Say 'namaste' to yoga

Yogic revelations

Say 'namaste' to yoga
Yoga (derived from yuj, Sanskrit for ‘addition’ or ‘harnessing’) is an ancient physical, mental and spiritual practice that originated in India thousands of years ago. A person who practices this discipline is called a yogi. Its origins shrouded in mystery, yoga is an offshoot of asceticism predating Vedic traditions. As per yogic belief, Lord Shiva is considered ‘Adiyogi’, the first ascetic who sat unmoving in padmasana until he discovered the eternal truth of the mind, body and soul.

On a full moon day on the banks of Kanti Sarovar, a glacial lake 4 km above Kedarnath, Shiva shared his knowledge with the saptarishi or seven sages. This south-facing manifestation of Shiva as the guru is called Dakshinamurthy, and the day is celebrated as Guru Purnima. Over time, these mechanics of life were transmitted from the sages to mankind. Besides Hinduism, the meditative practice also permeated Buddhism and Jainism; Buddha and Mahavira are often shown seated in padmasana or vajrasana while Jain arihants like Bahubali are depicted in kayotsarga or standing meditative repose.

Yogic legend

Another legend recounts how Lord Shiva imparted the knowledge of Hatha Yoga to Parvati in secret on a lonely island, assuming no one else could hear him. However, a matsya (fish) overheard the entire discourse and was reborn later as a siddha (one accomplished in physical and spiritual matters) called Matsyendranath. He taught the series of asanas for the purification and balancing of nadis (subtle channels) to his disciple Gorakhnath.

Though the Upanishads, the Mahabharata and other sacred texts mention yoga, the earliest complete treatise on it is Sage Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, dating to the first half of the first millennia. It outlines the ‘eight limbs’ of Raja Yoga, also known as Ashtanga Yoga. Much of these traditions have passed from guru to shishya over centuries, after proper initiation, though many have been forgotten and rediscovered.

One such Himalayan master who sought to reintroduce the lost practice of Kriya Yoga or union with the infinite through kriya (action), a series of pranayama, was Mahavatar Babaji. In 1861, he taught it to his disciple Lahiri Mahasaya, who imparted his learning to Yukteshwar Giri. Subsequently, it was handed down to Paramahansa Yogananda. Building upon the success of Swami Vivekananda at the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago, Paramahansa moved to the US in 1920 and popularised yoga in the west.

Impact on West

Kriya Yoga captured the world’s imagination in such a way that Mahavatar Babaji featured on the cover of The Beatles’ 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band while rock band Supertramp even composed an ode to him called Babaji. The west’s love affair with yoga continues to this day, spawning an entire industry from yoga mats, yoga pants and home videos to diverse styles from Power Yoga and Forrest Yoga to Bikram Choudhury’s Hot Yoga and Bharat Thakur’s Artistic Yoga. Often, they are more boot camp than ashram.

Yoga was first popularised in India by Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, whose most noteworthy students were BKS Iyengar and Krishna Pattabhi Jois, who later taught yoga to Madonna. Another key figure was Sivananda Saraswati, founder of Divine Life Society, who had many famous disciples. Swami Chinmayananda started Chinmaya Mission, Satyananda Saraswati founded Satyananda Yoga in Bihar, while Satchidananda Saraswati opened Integral Yoga Institutes worldwide.

However, the architect of India’s modern day yoga revolution is Baba Ramdev. Thanks to him, anulom-vilom and kapalbhati became household words and yoga turned into a mass movement. While his Patanjali Yogpeeth and Yoga Samiti focus on health and medicine, other gurus like Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev help people achieve self-realisation through Isha Yoga’s Inner Engineering programmes. With Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s mantra of Sudarshan Kriya, The Art of Living became a neighbourhood franchise.

Some believe that yoga is the solution for all the ills in the world. Despite facile attempts by various practitioners to patent different styles, yoga is like an open source programme that cannot be trademarked. To cater to foreign travellers, many yoga schools have mushroomed across the country. Here are Top 10 places across India to learn yoga.

Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute, Pune: Run by the family of renowned yoga guru BKS Iyengar, the institute offers classes in Iyengar Yoga, a form of Hatha Yoga. The downside — prior experience in Iyengar Yoga, and a two-year wait period!
Duration: 1 month; Cost: $450; Ph 020-25656134;

Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute, Mysore: Run by yoga exponent Sri Krishna Pattabhi Jois’s daughter Saraswati and grandson Sharath, the institute offers intensive classes of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, fast-paced synchronisation of breath and movement. The classes are for serious students. Apply at least two months in advance.

Duration: 1-6 months; Cost: $650 (1st month); $415 (each extra month); Ph 0821-2516756;

Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, Chennai: The ashram is run by TKV Desikachar, son of T Krishnamacharya, hailed as the grandfather of modern yoga who taught yoga to both BKS Iyengar and Sri K Pattabhi Jois. The ashram teaches Viniyoga, which utilises postures and breath to suit different needs. Teacher training courses are open only to Indian students though non-residential Pilgrimage of Sound Vedic Chanting, Heart of Yoga and Pranayama courses are offered to international students twice a year.

Duration: 2-4 weeks; Cost: Rs 9,500 for Indians, $1,500 for foreigners; Ph 044-24937998;

Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh: Swami Chidanand Saraswati’s eight-acre ashram on the banks of the Ganga is located in the Himalayan foothills of Rishikesh. Set up in 1977 by Swami Vishnudevananda, the ashram offers structured yoga vacations with holistic programmes of beginner yoga, spirituality and teacher training courses. The highlight is the Ganga aarti every evening and the week-long international Yoga Festival in March.
Duration: 2-5-weeks; Cost: Rooms at Rs 600-1,200 per night; Ph 0135-2440088;

Bihar School of Yoga, Munger: Founded in 1964 by Swami Satyananda Saraswati, the ashram has a residential course in Yogic Studies from October to January that teaches a full yogic lifestyle with emphasis on seva and meditation. Those interested in a regular yoga course may enroll at the offshoot Bihar Yoga Bharati institute.

Duration: 4-months; Cost: $1,500, all inclusive; Ph 06344-222430;

Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram, Trivandrum: Set up in 1977 by Swami Vishnudevananda, the ashram offers structured yoga vacations at its campuses in Rishikesh and Trivandrum. Situated in the quiet environs of Neyyar dam and forest in Kerala, it prescribes real Indian ashram lifestyle with an integral approach to Hatha Yoga and Bhakti Yoga. Besides residential yoga vacations and teacher training programmes, one can opt for drop-in classes or holistic courses in yoga and meditation.

Duration: 2-4 weeks; Cost: Rs 1,500 for beginner’s course; Ph 0471-2451398;

Yoga Institute, Mumbai: Founded in 1918 by Shri Yogendraji, it is the oldest organised yoga centre in the world. Besides yoga courses and workshops, their therapeutic health camps help people overcome heart and respiratory ailments, diabetes and stress-related issues.

Duration: 2-21 days; Cost: Rs 800-2,500; Ph 022-26110506;

Isha Yoga Centre, Velliangiri: Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev founded the Isha Yoga Centre over 30 years ago at the foothills of Velliangiri near Coimbatore. The 150-acre ashram and its branches offer an introductory Inner Engineering course, advanced programmes like Bhava Spandana and residential Hatha Yoga teacher training programmes that train one in sadhana, yogic practice, meditation, anatomy, physiology and Siddha sciences.
Duration: 3-21 days; Cost: Variable;

Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama, Rishikesh: Founded by Swami Veda Bharati, the ashram teaches Raja Yoga with meditation and yoga classes for visitors, silent retreats and a Yoga and Meditation Teacher Training Course. Swami Rama’s ashram Sadhana Mandir Trust, on the banks of the Ganga, is a short walk away. Besides meditation retreats and self-transformation programmes, it is ideal for meditation or yogic practice in peaceful seclusion. Also Swami Dayananda Ashram, founded by Vedanta teacher Swami Dayananda Saraswati, in Rishikesh, is a great place for those interested in the Upanishads.
Ph: 0135-2450093;

Patanjali Yogpeeth, Haridwar: Free yoga classes are conducted here by trained yoga instructors at hourly intervals. Besides yoga science camps, thousands of free yoga classes are held everyday across multiple locations in India and abroad.

Cost: Yoga & Ayurveda consultation free; Rooms: Rs 400-800; Ph 01334-244107;

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