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The power of yoga

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

More than a set of exercises, ancient yoga can be an alternative health regime today, says Ronita Torcato

When the Roman poet and satirist Juvenal (c.60–c.130 AD) wrote mens sana in corpore sano (meaning ‘a rational mind in a healthy body’)  he wasn’t talking about fitness at all, but the importance of education. It was mined by an Englishman John Hulley, as a motto for the Liverpool Athletic Club in 1861 and has since been referenced by sports lovers  the world over. But fitness of mind, body and spirit has been acknowledged in Indian culture from ancient times. Yoga is, arguably, an important example. It is a collection of physical, mental, and spiritual practices described in the Yoga Sutras, a central text in Hindu philosophy  compiled by Patanjali  probably around the same time as Juvenal was writing his Satires.

History buffs will be pleased to know the British Museum is the proud possessor of a hand painted yoga manuscript that had  belonged to the legendary Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi. Like the Asiatic Society of Mumbai’s precious Dante manuscript, the Rani’s book which contains illustrations to all the 84 asanas and 24 mudras, is kept in a  vault and taken out  on rare occasions.

Today, yoga could be used as just a form of physical exercise, but serious votaries know  its meaningful practice goes far beyond. It is a holistic approach to complete wellness as its central aim is to unite body and spirit with the Divine—the very word yoga invokes this consciousness; for, in  Sanskrit, the root ‘Yuj’ means “to unite” or “integrate”.

Thanks to the yogis who took this knowledge to the West (Paramahansa Yogananda, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, among others) and subsequently, the social media phenomenon, people the world over from celebs like the Beckhams, Beyonce, Madonna, Lady Gaga and Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen, to  the common man have been exposed to yoga and embraced  this ancient, beautiful tradition.  The Yoga Institute at Santa Cruz  flagged off its year-long centenary celebrations on  Christmas Eve, December 24,  last year  with events held countrywide. Kaivalyadham founded by Swami Kuvalayananda, in Pune in 1924 is possibly, the oldest yoga institute in the world.  The Kaivalyadham on Marine Drive. was established in 1936 and now has over 4,500 members.

On an individual basis,  Masters like the great  B K S Iyengar have achieved world renown (and rightly so) but few are  aware of V. Nanammal, a 99-year-old yoga guru from Coimbatore, who has trained one million students over 45 years and continues to teach 100 students daily. Six hundred of her students have become yoga instructors around the world.

One can see why, along with ahimsa, yoga is India’s most prized gift to the world. It is being used as an alternative therapy for various ailments, by millions of people who practice it in one form or another. At last count, there were nine types of yoga: Hatha Yoga, Vinyasa, Iyengar, Ashtaga, Bikram Yoga, Hot Yoga, Kundalini, Yin, Restorative. You can choose what’s best for you. On the  physical plane alone,  yoga is a stress buster and relieves arthritic pain, it also increases  energy levels.

"You get great bursts of energy  and you don't know from where! You can get 18 hours of work done and you can  wear out others" says Vithal Nadkarni, a science writer and initiated Hathi Yogi himself .Yoga is known to improve fitness, flexibility, posture and help reduce body weight. It also inculcates self-awareness, promotes healthy eating habits and improves sleep quality. But amidst the hallelujahs, one must sound a cautionary note: yoga can cause injuries, if done without proper guidance. Yoga can cause musculoskeletal pain — mostly in the upper limbs, according to a New York study headed  by Sydney University Professor Evangelos Pappas. However,  74 per cent of  the participants reported that existing pain was improved by yoga. So, roll out those yoga mats!

Shivani Patel, Fitness Expert

Yoga  is unique, but like any other form of exercise, it is not for everyone. It’s like Sadhana; one has to continue practising to benefit from it. I personally enjoy doing Hatha Yoga and Vinyasa. Hatha is all about the basics that requires you to hold each pose for a few breaths; Ashtanga Yoga emphasizes on dynamic practice that links movement and breath together in a dance-like way. I enjoy the fluidity while practising yoga as it’s all about the ease of transitions that you experience when you move from one exercise/form to the other and getting the timing of the transitions right.   Yoga has helped me a lot with resolving symptoms related to PCOD and hypothyroid, mainly anxiety and also with flexibility of my lower body. I have improved my concentration and overcome stress which plays an important factor in exaggerating PCOS.

Dr Hardik Patel, Consultant Physiotherapist Hiranandani Hospital Vashi– A Fortis Network Hospital

Yoga  is part of multi-disciplinary approach for healing. It is more about efficiency, rather than religion.  It helps maintain physical as well mental health, I like this association a lot. I believe it is an ideal way to exercise and meditate.  I perform spine extension postures regularly. I feel I can live efficiently through the regular practice of yoga. I strongly feel that each and everyone can gain a lot from learning and practising Yoga. So why should there be restrictions on anyone doing it?

The Jhansi manuscript  depicts the Navanathas or the legendary nine masters of yoga worshipping the divine First Couple of yoga, Shiva and Parvati. Guru Matsyendra is said to be the first human Natha (or leader) who introduced  yoga to Indians on receiving it from Shiva himself. He was actually  a little fish in  the wide ocean who happened, serendipituosly to overhear Shiva revealing the secrets of yoga to his consort, Parvati, on a deserted island. The dialogue of celestials metamorphosed the fish into a human being who went on to become the first ever yoga  guru on planet earth.

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