It's raining yoga gurus. There’s one in every nook and cranny.
“When one of the oldest yoga centres in the world – The Yoga Institute - started in 1998, there was a sense among yogis that their quest for spiritual bliss had no place in the business world,” remembers Hansaben Yogendra the current director whose father in law Jayadev Yogendra started the institute.
She was speaking to dna soon after a special World Yoga Day session with 100 senior police officers from 11 am to 1 pm. “This class was part of the global plan of similar classes in local time in each time zone, leading to a world-wide 24-hour yoga marathon.”
Back in 1918, the teachers or yogis were far and few and they taught from their homes largely. “You weren’t a real yogi if you were trying to make money off it,” remarks Yogendra. “But now its become a business. Mumbai itself has over 200 schools.”
Today world-over several schools and styles have led to a mushrooming of Iyengar, Bikram, Anusara, Ashtanga, Laughter Yoga and Kathak Yoga classes. There are classes and schools geared toward the strictest aspirants of mind-body bliss, for the neophytes experimenting with ashtanga and kundalini styles, and for fitness junkies simply after a sublime “yoga butt.” Hybrids, such as Spynga (yoga/cycling), Yogalates (yoga/pilates) and Yoganetics (yoga/kinetics), and other variations (naked yoga, anyone?) are now widely offered.
But while the industry has taken on a something-for-everyone mindset, some like yoga teacher for nearly two decades, Nilufer Patel say yoga’s rapid expansion has diluted its foundational core: to achieve serenity in our bodies and minds, shut off from the burdens of daily life. The 55-year-old who is known to be strict with her regimen and has had several celebrity clients says she refuses admission to more than she admits. “Yoga is not for people who come saying they want to fit into a particular dress or lose weight,” she points out. “The weight loss will happen as a by-product but you can’t come looking for that as a goal.” While appreciating how fitness conscious people are becoming, she underlines, “Yoga is not excercise. It has ahimsa, satya all tied into it.”
Echoing her Tama Soble, co-owner of Esther Myers Yoga Studio, which opened in Toronto in 1979 says, “Hybrids like yoga-pilates might be interesting as a physical discipline, but if not focused on the concept of body and mind integration, I don’t think its yoga.”
What was once the mysterious practice of new age spiritualists and countercultural hipsters, yoga has moved out of the ashram and into the mainstream. Superstar gurus and high-profile celebrity practitioners have helped transform the 5,000-year-old Indian philosophy into a multi-million-dollar, transnational industry, which the Yoga Journal magazine says is worth US $ 42 billion worldwide. This not only includes fees, but also includes yoga-gear like mats and outfits. For example, Lululemon, a Vancouver-based yoga-apparel brand, earns more than $1 billion worldwide annually.
Though some lament the fact that yoga has become more a sport than practice, others say yoga – in any form – still benefits the practitioner, and helps open one to its original aims: heightened awareness, focus, oneness with the outside world.
For example a 2010 University of Utah study on benefits of yoga found measurable benefits of yoga and meditation. “Yoga, including meditation, appears to have profound effects on the nervous system, likely by affecting the body’s stress response via the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathetic (flight-or-flight) nervous system. Meditation has been shown to increase cortical gray matter density in people who learn to practice, and to reduce activity in certain areas of the brain, most notably those related to stress, to mind-wandering, and to self-centric inward chatter (the “monkey mind”). And yoga, even separate from meditation, helps improve symptoms of psychiatric disorders like depression, anxiety, sleep disorders and even schizophrenia.”
Given the extent of benefits how could Bollywood stay away from it for long. Many like Shilpa Shetty, Bipasha Basu, Kareena Kapoor, Kangna Ranaut, Rekha, Hema Malini, Raima Sen, Neha Dhupia, Nandana Sen and Sameera Reddy are known yoga practitioners.
So whichever way way you slice it, yoga is fast growing and not likely to slow down. Is that a good thing for our collective consciousness. We hope it is...