The two yoga worlds
After what seems like ages, I managed to get up really early on a weekday (to me that means around 6.30) and full of energy. I open the curtains and it was pitch dark (winter has set in here in Basel, and I typically don’t see any light before 7.30 or so), but there were no clouds. Now that was such a pleasant surprise that I actually stood outside in just my T shirt and shorts, unmindful of the numbing chill wind.
I decided its time for my long overdue morning yoga. I very rarely work out in the morning these days, but today was the perfect day to break the shackle, stretch my bones, and sweat it out.
Sweat it out? Yoga? Are you confused?
Yoga, that ancient Indian method of relaxing, freshening and rejuvenating your body and mind is not that well understood. To a lot of westerners, it conjures up images of naked sadhus in some mystic pose in a Himalayan landscape telling you how you can transform your life. To a lot of Indians, it’s a cool thing you state every time to be proud of your culture, but hardly know anything about.
That’s until people like B.K.S Iyengar, Sri Sri Ravishankar, Baba Ramdev, and Bharat Thakur popped up on the stage (I may have missed many more relevant names, but that’s because I am not too knowledgeable on this subject myself)
Although I cant claim expertise on this subject, I have flirted with different forms of yoga at different stages, and perhaps my experiences on this are worth sharing. And I can say with pride that Yoga is a huge contribution to mankind from India.
First brushes with Yoga
My first initiation to Yoga, was at my boarding school – Rishi Valley. It was one of the hundred good things I picked up there. I still remember my first few weeks of Yoga as a 11 year old. We had to get up early for what is called as P.T session (Physical training), and we fought like crazy to bunk this. At some stage, all of us matured enough to either enjoy or accept as your fate. Most people ended up doing any combination of a cross country run across a lush green valley, or a run up hill with an incentive of the view from Cave rock or Boat rock, or limitless rounds across the football field. There was an alternative though, and that was Mishra Ji’s serene, quiet, and non violent (!) yoga classes. As you stretched your bones and then went into Shavasan (the pose of the dead), you could hear the birds chirping, see the first few rays of the sun, and blissfully fall asleep before he woke you up!
In those days yoga was all about spending an extra hour either sleeping or doing something closes to sleeping.
By the time I actually started enjoying them and felt myself fitter, the classes stopped and it was back to the runs and drills. By which time, I made it to the cricket teams , and a chance to do what I loved more than anything else was enough motivation for me to get up at 5 and run from hostel to hostel waking my team mates. The reward was diving and bruising yourself trying to catch a ball, which, if you did, was bound to bite you hard with the early morning cold and dew. I would like to think Yoga helped me play sports pretty well at a time when playing cricket, tennis or football was the biggest passion of my life.
The next round of Yoga was a few years later at an RSS camp that I attended briefly. For the uninitiated, RSS is a right wing Hindu nationalistic organization, that is typically in the news for all the wrong reasons these days (that’s about as diplomatic and neutral as I can put it!). But at the core of their organization is an endeavor to make young kids work out and do yoga to stay fit & focused. In those innocent days, all that mattered to me was to look at the sun while doing the wonderful Surya Namsakar (Sun salutation) , and competing with the other kids in my neighborhood about who could hold onto a particular posture for longer.
Like with most things in life, I never followed up those great surya namskar sessions regularly and lost touch with yoga for many more years.
In my adult life, I tried the “Art of Living” classes that are fairly popular in the country. There is mixed opinion on Sri Sri Ravishankar and his organization, but you’ve got to hand it to him that he has branded his foundation extremely well and is know in most parts of the world. Technically speaking, he teaches specific kriyas or techniques, that are a part of the wide body of Yoga, but I do not think the focus is Yoga itself.
But to me those sessions were a mixed bag; there was very less of workout, a lot of meditation / breathing techniques, and a fair bit of propaganda. Now that’s the part which fascinates the west : mystics gurus, typically with beard and a pleasant face, and who claim that after a few sessions with them, you will be transformed. This is exactly what a lot of westerners want and this is exactly what a lot of less informed Indians suck up to.
But I always believe in coming out of anything with the positive take ways, of which there were a few techniques that helped me deal with stress better.
That being the approach, my search went on until I found Bharat Thakur’s artistic yoga. Now this is not the perfect thing, but the closest I have found.
A yoga form in tune with modern life & times…
BT, as he is popularly called, is a bit of a maverick and a new age guru. I am going to do free marketing for him here, but you can read up about him on his website. Makes for a pretty good read actually!
Artistic Yoga is a bit of a rage across large cities in India, drawing youngsters and elders alike. It’s a bit like power yoga or aerobics, in its genre, but there are differences. In spite of being fairly pricey, people are flocking to these classes. I have nothing against the fees, as I can afford it and see the value for money; plus when you pay for something you tend to be more serious about it. But I hope in future more yoga centers at different price levels, but with same quality, expand across the nation.
I have been doing it whenever I was in India and the daily evening classes were a no miss for me, and a huge part of my life.
The classes were typically very intense, comparable to any hard gym session, and full of fun. Almost inevitably your body ached a little afterwards but you were assured of either a good day at work or a good sleep, depending on when you did it.
The most impressive things I took away from those classes were:
- A risk / injury format of an ancient science form, that has been customized to modern life
- Fun, fast, intense and sweaty classes!
- Very easy to follow and DIY workouts. You don’t have to go for the classes after a while, but they helped tremendously from a motivation and routine perspective
- Loads of fun people to meet and friends to make, including most of the teachers
I still do some asanas, bandhas and stretches that I learnt over the years, but its not quite the same as being in my friend Ramshad’s classes in Bangalore where on a crazy day he is capable of pushing you to do over a 150 surya namaskars in an hour. (If anybody reading this can Google how to do surya namaskar, and can do more than 50 in an hour, please let me know, I’d like to meet you!)
I am pretty sure there are many different yoga gurus, and centers across India and rest of the world, that are run by well trained and committed people.
So, I would love it if my friends reading this, take the initiative to sign up to any yoga class that suits their style and convenience. Tapping into our rich heritage of knowledge of the body and mind, is tremendously rewarding! And, if you have been as lucky as I was to travel to, and do yoga near an icy waterfall on the Himalayas, at a lush green village in the alps, or by a silver sand beach in Goa, there’s nothing quite like it in life 🙂