What is it about Westerners and Yoga? Why do they see the benefits of the practice and we don’t? Why is yoga widely recognized, respected and practiced in countries other than the country that it originated?
How many of us have signed up for yoga lessons outside of school? Some of us were forced to learn it as part of the curriculum. I remember being disgusted with my yoga teacher when he demonstrated jalaneti – how he could clean his nostrils using water. The only other recollection of my school days yoga classes is that the girls were asked to carry pyjamas for yoga and those of us who forgot (maybe just I) were not allowed to be part of the class. So I developed an inherent dislike for the practice.
Even as an adult, I have signed up for kick boxing classes, salsa, swimming and fitness coaching but never yoga. Apart from my childhood trauma, (of being left standing outside the class when everyone else was in Bhujangasana), it was not an option that was available in gyms nor were there any Yoga studios. (Now I know of a studio that my friend Karthi Sekar owns) There were freelance yoga teachers, who offered to come home to teach. But those classes felt different. There was no one other but you in the class, so the teacher’s attention was only on you, no relaxing yoga music in the background to help you imagine yourself as a yogi, so you only heard your own staggered breathing, no education on what part of your body you were working out, so you just imagined that the part that was hurting the most was getting the benefit. If you are a beginner they don’t challenge you with asanas but build your flexibility. By the time your flexibility improves, your interest levels wane.
Briefly though, a group of ladies in the apartment I lived in hired a master to teach yoga.The young bachelor, God bless his good intentions, was overwhelmed by the sheer presence of six middle aged ladies in varying degrees of obesity, that he barely could speak up.
The yoga I learnt to practice under his guidance was fast (only repetitive suryanamaskarams ) without any form correction. No one asked you if you had any issues with your back or ankle, you just did what the master showed he could do. He did not describe what he wanted us to do with our arms, legs, neck or back. We changed to the countdown of the numbers. We had classes in the open terrace at 530 in the mornings. Soon it was December and a few of them could not handle the ‘cold’ in Chennai, so they quit until I was the only one left.
When I moved to Singapore three years back, I found yoga studios at every other mall. I stumbled upon more yoga mats in the first month of my move here than I have seen in my entire life. Not someone who gave up easily, I was determined to give it another shot. I signed up with a professional yoga studio which had several branches across Singapore. All the gurus here were Caucasians. These men and women, most of them Europeans, were trained to teach not just the practice of Yoga but the theory too. I was thrilled. They could tell you the science behind every move and make you experience what should happen when you perform the asana. At the end of each class, they would grab a book written by one of the proponents of the practice, and read aloud a chapter while you lay in shavasana. The only time I felt odd was being the only Indian participant in the class. Every time the guru would ask us to fold our palms at the heart centre and say Namaste and thank us for practicing with her, I felt her eyes hold mine for longer than it was necessary. I would visibly cringe. Why were we so indifferent about the practice when the other half of the world seems to have embraced it with their souls?
To be continued…