Over the past week, in the light of the International Yoga Day, a lot of words have been exchanged between prominent people on the subject of Yoga and whether yoga is inextricably linked to Hinduism or not. As a practitioner of Yoga, I felt that it is incumbent on people such as me, to defend this most glorious of gifts. Suffices to say, that I cannot stand by as random bigots are placated at the cost of Yoga, and though this might be a topic of political debate, for millions of practitioners across the world, Yoga is a very personal, deeply intimate experience. Through my write up, I will give a glimpse of why Yoga means the world to me!
Though as a kid I had seen my grandfather prolong his life, despite having numerous lifestyle diseases, it still took my husband’s initiation and a regular yoga routine, to pull me out of my ennui.
In the year 2009, my husband got initiated into a very powerful yogic meditative process called the Shambhavi Mahamudra, through the Isha Foundation. For the next 2 years, he practised the asana, meditation, every day without fail. Naturally, as a curious onlooker, I was intrigued endlessly. I assumed that his physical agility was in part owing to his yogic practice. Almost immediately, I asked him to teach me the practice. He got me enrolled in a program, instead.
In July 2011, I joined the Inner Engineering event taking place at Palace Grounds, Bangalore with 2000 other people. I had never been to such a large-scale yoga event in my life. I was interested, to say the least. Little did I know then, that the 2.5-day event would be so life-altering for me.
During the course of the programme, Sadhguru joked, guided and gave us a new perspective on life. On the last evening, he initiated us into the practice. Most people had a truly unbelievable experience for the first time during initiation. They either broke down and sobbed uncontrollably or were laughing hysterically, for no apparent rhyme or reason. No one was left untouched. We disbanded with an instruction to continue doing the practice for the next 40 days, twice daily with some dos and don’ts.
I do not know how many people practised diligently, but I did.
The first thing that I noticed was the enhanced sensitivity to sounds: the smallest of noises would startle me during my practice. The next step that I realized, was that my stamina increased. As a working woman, I would invariably return from work, bone-weary, cook dinner and then crash unceremoniously into bed by 10 pm. Post-Shambhavi the days somehow seemed longer and the evenings not so tiring.
Over the next few years as I continued practising the asana, my perspective about life, people, the universe underwent a sea of change. My interest in reacting to every little irritant decreased. It was almost as though I had discovered an ocean of calmness inside me, and most things that happened to the world around me had absolutely no lasting impact on this sense of peace. Its been 7 years now, since I have been practising and that sense of deep peace and connection has only strengthened.
In the meantime, my husband decided to pursue further studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA, so I shifted base from Bangalore to Boston. We both continued with our Yoga practice. One of the days, on my way back from the grocery store, I bumped into my next-door neighbour, an American surgeon, interning at Massachusetts General Hospital. She inquired if we practised Yoga. She had heard chants emanating from our apartment. She turned out to be a fellow practitioner, interested in yogic practices and the benefits therein. Then during one of the introductory sessions with his classmates, my husband made friends with a young man from Sweden who was intrigued by Yoga. A few months later another one of his batch-mates from India, associated with Isha Yoga centre, organized an event and invited Sadhguru for a lecture, which I had the good fortune to attend. My fellow attendees, in that session, were from various parts of the world, including some of my husband’s batch-mates from Sweden, France and Japan. Another of his Bulgarian friends, who I met over the next few months, was into Yoga. The cat sitter that I hired and interacted with, a Chinese woman from Hong Kong, was a Yoga practitioner and follower of Ganesha. Complete strangers from completely unknown corners of the world became our friends, came to our house, stayed over because of Yoga. We were joined together in the brotherhood of Yogis and Yoga followers.
Post his graduation, we returned to India for a few years, but we continued to be visited by our friends from all over the world. That Swedish friend of ours, incidentally, paid a visit to Isha Yoga centre and got initiated into the practice too. He regaled us with tales of a Mexican family who had travelled all the way to Isha foundation to get initiated, without speaking a word of English. Yoga was our common language, our bridge.
“Educated” people in India, however, continued to carry their slave mentality like a badge of honour, denigrating the practice and calling it a study in geriatrics.
I used to get extremely disturbed by these attacks on Yoga. It was almost as though someone had insulted my mother. I was disappointed with people back home until I ran into my cousin.
My cousin, an alumnus of Columbia University, gave up her Canadian citizenship to join the Munger School of Yoga, as a sanyasi. During one of our discussions, she gave me this simple, yet powerful thought that embodies the philosophy of Sanatan Dharm and Yoga. She told me that it is not in everyone’s destiny to receive and appreciate this powerful gift of Yoga. Some people are destined to waddle through life like a clueless animal, jumping from reactions to reactions. It is not our place in life to make these people realize, they must realize such existential gifts, on their own.
In the light of the frivolous discussion being done in media and political circles, on whether Yoga is Hindu practise or not, this thought becomes very, very potent, and I would like to round off by offering three pieces of advice:
- My advice to fellow Yogis – you know what yoga is to you. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You have discovered a miraculous gift, and you do not need the world’s validation to realize it.
- My advice to politicians pandering to the gallery – we can see through your attempts to please bigots, who in turn see Yoga as an encroachment on their absolutely medieval religion and religious turf. Their religion is medieval and denouncing Yoga is not going to change that. Yoga is the gift of Sanatan Dharma to the world, and anyone who kicks the gift horse in the mouth does not deserve it.
- My advice for people scared of Yoga – since yoga also includes the practice of breathing, I suggest you take a long, hard look at this yogic practice of breathing, and see if that can be given up too.