June 2015 By Punya Srivastava On the occasion of the newly declared International Yoga Day on June 21,Punya Srivastava traces the rise and rise of yoga It’s in your face and on top of the mind. Hollywood films, and popular soaps refer to it all the time. The recent Nike ad for women mentions it too. The Internet is choked with products derived from it. Everyone, from children to fragile elders, is doing it. Every locality in the world has a centre teaching it. Festivals celebrating it are exploding. Whole magazines exist to dwell on its every connotation. They say nothing can stop an idea whose time has come. Clearly, yoga’s time in the sun is here. Both in India and all across the globe, the world is stretching, bending, breathing and twisting like never before. If proof is needed that the world is slowly moving on its axis from Kaliyug to Satyug, behold the explosion of interest in yoga. And the clincher to its universal appeal is the recent declaration of June 21 as International Yoga Day. “I think the greatest impact of yoga is yet to come. Yoga can truly bring peace to the world. If we all simply adopt the basic yamas and niyamas which form the foundation of any yoga practice, and if we truly aim for an experience of union in our practice, societal ills such as violence and crime will, I believe, dissipate,” says Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, Administrative Head of Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh, which holds an enormously popular international yoga festival every year in March. More than a thousand participants and trainers from over 60 countries turn up at this gala fair. Today, people recognise the powerful transformative impact of yoga in their lives and its capacity to catapult them to health, fitness, alertness and above all, peace and happiness. Yoga’s benefits seem well-nigh limitless and a stressed-out, burned-out, and extremely ill world is seeing it as the panacea for our times. “We get around 500 people on an average per week in the Delhi Centre alone,” says Vikram Mehra, Head of the Delhi Centre of Sivananda Yoga Centre. According to him, people from diverse backgrounds like housewives, teens, young adults, and retired professionals throng to it. “More people are making yoga a part of their lives because they see others benefitting; they witness a 360-degree spin as yoga brings in discipline in their lifestyle, and also subtly takes them a step forward to their higher self,” he adds. Moreover, the practitioners are getting ever younger. “Today, 50 per cent of those who visit our institute for health care and rejuvenation are below 40 years of age. The students seeking to adopt it as a profession have increased, since opportunities have increased. More physicians are accepting it as a complementary and alternative therapy,” says Subodh Tiwari, head of Kaivalyadham, a beautiful yoga centre in Lonavla, Maharashtra, which specialises in research on yoga’s healing power. He adds, “I am happy to see people practising in parks, or while travelling in train. This is good because yoga is not a pill which can be taken for its effect. It’s a practice which has to be sustained for one’s holistic growth.” According to Saddhuru Jaggi Vasudev, whose organisation, Isha Yoga, ardently promotes the practice of this ancient technique, over two billion people on the planet are doing some system of yoga. “We want to see that in the next 25 years, seven billion people are doing some system of yoga. That is why we are offering simpler and simpler ways, so that everyone should have at least a spot of spiritual process,” he says. Furthermore, the mystic yogi, a frequent invitee to the prestigious annual World Economic Forum meets at Davos, has taken yoga to top-level political and economic leaders and in his words, “made a phenomenal difference in the way they make their decisions and relate to the rest of the world.” He recently conducted a programme for the whole administration, including the Chief Minister, of Andhra Pradesh. It is probably the first time – not just in India but anywhere for that matter – that a whole administration is making an attempt to turn inward. Suneel Singh: Fitness enthusiasts gradually learn the spiritual benefits of yoga According to Dr Ishwar V Basavaraddi, Director Incharge of the Central Council for Research in Yoga and Naturopathy (CCRYN), the Ministry of AYUSH is geared to bring yoga into the mainstream. “We have plans to set up a Yoga Research Institute in every state of the country in the coming years, within which we’ll have a 100-bed yoga and naturopathy hospital. We have already started with this project in three places, namely Jhajjar in Haryana, outskirts of Bhubhaneshwar, and in the Mandya district of Karnataka.” The state governments have allotted a sizeable amount of land in each place where the initial work of setting up the infrastructure has already begun. “In the last two-three years, the state governments of Rajasthan, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh have also invited us to set up similar projects. Yoga, as an alternative modality, is once again being taken up seriously in our country,” he adds. To commemorate the International Yoga Day on June 21, CCRYN plans to observe one month of yoga practice (May 20-June 20) in all the 676 districts of the country, which would culminate in a day-long yogaworkshop/seminar on June 21. “In Delhi/NCR alone, around 25,000 people are expected to attend this initiative,” he shares. The Art of Living too is commemorating the day in a big way. It aims to reach out to millions across the globe and spread awareness about the true essence and meaning of yoga by conducting free yoga workshops – Gift of Yoga, Yogdaan in every village, town and city globally, in the months of May and June. Kaivalyadhama is celebrating the occasion with practices at 20 locations in Mumbai, like the GPO for the postal department employees, at remand homes, for bus drivers of BEST and MSRTC, for bus drivers of school buses, and for motormen of railways. A grant programme is being planned together with the University of Mumbai where around 800 students are expected to participate. Where it all began India has given a lot of gifts to the world. Yoga is one of them. Its influence in the Western world most prominently started with Swami Vivekananda’s iconic and pioneering address to the “sisters and brothers of America…” From Ashatanga Yoga and Hatha Yoga to Power Yoga, Hot Yoga and Bikram Yoga, it has undergone many surgical changes and is still going strong. Although yoga originated in India, its current redhot appeal has been fuelled by its extraordinary attraction for the West. “Maybe due to multiple invasions, indoctrinations and constant bashing of self-esteem, we Indians slowly lost respect for our ancient wisdom,” says Kamlesh Barwal, Global Head, Art of Living Yoga (AOL). According to Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, “Yoga is the only system which has lived for over 15,000 years without any papacy or enforcement. Nowhere in the history of humanity has it happened that somebody put a sword to someone’s neck and said, ‘You must do yoga.’ It has survived and thrived because it has worked as a process of well-being like nothing else.” Says Kamlesh, “It is the contribution of saints like Paramhansa Yogananda, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar who brought acceptance and respectability to yoga in the West. From being an ancient spiritual path for seekers of moksha or enlightenment, yoga has willingly been absorbed into mainstream lifestyle by people from all cultures and backgrounds the world over. Today, yoga has come out of the esoteric realms of yogis to the boardrooms of companies.” Others who have contributed significantly to yoga’s popularity in the West include Swami Vishnudevananda, a close disciple of Swami Sivananda (of Divine Life Society, Rishikesh) and founder of Sivananda Yoga, BKS Iyengar who has founded his eponymous school of yoga, and Swami Satchitananda, another disciple of Swami Sivananda and proponent of Integral Yoga. For India to awaken to yoga in a collective manner, we had to wait for the advent of Baba Ramdev 15 years ago. With his black overflowing beard and locks, and lean body, Baba Ramdev began teaching simplified asanas on TV, and the effect was electrifying. People took to anulom vilom and kapal bhati like a fish takes to water. Today, households all over India assemble before the TV at 5.30 am and switch on Aastha channel in order to practice yoga to his instructions. Swami Ramdev also began to hold giant yoga camps which attracted thousands despite a steep fee. Overnight, yoga and its healing effects was on every Indian’s lip. Corroborates Delhi-based yoga guru, Suneel Singh, “People turn to yoga to resolve their physical issues like weight loss, lower back problem, and stress reduction, as they find it more holistic than any other medium. What is heartening is that people who seek yoga only for health gradually discover its spiritual side too. This makes their life much richer.” Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati agrees. Says she, “The closer one gets to true ‘yoga’ or ‘union’ which is what the word literally means, the more beauty, the more expansiveness, the more completeness there is in one’s life. Health is a bonus, a fabulous byproduct of a system which connects us to our true Self, to the Divine, and to all of Creation.” However, Sadhguru has a slightly different perception about the way yoga is being twisted to suit the market. “The way yoga is being done right now in most places in the world, is a stillbirth. It is better not to get pregnant than to have a s
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