Sweaty bodies and ripped muscles are no longer the domain of fancy gyms with state-of-the-art machines. Walk into any Ashtanga yoga class and you’ll see young men and women doing complex moves on the yoga mat. As more millennials join this dynamic practice, yoga is getting a youthful makeover.
Crowd-pulling yoga practice
Back in Mysore from a four-day Ashtanga yoga workshop in Mumbai, yoga guru R Sharath Jois is preparing for the next tour—this time, to Europe. He managed to pull an impressive crowd in Mumbai, more than 100 dedicated yoga practitioners and a good number of them young, millennial Indians. This is encouraging since Ashtanga yoga, known for its physical intensity, has largely in the past bypassed the Indian practitioner—mostly aged and often ailing—who equated yoga with relaxed physical stretching, some pranayama and a bit of meditation.
The scene is different now. Yoga classes are mushrooming across urban India and the practice is gaining popularity among both men and women. Celebrities have added to the buzz—Malaika Arora’s Diva Yoga has already set up several branches around Mumbai, Instagram posts by Bollywood actors such as Kareena Kapoor and Jacqueline Fernandez have kept up the interest. You could be a gym rat or a marathoner, the practice of yoga seems to fit seamlessly in any existing fitness regime.
Encouraging Indian fans
Jois has led a spiritual Yatra in the Himalayas starting with a five-day Ashtanga yoga workshop in Rishikesh, his first independent workshop in India, despite their immense popularity abroad. “I want to encourage more Indian students to take up this practice. Ashtanga yoga is very popular in the West but not as much in India, though this is changing now,” says Jois.
As the world celebrates International yoga day on June 21, we ask Jois what he thinks has contributed to the popularity of yoga. “Yoga’s popularity is largely due to the dedicated work of legends like BKS Iyengar, K Pattabhi Jois and institutes like Sivananda yoga, Bihar school of yoga, Kaivalyadhama, etc. Yes, yoga day is a good way to bring focus to the practice,” he says.
Ashtanga yoga is also considered the rich man’s yoga for the astronomical fees some teachers charge for classes. Sharath Jois is determined to change this perception by way of free classes for eligible Indian students through scholarships. After his Europe tour, he will conduct a two-week yoga workshop in his hometown, Mysore.
Mysore’s Yoga Story
Ashtanga yoga is a traditional method of yoga developed by T Krishnamacharya, considered the father of modern yoga, who enjoyed a pride of place in the Mysore Palace during the reign of Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar (1894-1940) of the Wadiyar dynasty.
His student K Pattabhi Jois is credited with popularizing this method of yoga around the world at around the same time his contemporary BKS Iyengar (student of Krishnamacharya), took the yoga world by storm with his unique Iyengar style of yoga.
Pattabhi Jois’ grandson Sharath Jois, who is the current lineage holder of the Ashtanga method, is walking the path cut out by the legends but has a unique stride built through three decades of practice and teaching.
Ashtanga method gives emphasis to parampara (lineage) where lessons are passed down through generations—from the teacher to the student. This helps preserve the identity of the practice. This authenticity has also helped it survive the commercial pressure to constantly reinvent.
An authentic ashtanga yoga room is unmistakable for its simplicity—no props, no gimmicks and limited verbal cues. This practice also follows what has come to be known as “Mysore Style” where, even in a group setting, the learning is one-on-one with the teacher curating a practice to suit the student’s needs. “Anybody, young or old, healthy or ailing, can practice Ashtanga yoga at their own pace,” Jois clarifies.
This is not to say this method is easy. Ashtanga yoga is a difficult practice, but for a good reason. Jois says, “Most often, yoga classes in studios resemble aerobics to make the practitioner feel good. Ashtanga yoga, on the other hand, is designed to work on cleansing the internal organs and purifying the nervous system which, in the long run, will benefit your health.”
Very few would’ve experienced the health benefits of Ashtanga yoga as well as Jois himself. He grew up as a sickly child and suffered from diseases like rheumatic fever, tonsilitis and hernia, hospital visits were a norm. Eventually, a dedicated yoga practise helped him overcome these issues. As a youngster, the biggest challenge, he recalls, was not having a regular adolescent life. “While my friends played and partied late at night, I was waking up at 2.30 am to be at my grandfather’s shala and start the practice by 3.30 am. After that, I would assist him in teaching,” he says.
If you’re inspired to try Ashtanga yoga, the good news is that Sharath Jois is planning more workshops in India in the future.