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Prof. Deepti Ganapathy

International Yoga Day: June 21 - Uniting cultures through Yoga

In a book titled “The Last Queen of Kashmir”, the protagonist faces her final exam after rigorous years of studying ancient scriptures and yoga. She is asked to observe the first ray of sunlight illuminating a dewdrop on a leaf and articulate her understanding of its significance. Her answer sends raptures of joy among her teachers. She is then proclaimed to have passed the final test to face all eventualities that life will bring to her as an Empress.

The practice of Yoga and meditation was thus, in ancient India, a part of the inner learning process to equip its practitioners with necessary life skills to face the harsh realities of life. The practitioners of Yoga would have barely imagined that Yoga would spread across the length and breadth of this planet and become the refuge to which millions would flock to escape the “stressful lives” of this century.

United Nations recognized Yoga as a form of intangible heritage and this year, on June 21, 2019 International Yoga Day will be observed in its fifth year world-wide. Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV, the Maharaja of Mysore, is credited to have revived Yoga, when he heard about the very talented yoga guru Krishnamacharya. The rulers of the Wadiyar dynasty, especially Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV promoted and supported Krishnamacharya to establish an independent yoga institution in 1933. Under his tutelage, some of the finest practitioners such as Indra Devi (who took Yoga to the west), B K S Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois studied in Mysuru and took Yoga to the global stage. The books written by them are good sources of authentic information on this practice and its benefits. 

For me, growing up in Mysuru- a culturally rich and historical city in southern India, my tryst with Yoga began at the age of 16. Later when I become a journalist, I interacted and wrote many articles about the heavy influx of students from across the world coming to learn Yoga from Pattabhi Jois, a disciple of the Krishnamacharya. “We have made the journey to Mysuru eleven times to practice with our Guru Pattabhi Jois, and on his passing, his son Sharath Jois. During the past six visits our children have also accompanied us. We feel that Mysuru is a second home. I am a researcher and own a Yoga school where we teach in the Guru Shishya tradition, sharing what we learnt from our Gurus ,” says Jean Byrne. I got his address from a textile shop in the city called Rashinkars. The shop resembles a Post office, with its neatly packaged parcels and addresses that depict the more than 150 countries to where these are being shipped. Every day, they dispatch 5-10 parcels containing Yoga merchandise to countries across the world.  The shop is more than 110 years old and when 20 years ago, Mysuru became a yoga hub, attracting tourists and yoga enthusiasts from every nook and corner of the world, Rashinkar’s business took a truly global turn.

Today he customizes the yoga mats that he produces at his weaving center with embroidered logos of the Yoga school names and ships the packages to every nook and corner. What costs him $13 for a mat, is probably sold for $45-50 eventually. Each parcel ships 20 mats. Apart from mats, he ships t-shirts, yoga pants and cotton bags to his clients.

It was a yoga student from Thailand who introduced him to the idea of exclusively creating mats for yoga students. She gave him the measurement and specific requirements. Since then, he started his own production facility, which specializes in unique colour patterns and weaves for these mats.

How did they discover his shop which is situated in the heart of the city, a stone’s throw away from the famous palace, but tucked away in a narrow dusty road in the old market area? He says these students came looking for clothes and they did a lot of research, came holding a small note book, compared prices in all the other textile shops in the vicinity, and started bargaining with the cloth merchants. Most of the cloth business works on bargaining skills, but in his shop, this was different bargaining was strictly not allowed. Foreign yoga students gradually were intrigued, that here was a shop no different from the hundreds of shops in this area, yet he did not seem eager to bring down his prices when he saw them. They soon discovered that his prices matched the quality of his merchandise and since then there has been no turning back.

“My love for yoga led me to India in 2010 where I spent a month intensively undertaking a Yoga Teacher Training course where I studied asana, pranayama, yoga nidra and chanting in addition to teaching methods and Indian philosophy. The following year I enrolled in in a  two year Hatha Vinyasa Teacher Training course. Yoga is now an essential part of my daily life, enabling me to be more connected to myself, others and the world around me,” says Belinda Hine.

I have been fortunate to learn yoga at the two epicenters in India where the two disciples of Krishnamacharya established their centers- one in Mysuru and the other in Pune. My teacher in Pune, Amar is a globe-trotter and conducts marathon sessions, often sleeping for a mere 2-3 hours at night. He shows us the yoga asana, that helps one who has hardly slept like him, to recharge and face the day energetically. Life does come a full circle. Now in California, the hotbed of Yoga, I take a week’s course at one of the Yoga studios. The heated 100 degree Fahrenheit ambience, the English versions of each asana, interspersed with the actual names and interlaced with Justin Beiber on the sound system do not distract me or the ardent students. The instructors take their practice seriously and diligently follow-up with precise instructions directing our attention to every core muscle and movement that is incorporated. Many of the instructors I interacted with bring their own perspective and methodology, most of them are aware of the “Westernization” of Yoga but are trying to make it much more accessible and affordable especially to those in need of it.

The spirit of Yoga is best exemplified through a simple technique the “mountain pose” or “Thadasana” and the inverted pose of “Shirshasana”-if you look at both they are essentially the same, the heart of the matter is to have a strong core, balance in mind and body and focus of the gaze-from within to without.

 

The writer is a visiting scholar at UC San Diego, a former award-winning journalist, who doesn’t think she is qualified to be called a ‘Yogi’

What Brands can learn from the Olympics

I am currently teaching a course on Public Relations in one of the country’s premiere B-schools and when a discussion about Brands creating narratives around events surfaced, the conversation veered towards Olympics and the way brands were “cashing in” on this once in a four year event in rather unique ways.

The debate sparked off in class when we discussed how a brand like Nike which sponsors a $450 million, 26 year-old program along with the US Track and Field in Portland were booed at Rio for not being open and honest about their views on doping (Reuters report), while brands like Omega and Visa were mining gold at such a major sporting event.

As India opened its treasure chest with a win from Sakshi and then from Sindhu, the discussion turned to how brands were using the trials and tribulations that these athletes endure to show their unstinted support. Yes, sportspersons struggle and go through tremendous hardship while they train. The media glare that comes with sports like Cricket does not get trained on these athletes and sportspersons from other events. The four years of hardwork that they endure between the Olympics is hardly publicized by the media or big brands. Only when they win accolades through their own sheer determination and hard work are they surrounded by the media and brands.

One of my students while making a presentation on a PR campaign adopted by Samsung got emotional during his talk when he said, “it’s hard to imagine how a woman from a country like Sudan can fight against all odds and make it to the Olympics.” He was describing the #Do what you can’t campaign that Samsung has created for the Olympics. A few other examples are of a brand celebrating the hardships of Ussain Bolt in the form of an animated video showing him from his growing up years. Another brand shows the athletes remembering their mother’s encouraging words, gestures and presence before the start of their match/game to celebrate the hardworking and silently inspiring mothers who are really the backbone of these sportspersons.

When I worked as full time journalist, I was often besieged with Press Releases from PR professionals and agencies that pushed for getting ‘earned media’ in the form of clever tactics and events. Rarely have I come across a PR professional who promoted a sportsperson other than a cricketer.

This changed a few years ago, when a fresh graduate from a prominent B-School and a former Olympian himself, decided to set up a Sports Management Company in the city of Bengaluru. At that time, I was looking for sportspersons to be featured in a fitness section on a weekly basis. While interacting with staff from this PR firm, I got to know about the difficulties they face to get sponsorship from corporates to encourage these athletes from various walks of life.

Brands today are unabashedly claiming that they sponsored a particular athlete when he/she comes into the media’s glare. However, they would have jumped onto the sponsorship bandwagon only after the particular sportsperson qualified for the Olympics.

Brands should look at ‘catching them young’ and be a part of the wins and losses of sportspersons in order to earn respect and credibility from their various stakeholders. A sportsperson works harder than most of us. I never knew this till I saw my brother an accomplished golfer put in 6 hours of practice even as he balanced academics.

When I see all my friends on Facebook and Twitter put out messages saying “Go for Gold”, “We are proud of you”, “Women power at its best in India,” they are indirectly celebrating what they would have loved to be or achieve- sportsperson in a country where sports is still considered second to academics.

At the end of the day, a sportsperson does not require our money or accolades. All they want from us is that respect.  And this is why brands should encourage and motivate them to take up sporting as a career and as a serious profession. 

Dance in every step

A heavy summer drizzle followed by a gust a wind has thrown a carpet of dust on the stage. It is a lazy Sunday evening, but the trickle of audience into the amphitheatre is steady. A renowned Kathak exponent is compeering the show-“I welcome my connoisseurs of art lovers in the cultural capital Mysuru and hope they excuse me for the celestial showers that has wrecked this stage. The dancers have already pardoned me. Let us now witness the energy of the cosmos through the celestial dancer Nataraja in this Kuchpudi performance by Archana Punyesh…”

 

The energy of the dancers that follows captivates the audience along with the mellifluous narration in between by Mysore B Nagaraj who has been organizing these shows every month in Mysuru as part of his ‘Articulate Foundation’.

 

In a research paper titled ‘Militant Origins of Indian Dance’, that appeared in the journal ‘Social Scientist’ in 1980, author Chandralekha writes, “all the primary Indian dance forms originating in primitive and tribal societies are solidly linked with work activity. They were intimately related to functions of daily life like food gathering, hunting, fishing, cultivating and harvesting. The early tribal dances were particularly distinguished by their sources in rituals, gymnastics and martial arts. Dancing in these early communities was a means of expression as well as a method of building up energy circuits within the body and sharpening Every part of the country has its own dance forms using swords, shields and sticks which are all indicative of and preparations for combats. The sword and shield dances of Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Coorg and Kerala are well 

known.”

 

In a world filled in strife, dance and music can be a messiah for the soul. As human beings, we often reflect each other but when we dance the movements, energy and exuberance can help us reach within and connect us to how we are.

 

Art lovers too feel transported into this realm. Take the case of Seshadri Pandit and Vinay Pathak, two retired bank officials who make it a point to travel 800 kms to Khajuraho to witness the festival of dances every year. For over four decades, Khajuraho and Konark dance festivals are organized by the Department of Culture in their endeavor to protect, promote and publicize folk as well as classical dances. The resplendent backdrop of their temples and the movements of the dancers is a magical setting.

 

“Dance is an act of worship, body is an instrument of devotion”-is a line that stands out in the Articulate dance festival invite. “Kathak is a form of storytelling. Unfortunately, it became glamorized in Indian cinema as a mujra. This is due to the Mughal influence. It is perhaps the most expressive of all the 8 Indian classical dance forms,” says Mysore B Nagaraj as he introduces his next artist Kavyashree Nagaraj, who has raised millions of dollars through her shows world-wide to raise awareness about Kathak as well as train visually challenged children in this art form.

 

“Dance is the ultimate form of creative expression because it has the medium of music which can reach the hearts of everyone-be it a kid who lacks confidence, a depressed adult and autistic child or a difficult teenager, it binds groups together, makes us more accepting in a social environment and is a great stress buster. Hence, it is effective as both a physical and mental fitness tool,” says Bengaluru-based Mridula Martis who gave up a successful career as Chartered Accountant to train as a dancer. She has written "There is a dance for every song" which charts her journey into dance and a few children's books which are based on her real life interaction with kids.

 

Tarika Valli, from Lisbon, Portugal came to India and learned Bharatanatyam. “The bond for Indian Culture and Bharatanatyam started more than 25 years ago. The talent, knowledge and love of my Gurus, indisputably built the bridge that connected my European culture with India. And yet, after 25 years practising Bharatanatyam, the main reason of my attraction for Bharatanatyam remains a mystery. Probably a combination of the discipline requested by Bharatanatyam, the way my Gurus taught it, and their unconditional love for their art. Born in France to Portuguese parents, I had a European cultural background and my getting into Indian culture could only be a slow process. Studying and mastering the art of Bharatanatyam is a never-ending challenge that eventually gives you a greater stability and an incredible resilience, physically and morally,” says Tarika. 

 

Dance has the potential to initiate social change. We need to look over our shoulder at our ancient past to view this evidence.

 

Quotes:

 

“Dance expands your imagination, it makes you reach within and become an artist with bolder

 

colours. It has changed many people’s lives and teaches me something new every day. One life

 

to live, I choose to dance!!”-Mridula Martis

 

“Dance is another language, a language of the body which gives the dancer a deep sense of inner

 

peace based on the connection between breath and movements. This inner peace can then be

 

shared with the public (or your student when you teach) and as a final result, helps spread peace

 

in the wider world.”-Tarika Valli 

 

April 29, 2017: International Dance Day

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