Over the last decade, Yoga has re-entered Indian consciousness in an unprecedented manner. There are several pioneers who have helped drive this interest in yoga at the start of the millennium; of whom the most prominent are BKS Iyengar, Sri Sri Ravishankar, Baba Ramdev, Jaggi Vasudev and Bharat Thakur. Further, I have divided the Yogis into 3 categories depending on the focus that they bring to their Yoga teaching – and have chosen one to represent each of these.
1) Yogis popularizing the Health benefits of Yoga – BABA RAMDEV
Today in India everyone on the road knows or has heard what Kapalbhati kriya is! And that credit goes mostly to Baba Ramdev. As a tele-evangelist of Yoga; Ramdev is in a league of his own. His contribution through his Yoga shows on Aastha channel is immense. Ramdev is known for teaching simple Yoga asanas, while focussing on Pranayam and Kriyas. His calling card initially it seemed was his immaculate Nauli kriya – and his undulating stomach mesmerized Indians who had long-forgotten Yoga practices!
Over the years he has set up the Patanjali Yogapeeth in Haridwar through which he organizes mass Yoga sessions (up to 50,000 participants at times). He has also set up Ayurvedic stores across the country and people are benefitting from that. Last year Harvard University came forward with the setting up of a course in Yoga and Ayurveda and sought Baba’s counsel.
The last 2 years have also seen Ramdev engage actively in the call for social reform – primarily the anti-corruption movement. Whilst clearly stating that he has no interest in setting up a political party; he has sought to move the political establishment towards social reform. His reputation seems to have been affected slightly by this; but Ramdev is a crusader willing to go on Hunger strikes to pressurize the government towards activity.
2) Yogis using Yoga as a form of Fitness – BHARAT THAKUR
It could be argued that urban India woke up to Yoga as a form of fitness when they found out in 1999 that Madonna did Yoga! And the person who has played the biggest role in helping thousands of people in Indian metros with weight-loss through Yoga is Bharat Thakur. His Artistic Yoga is perhaps the biggest quantum leap in terms of innovations within the yoga taught in studios worldwide. The focus on Yoga as a complete form of fitness – and not just flexibility training has been eye-opening. Using Surya Namaskaar as cardio training, while also focussing on body part training through asana combined with exercise leads to a high-actane Yogic work-out! However, he also focusses on Pranayam, Bandhas & Kriyas more than most standard studio Yoga classes have ever done.
Bharat seamlessly combines the seemingly opposing roles of Yoga guru and Businessmen with the elan given to the rarest of rare. His vision was to take Yoga to the Youth of India – and in that regard he has definitely succeeded. He chose to inspire them by getting Bollywood stars to train in Yoga to look fit onscreen! And in the process he also married a Bollywood actress. He seems to have the business acumen to take Yoga from India to the West at a time when western Yoga teachers are readily breaking off their roots with India.
3) Yogis imparting Yoga as a Spiritual practice – SADGURU JAGGI VASUDEV
There are 2 standout Yogis who have been at the forefront of initiating Indians into Spiritual practice – both Masters who have been able to mobilize millions of people to seek a higher life. Sri Sri Ravishankar’s Art of Living is apparently the biggest NGO in the world and has done fantastic social work. Sadruru Jaggi Vasudev’s Isha Yoga has been a real tour de force in the last decade – inspiring people to make Spirituality a part of their daily lives. Urban folks have also taken to Isha Yoga’s ‘Inner Engineering’ program very well.
Jaggi Vasudev combines Ancient Indian wisdom with a lucid speaking style that has made him speak about what he calls ‘inclusive economics’ at the World Economic Forum from 2006-09. His Isha Yoga Center in Coimbatore is certainly one of the most dynamic modern Spiritual centers in the world and the Dhyanalinga installed there is well worth experiencing. Thanks to his efforts and easy connection with the youth; many Indians are wanting to reclaim their Ancient spiritual heritage!
Thanks to these fine men; we are experiencing a revival in yoga in its birthplace!