By Mansi Agarwal
In two-and-a-half short years, Swami Ramdev has galvanized the great Indian public into turning ardent practitioners of yoga and pranayama. In the process, millions are losing weight, healing from various ailments and making a bid for optimum wellness.
Why do you consider yoga to be a complete health solution?
Yoga means to awaken the dormant energies of the being and achieve a level of consciousness, where the entire soul is submerged in an ocean of peace and tranquillity. According to me, Patanjali’s ashtanga yoga should be the basis of an exuberant life. A majority of diseases are curable by yoga; the word impossible does not exist. Persistence is required. I don’t need to say much; still I would like to add that yoga is the only key to a propitious and healthy way of living.
What ailments are curable through yoga and ayurveda?
Blood circulation can be improved through yoga, the nervous system becomes more active and awareness levels increase. Heart disease, asthma, diabetes can also be cured.
Asanas and pranayama remove the root cause of maladies and fortify the digestive system. Yoga is indispensable for physical well-being, and most necessarily to de-stress the mind. Uniting the soul with the Almighty by patiently practising yoga, one can experience transcendence. This is yoga!
Why do you stress so much on pranayama?
Based of the experience of millions, I confidently believe that pranayama is significant in curing ailments and encouraging spiritual development. Except for the ailments of the bones, all diseases can be cured primarily by pranayama supplemented by a few asanas. I would say that asanas are beneficial only if they are preceded by pranayama.
What are the secrets to a healthy life?
Diet, sleep and brahmacharya – these are the three essentials. Our daily diet affects our body as well as mind. Food should be masticated properly and not more than two-three sips of water should be taken after a meal. Buttermilk is an excellent coolant and should be a necessary part of one’s diet.
Early to bed, early to rise, improves life’s condition. By brahmacharya, one implies control over all senses and the power to attain ‘Brahma-hood’ in this very life.
Along with these, exercise, a good cleansing bath and meditation should be made a compulsory part of everyday life.
Is attainment of inner peace possible through yoga?
According to me, ashtanga yoga is the only answer to the chaotic situation prevailing today. If you desire inner serenity, then you should follow ashtanga yoga, and then you will realise that no force can stop you from happiness.
Which tradition do you follow?
Indian Vedic sanskriti. Only by following the Vedas can the human race gain momentum.
You are against the fast-food trend in India and in favour of vegetarianism. Why?
Patience and control are essential. If one wishes to lead a progressive life, then an appropriate diet is essential. If we can eat bread, then why sacrifice the life of an innocent animal to gratify our desires? Even our Vedas have argued against non-vegetarianism. If we wish to preserve our culture for future generations, these sacrifices are a must.
Please suggest some simple asanas to curb day-to-day diseases like stomach ache, constipation, etc.
Our wellness is dependent upon the proper functioning of our stomach. Maximum asanas are very effective, especially for our digestive system. Like uttanpadasana (beneficial in constipation, gastric disorders, stomach aches), pawanmuktasana (beneficial in the removal of wind from the abdomen, onstipation), sarvangasana (beneficial in regulating the thyroid activity), kandharasana (beneficial in stomach ache and waist ache), shashankasana (beneficial in curbing stress, anger and restlessness).
Apart from some asanas like shirshasana (not recommended for people having a high blood pressure and heart patients), halasana (not recommended for people suffering from high blood pressure, spondylitis and cervical), the rest are beneficial for all. Time, place, appropriate clothes, age, health factor, diet and normalcy of the breath should be kept in mind while doing the asanas.
What is your message for our readers?
Healthy food, a good night’s sleep, a mind immersed in divine love, meditation and yoga – what else do you need to make your life beautiful? Avoid a clash of opinions, discard all your reservations and concentrate on yoga with your heart and soul. Life will automatically become beautiful.
Sneak into any household in India between 5 and 7 am and chances are good that you will find someone sitting cross-legged in front of the television intently following the instructions of a saffron-clad sanyasi, with disheveled shoulder length hair, eyes that are just slightly crossed and shoulders that are tilted to one side. As the swami parts the folds of his angavastram, he reveals a sinuous, fit physique and when he practices his trademark kapal bhatti, his stomach subsides into a deep hollow, sharply outlining his ribs. No prizes for guessing the name of the yogi. Could it be anyone other than Swami Ramdev?
Seated before a camp of 20,000 or more participants, the swami punctuates his easy banter with a joke or two, or with a request for a testimony. These are inevitably fulsome, describing either a loss of weight, or recovery from one or the other ailment. Occasionally, he extols the great Vedic heritage of India and urges his followers to adhere to it, or ventures into a fluid narration of kitchen remedies for various disorders. Unsurprisingly, he delivers periodic broadsides against western influence, particularly the use of aerated drinks and junk food.
The camera dwells lovingly on the heavyweights sitting in the front row, who range from politicos such as the chief minister of Rajasthan, Vasundhara Raje, chief minister of Chattisgarh, Dr Raman Singh, to film star Hema Malini, and business tycoons, Rahul Bajaj and B K Modi.
None of this would be remarkable in itself but for the fact that in less than two-and-a-half years, this innocuous yogi has single-handedly spearheaded a major national revolution in health and general wellbeing through the systematic practice of yoga.
Observes Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of Art of Living, whose runaway popularity has only been challenged in recent times by Swami Ramdev, ‘If an individual can be credited with reviving yoga in this country, it is solely Swami Ramdev. Yoga can cure even fatal diseases and Swami Ramdev has definitely proved it time and again. Swami Ramdev has spread yoga to such an extent that sooner or later, one has to embrace it.’
Agrees Life Positive columnist and yoga teacher Shameem Akhtar, ‘He is the first person to have popularized yoga in India at the mass level.’
Adds Santosh Sachdeva, author of books on kundalini, such as the Kundalini Diary, ‘Every morning when I go for my walk, I see people sitting on benches and practicing his anulom vilom and kapal bhatti. Even my physician does it. It’s astounding to see how one man has changed human consciousness at such a mass level.’
The Power of One
Swami Ramdev is living testimony to the power of one. Throughout history, individuals have been the fulcrum that has shifted society to new eras and paradigms. Whether it is the Buddha, Jesus Christ, Marx or Mahatma Gandhi, each created a revolution in ideas and action. Today, it is the turn of Swami Ramdev to create a watershed in yoga awareness. This 5,000-year-old philosophy and practice has been so far restricted to tiny pockets and organizations and has over the years gained more popularity in the West than in the land of its origin. It was left to Swami Ramdev to explode out of all limitations and bring it within the reach of every man.
Today, there’s scarcely anyone in the country who has access to a TV, who is not familiar with his name. Lisps four-year-old Sarika, ‘I like the way Ramdev uncle pulls his stomach in and moves it like a ball. See I can also do it.’ She sucks her stomach in and surprisingly, she is good for her age.
Shankaracharya Swami Divyanand of Bhanpura Peeth credits Swami Ramdev’s yoga for reducing his obesity. There has even been a camp at the Rashtrapati Bhavan on APJ Abdul Kalam’s insistence.
Observes film star Hema Malini, ‘I have personally benefited a lot by following Swami Ramdev’s yoga. Being a dancer, flexibility is very essential. Regular yoga keeps my body well toned and active. I have experienced great relief in my knee joints. Even my skin is glowing better than ever.’
Others extol his virtues lavishly, crossing the frontier of hyperbole. Says Kirit Bhaiji, member of the Tulsi Seva Charitable Trust, ‘We have not been able to keep our country united, either through food, bhajans, language, religion nor culture. Unity in all aspects is possible only through Shri Ramdev’s yoga.’
Healing the World
And when it comes to healings, the testimonies are legion.
Eight years ago, Shakhdav M Devashryee lost all hope when he lost his sight. In January 2004, he learned yoga by listening to Swami Ramdev on TV. He says, ‘That was my turning point. My confidence level shot up and I was determined to follow the path of my yoga teacher and change the lives of many others the way he changed mine. I also wanted to establish victory over my own handicap. Till date, I have taught yoga in 11 jails and formed many clubs.’
Jayshree Desai, 47, yoga teacher based in Mumbai, also narrates her life-changing experience: ‘I was diagnosed with Hepatitis B, and deemed incurable. My friend introduced me to Swami Ramdev’s yoga on TV. When I practiced it, my acute condition stabilized, and soon to the amazement of doctors, the disease vanished! I resolved to become a yoga teacher and have conducted many camps in India as well as in Mexico, Norway and San Diego.’
Manik Juneja, a technopreneur from Delhi, says, ‘My father is suffering from end stage renal failure. His creatinine level was 11, whereas normal creatinine level is around 1. The nephrologist was considering putting him on haemodialysis, when my father started doing pranayaam twice daily, after watching Baba Ramdev’s yoga camp on TV. Within two months, his creatinine level came down to 5.8. His blood pressure and blood sugar levels are also under control now.’
An all-round panacea, yoga came to the help of Raghav Dutta, a 23-year old national-level swimmer from Delhi, who says, ‘After every swimming session, I used to get obdurate cramps in my legs. On my coach’s insistence, I attended a week-long yoga camp with Swami Ramdev and the cramps just dissolved. I never collected my X-ray reports from the pathology lab.’
Swami Ramdev prescribes a blend of home remedies, ayurvedic medicine and yoga to combat all diseases. He says, ‘A day will come when yoga and ayurveda will become mainstream therapy.’
Firm in his belief that these two disciplines can alone heal mankind of most if not all ailments, he has enlisted millions of practitioners into his bandwagon, including allopathic medical practitioners.
Ashok Chandra, an MBBS-turned-yoga guru attached to Swami Ramdev’s outfit, says, ‘I suffered from chronic spondylitis that allopathy could not cure. A couple of years ago I started Swami Ramdev’s yoga. Bingo, the pain dissolved. Persistence was and is the main key. Eventually, I gave up my medical practice to learn yoga.’ He chortles and adds, ‘I was proud to be an MBBS, now I am even prouder to be a yoga guru.’
Yoga has always been a non-sectarian discipline, emphasizing the universalities of breath, focus and flexibility. Little wonder then that Swami Ramdev’s appeal cuts across all sectarian divide.
Doctor Anwar Ali Rana, a yoga teacher trained by Swami Ramdev, says, ‘When I went for Haj, I wanted people residing in the sacred land to realize the magic of Swamiji’s yoga, so I conducted four camps at Mecca and Madina and also trained three men to teach the practice.’ He adds, ‘Honey will always taste sweet to all; the masses at Mecca and Madina embraced yoga without a seed of doubt.’
Thanks to Aastha’s international channel, Swami Ramdev’s popularity is spreading over the whole of the Asian continent, as well as Australia, Europe, Africa and even America. Jonas D, an Australian social worker, ardently follows Swami Ramdev’s telecasts. He says, ‘Bloggers from all around the globe were singing praises of the Indian yoga guru. I had to try it out, and I must say it was a matter of few days when I felt a boost of energy in my entire system.’
Teleguru Par Excellence
Swami Ramdev first shot into the limelight in December 2003 on Aastha channel. Almost instantly, he made an impact, which spiraled with every passing day. In time, he began to parlay his popularity through giant camps of a magnitude never before attempted. More than 20,000 people register for attendance, even though admission is not cheap by any means.
People pay close to Rs 5,000 for the privilege of sitting near the podium, while even the furthest seat commands Rs 500. It is said that he charges Rs 5 lakh for a one-on-one session. Today, all his camps are being telecast live for those who cannot afford to attend them personally.
His first foray abroad with four camps at UK beginning on July 15, may well trigger the beginning of a worldwide yoga yatra. Already, he has earned the title of the most likable Indian in a poll in Pakistan.
His meteoric rise in less than three years can be attributed in part to the power of television. Aastha’s spokesperson once said, Swami Ramdev has been to it what Amitabh Bachchan was to Star Plus, a one-man army that has sent TRPs soaring. Arvind Joshi, Distribution Head of Aastha channel, says, ‘There has been a manifold increase in our TRPs.’
Today, Swami Ramdev is a fixture there, appearing twice daily, once in the morning at 5 and again at 8.20 pm. The channel also gives copious publicity to his camps.
Swami Ramdev appears on other channels as well such as Sahara Samay and India TV, eliciting a frenetic response.
‘I am speechless; I just don’t have enough words to extol Swamiji ,’ says Prabhat Dabral, Vice President (News), of Sahara Samay. He adds, ‘We have received an immense response from our viewers and there are non-stop requests to increase the duration of the show.’
Estimates Jaishankar Mishra, a representative of the Divya Yog Mandir Trust which spearheads his activities, ‘So far, over 15 million people have benefitted from sadhana and yoga camps. In addition, more than 20 million people are regular viewers of his television program.’
Any connection with Swami Ramdev pays off handsomely today; so popular is the man. Narender Verma, chairman of Diamond Publications, says, ‘We publish Swamiji’s books. The response has been overwhelming and the run rate is amazingly 10,000 copies every day. We have sold more than ten lakh copies of Pranayaam Rahasaya and Yog Sadhna. Ramdevji’s books have become sensational best-sellers.’
Swamiji himself modestly attributes his success to the Almighty. He says, ‘I bow to the Supreme Power – the Almighty, who provided such an austere being like me the opportunity to move closer to spirituality.’
The Secret of his Success
There has rarely been a phenomenon like Swami Ramdev in the annals of India’s recent spiritual history. For one thing, the swami seldom talks gyan. His focus is clearly on the practical aspects of good health and well-being. Practical and down-to-earth, he dispenses wisdom on how to stop hair from falling to telling schoolchildren how to stop bedwetting. No wonder that people respond by the millions. Enlightenment may not be every one’s objective, but good health and vitality certainly are. Observes a student of India’s holistic scene, ‘His departure from other yoga teachers is that while others use 90 per cent yoga asanas and 10 per cent pranayama, his equation is the opposite.’
Another reason for his remarkable success is his and his team’s sheer organizational prowess. Not everyone would have been able to take advantage of the yogi’s mushrooming popularity. To their credit, they have been able to create the infrastructure required to orchestrate the camps, manufacture of ayurvedic medicines and other skyrocketing activities. Says Shameem Akhtar, ‘The yogis who became popular abroad did so because their followers were very good at marketing them. Swami Ramdev seems to have this organizational power innately.’
The final testimony to Swami Ramdev’s success came in the wake of the CPI(M) leader, Brinda Karat’s, accusation that his Trust was adding human bones in the composition of its ayurvedic medicine. The resultant outcry and outrage resonated from every corner of the country and included political leaders of all persuasions. Apart from lengthy editorials and reports, the grassroots response included housewives of Lucknow doing yoga on the streets in protest. Eventually, retests triumphantly vindicated Swami Ramdev.
Rameshbhai Ojha, a well known spiritual teacher, observes, ‘Swami Ramdev’s fast growing popularity definitely irritated many, but his detractors, whose numbers are dwindling day-by-day, have failed to succeed in their wicked designs as allegations that his medicines contain human parts and animal residue have been found to be baseless and untrue.’
A side-effect to the controversy has been the soaring sales of the Trust’s ayurvedic medicines. Prior to the controversy, not many people were aware that Divyayog pharmacy, the unit that manufactures the drugs, existed, since Swami Ramdev’s primary focus was on yoga. Ashok, a chikitsak in one of Swami Ramdev’s dispensaries, says, ‘Post-controversy, the sales of the medicines have skyrocketed. Even after placing bulk orders, we are always out of stock.’
Which is not to say that Swami Ramdev enjoys a completely on-controversial reign. Many yoga teachers, including the legendary Pune-based BKS Iyengar, feel that the pranayama exercises that Ramdev teaches such as anulom-vilom, kapal bhatti and bhastrika are potent techniques that should be taught under careful individual supervision, since wrong usage could have disastrous effects.
Others, particularly allopathic doctors, question his sweeping claims on behalf of yoga and ayurveda. Dr Sneha Gujral, surgeon from Ahmedabad, says, ‘Simple ailments can be cured through yoga and ayurveda, but as the criticality of a disease increases, they require medical attention, certainly not to be cured in large groups of thousands. I feel some of his claims are exaggerated.’
In the Beginning
Little is known about his previous history when he burst, fully-formed, upon the TV screen in 2003. Both he and his organisation remain silent on his past and whatever little we have been able to piece together is courtesy a press release dispensed by the Trust.
By 14, Swami Ramdev was pretty well versed in the Vedic tradition of India. Reading Maharishi Dayanand Saraswati’s Veda inspired him to make his calling the study of India’s ancient spiritual wisdom. He left home at the age of 15 in search of a guru who could infuse the wisdom of truth and life in his restless mind. His quest led him to Acharya Baldev Maharaj. Under his tutelage, Swami Ramdev became a sanyasin and began a deep experiential search for self-realisation. At his guru’s desire he became an acharya and took the command of the gurukul in his hands. Characteristic of the Indian tradition of worshiping the guru as God, Swami Ramdev says, ‘Whatever is admirable in my life is because of my guru’s grace; the wrongs in my life are due to my own ignorance. In my life, after God, my guru gets the next place.’
Then he went on to become an acharya in Mahatma Dharamveer’s gurukul, Kisangarh Ghasera. Among his practices included a stint in the holy caves of Gangotri at the Himalayas, undeterred by the severity of the climate. There he met yet another philanthropist Acharya Balkrishan. This alliance resulted in the establishment of Divya Yog Mandir Trust in the year 1995. This organisation spearheads all his activities, including the camps, the manufacture of ayurvedic medicine, as well as treatment of patients.
Swami Ramdev and the Acharya run the activities of the Trust together, with Ramdev being the front man and Balkrishan the man behind the scenes. Colonel V K Dheer, a representative of the Trust, says, ‘While Swami Ramdev conducts camps, Acharya Balkrishan works round the clock and supervises the Trust and its allied activities. He is actively involved in treatment and research work in the ashram and he is also the editor of the monthly magazine of the Trust, Yog Sandesh.‘
Divya Pharmacy, another aspect of the Divya Yog Mandir Trust, manufactures ayurvedic medicine. It is equipped with a hi-tech laboratory, where research and innovations are conducted.
But the real eye-opener is his latest and most ambitious project, the Patanjali Yogpeeth, designed to be a grand tribute to yoga and ayurveda, and inaugurated on April 6, 2006.
Situated 13 km from Haridwar, this 100-crore project is well underway. During the inauguration, Sudarshan Agarwal, Governor of Uttaranchal, said, ‘Patanjali Yogpeeth will soon be the ambassador of yoga for the entire world. Over 18 months of sweat and hard work of thousands of workers, technicians and engineers went into the making of this dream project.’
The first stage, that is, the basic construction of this structure, is over. The second stage comprises of serviceable guesthouses, cow-pen, residence of employees, herbal gardens, yajnashala, meditation caves and many more such facilities. This will make Patanjali Yogpeeth the biggest yoga and ayurvedic center in the world, accommodating 5,000 patients at a time. The third stage will be the opening of a university for students of yoga and ayurveda. Lauding the efforts of Swami Ramdev, Vice President Shri Bhairon Singh Shekhawat said, ‘Swami Ramdev provided the knowledge of yoga to one and all, rising above all narrow considerations. His singular contribution is to inspire faith in the poor man that he can cure himself without the aid of any costly medicines.’
The swami himself said ardently on the occasion of the inauguration, ‘Adi Shankaracharya established four holy shrines about 2,500 years ago. Patanjali Yogpeeth will also establish its branches in the four corners of our beloved country. The river of yoga will flow to each and every one, whether in a village or city.’
Given his track record, that should be a cinch.
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