They might be from different countries and certainly have different personalities but once they step on the mat, there is something that unites them all — yoga. In synchronised, slow moves, the group of 60 uplift their minds and bodies, forgetting that they hail from 22 different countries. They are the participants in the Yoga Ambassador Tour.
The programme, organised by the Association of Tourism Trade Organisations, India (ATTOI), Ministry of Ayush and Kerala Tourism, aims to promote yoga-centric tourism and the participants include enthusiasts, instructors, researchers and disciples of yoga, in addition to tour operators and writers from around the world. For seven days, they would be touring various parts of Kerala including Thiruvananthapuram, Kovalam, Thekkady, Munnar, Kochi and more. Kochi Times chats them up to learn more about their tryst with yoga, how the discipline is faring internationally, its various forms and more:
TOURING THE STATE
The ambassadors were picked by inviting applications from all over the world and later selecting the suitable profiles, says ATTOI joint secretary Janeesh Jaleel, who is with the group during their trip. He says, “The tour agenda of the ambassadors includes practising the Ayush Ministry’s common yoga protocol (a series of simple asanas that can be easily followed by practitioners of all age-groups), interacting with yoga enthusiasts from across the State and visiting several yoga hubs and natural beauty spots.”
Dr Arun Thejaus, who conducts yoga sessions for the ambassadors on the move, says that they are keen to learn more about the scientific aspects behind the practices from everywhere that they go. “From sharing the feedback on how practising yoga feels different while on beaches, hill stations and mountains, to learning the yogic way of eating and life, they are exploring a lot more than what they already knew. Some of them thought of yoga more as an exercise,” he says, adding that next time onwards, more scientific sessions could also be included in the programme.
THE INTERNATIONAL PERCEPTION OF YOGA
The various participants have their own reasons to get introduced to yoga, which shows that with time, its perception is getting clearer around the world. Bchini Nihel, a yoga instructor from Tunisia, says, “I suffered from immense back pain a few years ago and in search of a cure, I found yoga. I was so amazed by the therapy that I decided to pursue it full time as an instructor, since 2012.”
When she started out, she only had two people to train with her. “Over years, the numbers have grown tremendously and that alone is proof for me how it is growing in my country,” says Bchini. She also wishes to do what she can to spread it on a global scale. “This is my fifth visit to India and first time in Kerala. Wherever I go, I have felt that like music, the language of yoga is universal,” she says, opining that the celebration of International Yoga Day is popularising it further. “The day helps bust myths like it has religion-centric teaching methodologies,” she says.
While it’s an ailment that led Nihel to yoga, Russian Konstantin Kutarov, who is based in Australia, found it by accident. “Many years ago when I lived in Moscow, I met a yoga teacher who inspired me to take it up. Following the training, I also came to India and spent almost a year here. I studied from different teachers, went back to Australia, did a yoga teacher’s course and since 2011, started teaching it.” He says that in Australia too, yoga is catching up like never before. “The focus there is still on the physical benefits, but I guess more people are also discovering the other sides of yoga too.”
It’s the first trip to India for Craig Hanauer from New York. However, yoga has been part of his life for years together and he says in the US, it’s been implemented at a large scale in education too. “I studied to be a psychotherapist and have worked with children and families for many years. Currently, I am also trying to use yoga to help children with special needs as well,” he says.
THE RESPONSES TO TRENDING YOGA STYLES
Currently there are a variety of new styles in the discipline, such as buti yoga, stand-up paddleboard yoga aka SUP yoga, weed yoga, broga, aerial yoga to name a few. How do these yogis look at these forms that probably spice things up a lot more than the traditional variety?
Paulina Kulikowska from Poland believes that they all lead to the same thing. “Just as how we know that the traditional kundalini or hatha yoga is not for everyone, as we all have different issues to deal with, these emerging forms can’t be completely judged as positive or negative,” she opines. Similarly, Craig says, “In certain ways, it’s even wonderful as it allows people to be authentic. The yoga forms they create reflect who they are and how it’s meaningful to them and if you can connect with it, why not?”
Nihel believes that at the same time, it is important to understand and promote the original form of the discipline. “Branding is fine, but you have to understand that yoga is a whole way of life, and retaining its purity is also important,” she says.
WHAT MORE NEEDS TO BE DONE?
According to the yogis, it’s important that yoga is made a part of the education system, so that the world benefits from it a lot more. Konstantin says, “Moreover, those who have experienced the benefits should open up about it, spread the world and share their experiences with people. It’s such small steps that can lead to a healthy change.”
Dr Arun says he interviewed many from the group and the important take away is how the people in other countries are generally keen to maintain fitness. “Whatever they learn, they take that and introduce it into their work places as well, which we too can do. This helps them depend a lot less on medicines. Here, the enthusiasm wanes out within a few days or months after the International Yoga Day and so, we should find ways to sustain the interest too. We should be a lot more aware about our physical health,” he concludes.
Courtesy: Deepa Soman, The Times of India