June 21 is International Yoga Day and last year our city made it to the Guinness World Records for the most number of people performing yoga in a single location. Very apt for a city that is world renowned for its yogashalas and yoga gurus.
Like most children in Mysuru, in the early 80s, I too was sent to yoga class. I hated it. I never understood why a 12-year-old boy had to wake up at 5.30 am only to wrench in pain and twist himself like a snake. It seemed unnatural and unwanted. And when I saw some of the older students doing advanced yoga, I thought they were training to join the circus, a place people visited to watch the bizarre. After a while I couldn’t take it anymore and I performed a Kanneer-asana (tear pose) for my mother and convinced her to stop waking me up so early and chasing me to the yogashala.
In college, I was re-introduced to yoga. This time I went voluntarily as the girl I was smitten by was attending the same yoga class. The yoga teacher was a young fellow and I couldn’t take him seriously. So once, when he announced to the class to begin the dog pose I let out a small “bow-bow.” Some students giggled, but the girl I was trying to impress did not. Later it was time for the cobra pose, and I hissed. Everyone laughed. I was asked to leave with a curse that people like me should be in a permanent state of Shavasana (corpse pose).
A few years later I regretted not learning yoga, because when I moved to the United States to study, I realised I not only could have made good money-teaching yoga but also enjoyed a lot of tantric delights.
Interestingly, I did get an opportunity to do yoga in the US when I joined a group of Indians at a park to do yoga. Soon I realised — what golf was to American businessmen, yoga was to pious middle-aged Indian men — a networking opportunity. It was terrible. None of them in the group did real yoga. All they did was chat and impart illegal stock tips to their yoga-mates.
What was further embarrassing was that next to us, a few Americans, read white men and women, were doing yoga. Their asanas were crisp, steady, strong and well-timed. Like a python slowly constricting its prey, these white-yogis were twisting and squeezing out all the mental and physical benefits they could get out of yoga. In contrast to the Indians, the Americans and Japanese yoga practitioners were the stars of the class and their dedication showed.
I tried yoga again some time in my late 20s, a time when most of us have to make major life decisions. To help myself through this period of life-altering commitments, I thought perhaps yoga could help. So, after I returned to India, I registered for a yoga class in the city. Early one morning I was ready with my enthusiasm: yoga mat, cotton towel and an empty bowel. But it seems my classmates were not. No sooner did we begin the asanas, the trumpeting began. There were way too many people losing control of their Muladhara. I thoroughly disliked the idea of wallowing in another person’s gaseous cosmos early in the morning. Once again, I quit.
It was not just the gaseousness but it’s neither encouraging nor inspiring when your class is full of people whose pants say yoga, but their buttocks say, “I love paneer tikka masala with butter naan.”
Now, I practice with a yoga teacher who teaches a new asana only after you have mastered the present one. It’s slow, but feels more potent. In yoga, the teacher or guru is important as it often becomes a life-long partnership. But the ease of obtaining a Teacher Training Certificate (TTC) has flooded India with fly-by-night yoga teachers who take gullible foreigners for a ride. And there are just as many foreigners, who with very little yoga experience, go back to their country and take a few of their countrymen for a yogic-ride.
Yoga has also become very cultish because it usually centres around a single guru whose influence can be vast with a following that can run into more than hundred thousand people. In large and influential yoga centres, very few dare to take on their gurus or trainers about incidents of sexual abuse.
This is because there is a rush to cash in on the new-found yoga craze, both in India, in the west and the east. And like in other sports, yoga too has its own magazines, mobile apps, TV channels, clothing brands, props and merchandise — it’s an industry now.
With more and more money to be made in yoga, it begins to feel less and less spiritual. This rush for yoga riches has also given rise to frivolous forms of yoga like beer yoga, pet yoga and nude yoga to name a few. Such a casual approach to the practice of yoga leaves it spiritually bereft.
But that said, we also have to accept the fact that yoga will evolve as it spreads globally. But for now, I will continue my twisted journey towards mental and physical health in the Mysuru style of yoga.
P.S.: While we thank our Prime Minister for bringing in Yoga Day, I couldn’t help but cringe at his recently posted fitness challenge video. Aren’t there more important issues a Prime Minister ought to address, issues that have turned this Nation upside down into Shirshasana (headstand). No wonder, many feel that the PM’s promises and words feel like it was all just Pawanmuktasana, the Wind Relieving Pose.