Cover Story: Yoga

The Power of Yoga

It can turn you into a human pretzel. But if you have the patience and gumption for it, yoga could change your life for the betteróboth physically and spiritually
By Rakesh K. Simha
After spending 10 hours every day on the corporate treadmill, Anil Sharma, a sales manager with a leading Delhi-based transnational corporation, would get dog-tired. Forget playing with his kids, Sharma didnít have the time or the energy to get some much-needed exercise. A stress-filled week had been par for him for the past decade. Last December, Sharma started getting his bodyís distress signals: acidity, exhaustion, the odd palpitation, and a depressing feel in his gut. With burnout staring him in the face, the 34-year-old Delhiite called in sick and retreated to a city spa for two weeks of yoga therapy. The cure worked and today Sharma does his daily quota of asanas and meditation. "You may have to twist your body into a pretzel, but yoga can make those stress level plunge without you having to spend a fortune on therapy," says Sharma, who now claims to be the office live wire.

To go from distress to de-stress, Indians are calling in the gurus, who take you through a path to enlightenment that winds back 5,000 years. Yoga has suddenly become so hot, so cool, so with it. Itís the exercise cum meditation for the new millennium, one that doesnít so much pump you up as bliss you out.

After getting though the maze of diet fads and aerobic routines, Indians have turned back to men with flowing beards and saffron robes to motivate themselves. Newspapers promote courses in breathing, meditation, yoga and stress relief aimed at the long-suffering manager. All over the country, temples and retreats have a new lease of life as the burnt-out foot soldiers of capitalism seek solace and succour.

It make you a fitter person, but the whole point of Yoga may be to check your ego at the door

As one might expect from a country rich in godliness, there is an apparently endless supply of folk offering enlightenment, from ascetics in remote desert ashrams to Mata Amritananda, a Keralite who has won a huge following merely by hugging people and promising "the bliss of nectar". The respectable market leader in spirituality has to be Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, a 49-year-old guru from Tamil Nadu. His movement, which brands itself "the Art of Living", runs corporate courses for multinational companies, charging more than Rs 1.25 lakh a head for top managers to join sessions for 20-25 participants.

Shankar has successfully tapped into a deep well of yearning among modern Indians. "Most of the people who are into spirituality are in the middle class," said a Delhi-based follower. "The very rich and the downtrodden are not into spirituality."


September 2005

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