Gyms and spas, aerobics, zumba, etc., only came with time. To stay fit, what people have been practising since time immemorial is ‘Yoga’.
It was developed in ancient-India as a form of exercise which works well for one’s physical, mental and spiritual health. It is old enough to have not only to find mention in Indian spiritual texts such as the Bhagavad Gita and the Mahabharata, but have an entire treatise of its own, the Yogasutras.
While Yoga had been practiced in India for over 5,000 years, since the mid-20th century, the practice began to find a ready home in the West, notably the United States and Germany. In the US, several leading personalities including the Hollywood stars adopted Yoga wholeheartedly and that contributed to its spread around the world.
It was Swami Vivekananda, a leading Indian philosopher in the 19th century, who first took it to the West when he attended an inter-religious conference in Chicago and gave an inspiring speech on Indian culture and philosophy, which is still remembered as one of the best modern exposés on Hindu religion and practices. Since then, the form of exercise has gained wide acceptance and popularity, abroad. While Swami Vivekananda helped propagate Indian culture and philosophy around the world, back home in India, the practice seemed to have been lost, especially in the last few decades as the booming middle class in the urban areas were more attracted to western styles of exercising. There are more gyms, zumba and aerobics classes than there are Yoga schools or teachers. Chains of international gyms are now open in India and apparently many Indians spend their time and money on the luxury that these international brands provide rather than indulge in a meditative form of exercise. Although fitness is gaining popularity in India, people are moving from their roots, just as overseas people are beginning to move away from the gyms to the mushrooming Yoga salons. The neighbourhoods are changing, in India and overseas.
“I prefer gymming to Yoga because it is a faster way of losing weight and more fun because you can work-out alongside music. I know Yoga is beneficial but it doesn’t fulfill my requirements. I prefer speed and sweat,” says Lishita Jain, a fitness enthusiast in Indian capital, New Delhi, who has tried Yoga in past.
On the other hand there are foreigners who are taking forward the legacy of their parents. “Yoga was not so popular 10 years ago, but for the past 5 years I have seen a tremendous interest here in Europe. People are really enjoying it and practicing it every day. It’s a good alternative to sports. It makes you flexible. I have seen so many yoga training centres sprout up here and yoga becoming a part of gym classes. It’s actually “trendy”,” said Amanda, a Yoga teacher from Bern in Switzerland whose mother used to go practice Yoga at a retreat centre in Rishikesh, a spiritual city in the Himalayas.
From Bollywood to Tinsel Town, more and more celebrities are making yoga a part of their daily life. Hollywood stars like Robert Downey Jr., Nina Dobrev, Miley Cyrus and Jennifer Aniston are some names known for practicing it. Often, they post pictures on social media portals like Instagram, of themselves in various Yoga asanas or positions, prompting at least some of the millions of their fans to try Yoga as well.
Dobrev, ‘The Vampire Diaries’ star, besides being known for her role, is famous for her fitness regime which includes Yoga among other practices. Cyrus who has 44.7 million followers on Instagram, got 817 likes on a picture of her doing a handstand- a Yoga pose, which she titled ‘fri-namaste’. Aniston too shares pictures online, from her Yoga sessions.
Revival with Gurus and education
But Yoga is far from dead in India. In fact, it has made a rapid comeback in the past decade with the emergence of several Yoga gurus, helped by nationwide penetration of television, who preach and practice Yoga and organise mass public Yoga demonstrations around the year and around the nation. Baba Ramdev, a dimunitive Yoga guru, has gained millions of followers in India through these demonstrations and has targetted the urban Indians, who face large-scale health problems due to the modern lifestyle. Similar is Sri Sri Ravishankar and a number of other gurus, who in their own, very powerful ways, are reconnecting India to Yoga.
The government is also giving it a push. It has created a dedicated ministry for Yoga and other Indian wellness traditions such as Ayurveda. The ministry is tasked with propagating these traditions in India. In addition, the government also made Yoga sessions mandatory in schools and also introduced it in the training module for teacher training courses as a compulsory subject.
International Yoga Day
In September 2014, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed the idea of an International Yoga Day, during his speech at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). The proposal found ready acceptance and the world celebrated its first International Yoga Day on June 21, 2015. The event was celebrated the world over, with many Yoga demonstrations also organised in India. Many Yoga preachers are looking forward to the second event, this year. “It’s a good thing that finally this day has been created. We will have a big gathering in Zurich and bring our Yoga mats to practice. Hundreds of people are awaited,” said Amanda, who has her own Yoga centre in Zurich.
“For me, Yoga goes beyond the fact that it is originally from India. It crosses border, does not has a nationality. Yoga is a call to everyone, everywhere and their religion, caste, sex, etc. do not matter,” said Amanda, for who practices Yoga at dawn, everyday.