Bollywood actress Rekha, whose eternal beauty is praised by the world, had once been criticised for being ugly. But she transformed from an ugly duckling into a swan. Was it plastic surgery? It wasn’t, yet Rekha managed to look beautiful. How? The answer is yoga.
Another Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty has always looked beautiful and glamorous. She does yoga every day and has even produced exercise videos on yoga. Other Bollywood actresses who practice yoga regularly are Twinkle Khanna, Lara Dutta and Malaika Arora, among others.
Osho disciple Bodhisattva Swami Aananda Arun believes that yoga was initially designed to calm human minds. In the recent decades, the popularity of yoga has soared across the globe. According to Arun, the business of yoga is at around $80 billion and spreading widely. Seeing the popularity of yoga, on December 11, 2014, the United Nations endorsed the proposal to celebrate June 21 as International Yoga Day.
Yetiraj Bhattarai, Associate Professor and President of Yoga Department at Valmeeki Vidyapeeth, said, “Yoga started with the origin of the world. Lord Shiva is known as the originator of yoga.”
Sharing a story mentioned in Hindu scripture Shiva Samita, Bhattarai explained, “Once Shiva was telling a story about yoga to his wife Parbati, but she was feeling sleepy. So, while Shiva was sharing the story, she was uttering the words ‘hu hu’ in her half-asleep state and Shiva thought she was listening to him. Then a parrot, that had been listening to Shiva, started doing ‘hu hu’ pretending to be Parbati, and listened to the entire story on benefits of yoga. When Shiva opened his eyes, he saw that Parbati was asleep. Shiva was furious thinking someone had made a fool out of him by pretending to be Parbati. Scared of Shiva’s anger, the parrot flew away and entered a fish’s mouth. When the fish opened its mouth, out came a boy who became Machhindranath, and promoted the benefits of yoga.”
And it is also mentioned in Shiva Samita that Guru Gorakhnath, the disciple of Machhindranath promoted yoga that he had learnt from Machhindranath, Bhattarai added.
The term ‘yoga’ was first mentioned in Rigveda, which talks about Mantra Yoga, according to Yogacharya of Valmeeki Vidyapeeth Mahesh Parajuli. “Mantra Yoga is one among four types of yoga that is most widely practised. Hatha Yoga, Raj Yoga and Gyan Yoga are three other types,” he shared.
Though believed to have its origin in the East, Yoga has now become popular across the world. Arun believes “it could be because many saints have been visiting the countries in the West to promote yoga since ancient times”.
Paramhansa Yogananda, a yoga teacher, was one of them, as per Arun. “He went to the United States to promote yoga as suggested by his guru Yukteswar.”
In recent times, Baba Ramdev has increased the popularity of yoga through television programmes along with conducting yoga workshops in various countries, including Nepal. Ramdev set up yoga institute Patanjali YogPeeth in 2006 in India, and has been expanding it to different countries since then. Along with providing practical knowledge on yoga, the YogPeeth sells herbal products.
The credit for popularising yoga also goes to celebrities — along with Bollywood stars, Hollywood celebrities have adopted yoga in their lifestyle, making it trendy.
Jennifer Aniston, for instance, got into shape for her 2012 film Wanderlust, with a combination of yoga and other workouts. A year later, prepping for her nuptials with Justin Theroux, Aniston credited yoga for keeping her in check.
Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen posts many of her yoga poses on Instagram.
Everybody knows Madonna as a yogi. A few years ago the Queen of Pop was caught practising yoga in the aisle of an airplane.
Yoga has become extremely popular not only with the celebrities but with common people as well. Some even say that they became interested in yoga only because those in the West became interested in it.
However, Bhattarai disagreed saying, “Yoga was adopted in our lifestyle from ancient times and we are still following it. For instance take Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) posture. Along with being a form of yoga posture, it is an integral part of Hindu culture. Every morning Hindu people do Surya Namaskar on an empty stomach. It is a way to express thanks to powerful Sun God by raising hands joined together.”
Yoga has become popular in Kathmandu as well. Every morning one can see numerous people practising yoga in places like Tundikhel and Mahipi, while television channels also teach the asanas by broadcasting yoga performances by yoga practitioners. In some places, yoga instructors teach yoga for free. Then there are centres and institutes that teach yoga for a fee.
In 2001 Valmeeki Vidyapeeth adopted yoga as a course of study. Since then the college has been teaching Anatomy, Philosophy, Food and Nutrition and Yoga Philosophy. Anyone who has passed SLC exams can join a six-month course here.
Similarly, Patanjali YogPeeth Nepal, which teaches yoga, has branches in all 75 districts. There are private yoga institutes that give yoga classes across the country.
Yoga is a billion dollar business and with celebrities crediting yoga for their youthful looks and success, it is no wonder that it is so hugely popular. But the question remains — is yoga as beneficial as it is said to be?
Dipak Pathak, a resident of Tushal, has been practising yoga for six years now. He follows the video of Baba Ramdev, creator of Dynamic yoga. “Six years ago, I was very lazy and I had gained belly fat. To get rid of it, I started practising yoga by watching the video of Baba Ramdev. Now I’m fit and fine. And I have realised its benefits,” shared the middle-aged Pathak.
Ritesh Rimal, 44, from the US finds yoga beneficial. “I had sinusitis so, I couldn’t eat any milk products. But now after doing anulom vilom (a kind of breathing exercise in yoga) I can eat anything. It really works.”
Thirty-two year old Kalpana Bhandari from Chabahil joined yoga classes two years ago on suggestion of her friends. “Before, I felt weak and sick all the time. Though I looked okay, I didn’t have inner strength. When I joined yoga and started doing different asanas, I gradually started feeling healthy. Now I’m healthy and strong,” Bhandari claimed.
People have started to resort to yoga to cure illnesses, but as per Arun, “Yoga however was initially designed for healthy people, to calm their mind.”
But it is a materialistic life that we lead today and there are unlimited needs and desires, which ultimately tires us out. Cut-throat competition, egos, ambition give rise to restlessness, loneliness, low self-esteem and other negative traits. In such a time, yoga is not limited to healthy people — it is practised by all kinds of people to calm the mind, bring peace and diminish stress, according to Parajuli.
Hatha Yoga’s Pranayama, for instance, is believed to help calm the mind, as per yoga experts. In Pranayama, you practice the way you inhale and exhale, and this can help you manipulate your vital energy to successfully activate or soothe your mood.
It is said every coin has two sides. Though yoga has so many benefits, “if yoga postures are not followed correctly, it will bring side effects and hamper our body,” warned Parajuli.
He dismissed the argument that practising yoga could be disadvantageous or cause any side effects though. But people with certain problems like high blood pressure, neuron problems and diabetes may face problems if they attempt to do yoga like normal people. So, they should be careful while doing yoga.
“Kapalbhati Pranayama is very effective in weight loss,” revealed Parajuli. “In this method, one sits on the floor in padmasana and exhales and inhales deeply. It improves the function of lungs and respiratory system.”
But if you are a patient of high blood pressure, then the exhaling and inhaling should be done slowly (three exhalations per five seconds) as doing it fast can have health impacts, as per Parajuli.
“There is no such disadvantage in practising yoga, but if you do not following the instructions strictly, then it may affect you negatively,” he said.
Laxmi Maharjan, 49, from Naya Bazar practised yoga for some time three years ago. She had to wake up early in the morning, which she couldn’t and missed many classes. Thus, she did not continue her classes. “I didn’t get any benefit from joining yoga classes because I was not regular. But those doing it regularly are benefitting. So, I don’t think it has any disadvantage.”
Yoga is pure science where everyone — healthy or unhealthy — can benefit by doing it regularly but one has to practise correct postures.
A version of this article appears in print on July 16, 2016 of The Himalayan Times.