tucked away in Yugouliang village, a group of senior yoga exponents perform highly difficult movements belying their advancing years. The average age of a Yugouliang resident is the mid-60s.

A video of them exercising has attracted a lot of attention on Chinese social media, with a video receiving 76,000 likes on Kuaishou, a Chinese TikTok-like platform.

Posters online have dubbed the rural settlement ‘The First Yoga Village in China’ amid the popularity of the videos.

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The idea of practising yoga was introduced by Lu Wenzhen, 56, the village’s secretary, who was originally sent to the area to alleviate poverty.

According to reports, Lu can still recall the first day he arrived in the then deserted and dilapidated mountain village in 2016.

“The young people have all gone to cities to work, leaving frail and elderly people behind,” Lu explained. “The village does not even have a grocery store, and there are ruins everywhere.”

Lu began looking for ways to help the villagers get out of poverty after settling down. By chance, Lu discovered that the elderly in the village enjoy sitting cross-legged, which is similar to the lotus pose in yoga.

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“Teach everyone to practise yoga to stay healthy so they can work and earn money,” he thought boldly.

When Lu mentioned his idea to the villagers, who had never heard of yoga before, they assumed the secretary was organising a cult, and someone even reported him to his supervisor.

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After Lu’s persistent persuasion and the coordination of the local women’s director, soon eight women took part in the first training session.

Gradually, word spread, and more villagers learned that yoga could help them relieve body pains caused by long hours of work in the fields.

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As more people joined in the yoga sessions they began attracting outside attention. In 2019, villagers began posting their own short videos of the yoga sessions online reaching an ever-growing audience online.

One of the villagers, Wu Qilian, 79, said: “My husband’s arm and leg pains were relieved after joining the yoga training team so I also joined,” she said.

Wu has been practising yoga for five years and is also a social media celebrity. She created her Kuaishou account in 2019 with the help of her grandson and now has more than 160,000 followers.

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The village has capitalised on their yoga fame by selling quinoa, the main local crop, and yoga mats online, increasing the villagers’ income.

In 2021, secretary Lu took a group of elderly residents, who had never left the village before, to appear and perform on CCTV.

Lu, who was supposed to leave after his first term as the village’s secretary in 2017, is now in his third term. He decided to devote his remaining working life to developing the village after consulting the residents there.

“I could not leave them because I’ll be worried about them and miss them once I’m gone,” Lu explained. “The village is not yet fully developed, and I don’t want to leave it as it is.”

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This article was first published in South China Morning Post.



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