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Gov't offers free gyms to Tibetan monasteries

(Xinhua)

08:58, March 30, 2012

LHASA, March 29 (Xinhua) -- The government has offered monks in Tibet a convenient way to stay in shape: hit the new gyms in their monasteries.

The sports administration of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region on Thursday sent new gym equipment worth a total of 1.2 million yuan (192,000 U.S. dollars) to 20 Tibetan monasteries across the region.

Each monastery will receive a full set of 14 pieces of equipment, including a treadmill, an elliptical trainer and a rowing machine. The equipment is common in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai, but definitely a novelty for Buddhist monasteries in Tibet, some of which are still housed in centuries-old mud-and-brick compounds on the Himalayan plateau region.

"We want to improve the exercise conditions in the monasteries in order to enrich the cultural and athletic life of monks and nuns," said Yang Zhanqi, deputy head of the regional sports bureau.

In Sera Monastery in the northern suburbs of Lhasa, young monks have enthusiastically started to try the treadmill in the outdoor gym.

Pubu Cering, an official with the monastery, said monks traditionally exercise by prostrating, walking with prayer wheels or debating Buddhist scripts, and now they are also excited to have all these modern equipment for exercising.

Sera is typically known for its colorful script-debating scenes. As a tradition, monks debate scripts at an outdoor field using vigorous body movements, routinely pacing around, hitting their palms or bending down to address other monks sitting on the ground.

But this traditional activity is far from enough to keep them in shape, a sports expert said, adding that with the gym equipment the monks now can train in a way that targets specific muscle groups, including their legs, core and buttocks.

The gyms are part of a new government package to improve the welfare of monks in Tibet's monasteries. In 2011, the government helped build 480 monastery libraries in Tibet and ramped up efforts to improve water and power supplies as well as television, radio and telecommunication networks for the monasteries.

Earlier this year, the government also expanded pension and health insurance systems to cover all registered monks and nuns in Tibetan monasteries.

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