Each morning at 5, senior yoga therapy consultant Shri S Sridharan of Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, Chennai, an institute of yoga and yogic studies, spreads out his mauve yoga mat in the lush lawn within the complex, to begin his day with some specialised stretches of Viniyoga. The 65-year-old yoga master recalls how he has been able to maximise the benefits from each asana that he has, over the years, through trial and error, found to suit his anatomy the best. “In Viniyoga, one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. A guru has to work on a student’s body in a specialised way that suits his specific needs. For instance, if you came to me with sleep deprivation, I would give you very focused asanas that will help in exercising only those parts of your body that need to be stretched in order to cure you,” says Sridharan.
Yoga is perhaps the most significant of ancient Indian wellness techniques that have been exported to the West. Derived from the Sanskrit word yuj, yoga attempts to achieve union of the individual consciousness with the Universal Consciousness. The 5,000-year-old practice is not just a physical exercise that involves complex and convoluted poses and breath control, but a spiritual and physical way of life that combines philosophy, devotion, action, and mind control. Raja Yoga, the philosophy behind ultimate mind and body control to achieve perfect balance, is the practice of yoga asana. Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly a few months ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi argued for yoga to become a universal practice, leading the UN to declared June 21 as International Yoga Day. Students, teachers, soldiers and diplomats will reportedly go under the mat for 30 minutes on this June 21 to help Modi send a message for the same.
Yoga has evolved to a bespoke form that has reinvented itself to go beyond conventional practices. Retaining its traditional roots, it’s now opened itself to contemporary improvisations, moving beyond discovering peace in standard postures like the mountain, the warrior, the bridge, the cobra and others to more nuanced, specialised and enhanced experiences. New age yoga has adapted to the needs of modern lifestyle changes, and also absorbed other Oriental health practices. Ascension-alignment-based Ascension Yoga, Anti-Gravity Yoga and Aerial Yoga; Ananda Yoga, an offshoot of Hatha Yoga established by Kriyananda based on Paramahansa Yogananda’s Kriya Yoga teachings that stress inner awareness, energy control and spiritual awareness; Laya Yoga, a kundalini-based technique that ideally aims at achieving samadhi or nirvana through the process of laya; Integral Yoga that was stipulated by Sri Aurobindo which doesn’t involve any asanas but is aimed at awakening the supermind; Ishta Yoga that includes Hatha Yoga, tantra and Ayurveda; Jivamukti Yoga based on universal compassion, which merges vigorous Hatha Yoga and Vinyasa-based asanas; Kali Ray Triyoga founded by yoga guru Kali Ray, a Hatha Yoga method which emphasises on asana, pranayam and mudra, developed on the lines of Triyoga, which is guided by kundalini-inspired Kriyavati Siddhi; Kripalu Yoga that stresses meditation and breathing techniques; Power Yoga, which is modelled on the Ashtanga Yoga and dismissed as ‘gym yoga’ and extremely popular in the US as a vigorous fitness-based regimen; Restorative Yoga, which uses props like blocks, bolsters and blankets to ease excess strain and can hold asana poses for a longer time; Sivananda Yoga, a form of Hatha Yoga founded by Swami Sivananda and emphasises on health and wellness; Viniyoga, an adaptive need-based technique created by Krishnamacharya, the teacher of K S Iyengar; Vinyasa Yoga that focuses on breath-based asanas; White Lotus Yoga that aims to hold every individual to achieve full physical and spiritual potential and Yin Yoga that is derived from martial art and Taoist teachings and is a slow-paced form designed to improve the flow of qui, which in Chinese medicine means the life force, are some of the reconceived forms of traditional yogas.
Suspended from a pink, silk rope that can take up to 300 kg of weight, Delhi-based fitness trainer Kiran Sawhney effortlessly does a couple of slow somersaults. “If you watch me closely, you’ll notice how Aerial Yoga wonderfully works on my entire upper body. It stretches the spine perfectly and boosts blood circulation. Since some of the asanas are done in anti-gravity mode, with little or no floor support, it uses the muscles of the body in a way that other forms may not,” says she. Aerial Yoga combines traditional yoga poses with aerial art, pilates and dance. This form is meant to increase physical flexibility and strength, and perfect deep breathing which has a calming effect on the mind. In Canada, Germany, the UK, Italy, Hong Kong, Switzerland, China, the US and also India, anti-gravity yoga has become an alternative total-body workout. Says Kiran: “People want change. Traditional yoga is great because it forms the core of all other kinds of yoga, but it can be quite monotonous. In Aerial Yoga, for instance, you’re hanging up there, only using the support of your body, feeling as though you’ve taken flight. It’s accelerating and gives you an instant rush that conventional yoga may not.” Innovating further on the form, Goa-based Chakra Aerial Yoga founder Devi Kaur, an expert of Ashtanga Yoga, Aircat Aerial Yoga and Kundalini Yoga, has created Lotus Yoga and Chakra Aerial Yoga as well.
A similar kind of adrenaline rush like in Aerial Yoga is felt by Sahiba Singh and Aashta Gulati, founders of Nivesaa wellness studio, the only place which offers Aerial Yoga in Bengaluru. “Not everyone can do a headstand, an asana that’s very beneficial since it dispatches nutrients and oxygen to other parts of your body. In Aerial Yoga, it’s extremely easy to turn yourself upside down. In traditional yoga, your spine gets compressed, but in Aerial Yoga, it is lengthened,” says Sahiba. “It strengthens your core muscles really well,” says Aashta.
But not all traditonalists approve of the growth of successful yoga offshoots, many of them, which were invented by Western yoga masters. When Power Yoga gained popularity a few years ago, instructor Sunil Bhalla at Three Graces in Delhi’s Vasant Vihar wasn’t particularly happy. He is a purist who believes that for the most part, yoga should be promoted in its original form. However, with the increasing demand for improvisation by the new young yoga student who has become aware of other techniques, he had to make room for new interpretations. “Over the past so many years, the Indian fitness industry has been tremendously influenced by Western practices, but we shouldn’t forget that many of these exercises such as pilates are derived from yoga. Yoga is a discipline that’s been practiced for generations but in recent times, it’s being marketed under new names,” he says.
Beena, a Chennai-based yoga teacher who started her yoga school Swaasthaman Yogalaya six years ago, feels that different teachers offer different postures and the effectiveness depends on the quality of the teacher and the student. “Every teacher puts together postures based on their audience and how they respond. In a way, all kinds of yoga are the same, but the only difference is in the way they are packaged. Power Yoga, for instance, has found many takers as yoga practitioners feel that it is great for losing weight. At the same time, it is also meant for those who have agile bodies,” she says.
Witnessing the subtle changes in the art of yoga is US-based purist Rahul Bansal, who has over 30 years experience and recently co-produced a documentary titled, Yoga-An Ancient Vision of Life. “People prefer vigorous physical forms of exercise, and yoga in its very essence is gentle and slow. To make it appealing to a wider audience, new forms of yoga were born,” says Bansal, who finds that Integral Yoga and Jivamukti Yoga have a ring of wholeness in them. “Integral Yoga is a style developed by Swami Satchidananda Saraswati, and the focus is not only on physical asanas, but also on the study of yoga philosophy and spiritual aspects,” he says, adding, “Jivamukti Yoga was developed by Sharon Gannon and David Life in New York. It focuses on Patanjali Yoga Sutra that states that one’s daily routine should lead to sthiram sukham (harmony within the physical body), and compassion for living beings.”
Yoga does not necessarily mean doing convoluted poses on a mat in the park. At the School of Shanti, Chennai, wellness guru Devendran focuses on a kind of yoga abhyasa called Rapid Yoga, especially designed for people who don’t have time on their hands to visit a centre and take classes. “It’s an ankle-to-neck regime that can be done without moving from your chair. Rapid Yoga is much sought-after by corporates,” says Devendran.
In order to achieve various desired paths within yoga, such as bhakti, karma, gyana and others, Raja Yoga is the one which is about controlling and transcending the mind for liberation. “It uses the body as a medium to achieve this. Body-based practices are given greater importance in this form. However, the interpretation of the text (yoga sutras or Hatha Yoga Pradipika) varies from teacher to teacher and, therefore, the asana practice would also differ,” says wellness consultant and researcher Nuthan Manohar.
For those whose health goals are well defined know exactly what exercise regimen to pick. Gyms, wellness centres and fitness groups all cater to specialised needs. When Delhi-based Zubin Atré, the founder of Atré Yoga, got married a few weeks ago, he decided to do a pre-wedding photo shoot with a difference. He and his wife were photographed doing some of their favourite Partner Yoga asanas. “Partner Yoga is the most beautiful kind of routine. It connects two people at all five layers of human consciousness—annamaya kosha (physical), pranamaya kosha (breath), manomaya kosha (mind), vijnanamaya kosha (intellect) and anandamaya kosha (wisdom and bliss),” says Atré, who gives classes in Partner Yoga and another unusual kind—Sitar Yoga. “Music creates timelessness. Meditation does the same thing. Each sitar note brings out a different kind of emotion in the practitioners,” he says softly, sitting at the centre of a circle of eight students, all lost in a trance. Upon Atré’s instructions, they open their eyes and do different yogic movements.
The inspiration for a specific form of yoga doesn’t necessarily have to come from studying a single discipline. Divya Srinivasan, 30, a self-taught yoga expert and tarot card reader from Chennai, has been teaching yoga for 12 years. She draws inspiration for Kripalu Yoga from different styles of yogas such as Restorative, Hatha and Ashtanga. “Getting into shape or healing your back are popular demands, but yoga connects at a much deeper level. It’s also about harnessing the power of the mind,” says Divya, who believes that body-mind consciousness is brought about perfectly through Kripalu Yoga, and Power Yoga works wonders for detoxification, increasing metabolic activity and strengthening muscles.
Because the foundation of all modern-day yoga practices is based on ancient Hindu tradition, the results of each form are more or less the same. Some have been modified to suit the requirements of the instant gratification generation while others have been improvised for non-Hindu practitioners as well. The final goal is the same—samadhi, the advanced state of well-being in which self-importance is reduced to a minimum and self-realisation is the maximum aim. Says Vikram Singh Rajawat, an exponent of Sivananda Yoga: “Each kind of yoga emphasises on balance, which is what makes yoga powerful. In Sivananda Yoga, for instance, we follow a structure of 12 basic asanas that work up your endocrine, glandular and lymphatic systems. Once these are done, your overall body functions perfectly. But at the end of the day, all forms of yoga are of just one type.” With the evolution of the medium itself, health horizons are expanding to meet the mental and physical health demands of the modern world.
With Debjani Dutta, Sudeep Swaroop, Maegan Dobson Sippy, Yacoob Mohammed and Suhas Yellapantula
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