Bengaluru witnesses changing face of yoga from traditional to modern
By Sana Husain| 5 Febuary, 2016
It is 7:30pm on the third floor of Sobha Lakeview Club House in Bengaluru. A woman enters the Traditional Yoga Studio. Green, blue and orange yoga mats checker the shiny wooden floor in the studio. Ladies wearing black lycra-stretch yoga pants and plain tees roll out their mats.
Minutes later and well into her yoga session, the woman’s feet slide down the wall, head bends down and hands balance her body, her body shakes and the legs touch the floor again, upon achieving the head stand.
“Let’s recite the prayer, ‘Astoma satgamya’,” says the yoga trainer and closes his eyes — ancient words in the most modern of settings.
From its birth as a spiritual practice in India around 3000 BC, the traditional form of yoga was handed down from one generation of yogis to the next over millennia. Then the West picked it up in the 20th century and eventually sent it back home as a more expensive and fashionable hobby with accompanying clothes and accessories. When globalization changed the face of India, such amendments were inevitable. The modern approach is attached with new prefixes: “modern” yoga, “power” yoga, “aqua” yoga and, interestingly, “hot” yoga – yet a far cry from yoga’s birth interpreted in the Vedas.
The Traditional Yoga
Dharmendra Soni, the yoga teacher at Traditional Yoga Studio, has been practicing yoga for 15 years and teaching for the past seven.
At the age of 12, he learnt it from his yogi grandfather. Later, he studied for three years at Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana Yoga University in Bangalore. “The senses want to indulge and enjoy, irrespective of traditional and modern techniques,” he said. “The westerners took up one style of yoga practice. When they focus on something, Indians focus on them. That’s how they gave culture to India.
“People innovate to enjoy, where the basic practice takes a backseat and the new thing grabs the entire attention. A person who wants to really practice, for him or her, the brand or colour of clothes doesn’t matter.”
Traditional practitioners say the meditation ritual contains the essence of yoga- an “immortal cultural outcome” of Indus Saraswati Valley civilization. Basic humane values form the very identity of yoga sadhana, “a tool for one’s wellbeing”.
Legend holds that on the banks of a Himalayan lake, Lord Shiva poured his profound knowledge into the “seven sages.” The sages carried this powerful yogic science to different parts of the world, including Asia, the Middle East, Northern Africa and South America. Although close parallels have been found between ancient cultures across the globe, it was in India that the yogic system found its fullest expression, states the research.
The fundamentals of yoga sadhana include yoga’s functions on one’s body, mind, emotion and energy.
Yoga improves lifestyle
The blossoming of yoga’s popularity and its westernized return home to India has been both a blessing and a curse, longtime practitioners say.
Soni cited a particular problem in inexperienced teachers who have completed a one-month course but can’t even define yoga. They establish their websites and host clinics and adapt a different teaching methodology, he said, but don’t necessarily adhere to yoga’s traditional principles.
Soni’s wife, Taruna, who’s also a yoga teacher, explained that there’s a controversy between modern science and traditional yoga’s way, where the latter lacks a practical approach.
Regardless of that, the students are lured by the appeal of evolved yoga practice, without really understanding its significance and context.
“The craze of yoga has gotten me here,” said Shawaz, who has been practicing for a month at Traditional Yoga Studio. She said she finds the traditional technique “meaningful,” as it involves the concept of prayer.
“It helps me gain control over day-to-day activities and experience flexibility,” Shawaz explained. “There’s improvement in attitude, interaction with people, in complexion, body posture and lifestyle altogether.”
She said she used to take pain killers every day for knee and leg pain after coming home from office. Now, after continuous yoga practice, she said she’s immune to cold or fever, and “forget any pain”.
Pooja Bhattacharyya said she was a hardcore gym freak for 12 years and didn’t believe in yoga. “Now, I believe there’s no need to go to gym,” she said. “Though traditional is tough to follow, Dharmendra makes it very simple to understand and gives it a modern twist too.”
She added that she isn’t impressed by modern techniques as they become as rigorous as a gym workout.
“Yoga looks slow, but can burn calories. Now, I’m not afraid of eating,” said Pooja, who is not immune to the stylishness of modernized yoga and said she finds Nike yoga wear worth paying more for, in comparison to the cheaper contemporary brands, such as Urban Yoga.
Yoga is not just for spiritual seeker
R. Rajesh, the Professor of Sociology at Bangalore University, said that India is paying a heavy price for its own yoga: “Despite having an indigenous system, we have allowed people to loot our culture.”
He added that modern science is swaying everyone to its tunes. The modern yoga techniques have always been there, but weren’t brought to the limelight, because of ignorance. So, the new media is taking advantage of it, by trading in fashionable wear for yoga sessions.
In the divine land of religions, Indians don’t necessarily prefer the spiritual rigors of traditional yoga practice.
“Everyone doesn’t want spirituality. People perform asanas for getting a beautiful body. Their aim is to get rid of stress,” said Swami Krishnananda, who has been practicing for 24 years and teaches 20 students at Surya Jyothi Yoga Vedanta Center in Kormangala. Previously a businessman in Gujarat for more than 10 years, he decided to attend a yoga teacher training course and stayed with his mentor, Swami Shivananda, in Kerala for 15 years.
Now, he charges each student Rs. 1,500 per month for his one-hour classes: “When cost of the classes is more, people want to go there,” he said.
Despite this concession to the modern – and westernized – way of thinking about yoga, he said his approach remains traditional, starting with a belief that “when five elements of the Earth are imbalanced within you, then yoga becomes essential for us. Medicine only works on the physical body, whereas yoga provides the perfect solution for all problems.
“In the west, yoga industry is a business. Some people consider yoga fashionable and it’s their choice. I can’t change their mind. But, practicing in air-conditioned rooms is not real yoga. What’s real is the union with supreme self, through advanced meditation. Only in a human body does one acquire knowledge about God, through meditation.”
Citing his guru’s teachings, Krishnananda said that the highest form of yoga is about service, love, giving, compassion, meditation and bearing injury and insult while overcoming the six enemies of lust, anger, greed, hatred, jealousy and egoism.
However, he added that in Kormangala, people are only making money in the name of traditional yoga.
Yoga in studios
Uma Subramanyam, a co-founder of A1000 Yoga Studio in Kormangala, has taken a more contemporary approach to yoga.
“My husband and I wanted to give a new face to yoga, by packaging it in the modern style, just like Zumba was introduced, with the Bollywood touch to it,” she explained.
Yoga studios such as Nivesaa, in Indiranagar and Ashmayu in JP Nagar have the aerial yoga practice established there.
Namita Sanghvi, a yoga trainer there said, “A1000 yoga studio caters to the modern needs, yet is rooted in the traditional form.
“Yoga is in vogue. In ancient times, people were healthy. Then, the priority was to control the mind. Now, since the body movement is limited, it’s difficult to control the mind at first. Hence, we focus on body first and later the mind.”
So, what began as a method of spiritual cleansing has been amended and altered on its way back to India. Still, the men in shorts and the women in their stretchy black pants enter the yoga studio on a Thursday night, unfurl their purple and green and yellow mats, sit with their legs crossed, then breathe in and breathe out.
The story was originally published in The Beat magazine.