The Essentials Of Breathing Right Our Human Treasure


Absorbing Yoga deeper into our daily lives, art and culture, is the best way to live this invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition.

By Usha RK

In 2016, it seemed like 172 countries were waiting to nominate Yoga as a human treasure in UNESCO’s Representative list. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the first step towards this universal acceptance, the element of Yoga sprung into action, from merely being a cure for physical maladies, to attaining the answer to ones spiritual quest. The internal efficacy of the elements methodology gained wider acceptance, without doubt.

As early as two decades ago, till recently, the physicality, or rather, the ‘asana’ aspect of Yoga was highly recognised. The flexibility of the body, pains being relieved and the weight being in check, were some of the highlights of the practice of yoga. Schools of Yoga were being established and did brisk business. Like all businesses, this too, had quantitative approach of ‘yoga classes’ mushrooming across small towns and cities. The ‘Urban Yoga’ entered the arena with a touch of class, the attire became a brand, designer instructions of techniques became anglicised and venues became ethnic yet modern.

These innovations reached across the shores and India kept the change going. Yet, there were issues related to the transference of knowledge and technique. It became mandatory to create a standardisation of qualitative training and some of the veteran gurus and respected organisations took up this mantle seriously. We have witnessed a huge difference in the training methods and transmission of yoga and its techniques, since.

The understanding of Yoga, merely as a word that enables physical well-being, has reduced the relevance of the ancient spiritual wisdom — the ultimate awakening that is achieved by its practice. The many questions that the secular brigade has posed, mostly demean the value of this universally-accepted element.“Why the chanting of Om?” “Is it a Hindu orientation?” “Is there the need for chanting of mantras?……”

Many of our spiritual and yoga gurus have substantiated amply the relevance of the ancient spiritual wisdom. One of the most widely-accepted and watched among these gurus is Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, who, very succinctly, elucidates the values of the practice — physical and spiritual, rather than harp on the rather unwanted theories. The educated and the youth relate well with Sadhguru and his magnetic chats with celebrities and stars bring out many of the issues in a very simplistic manner.

From the day the UN declared June 21 as the International Yoga day at its General Council on December 11, 2014, India began celebrating it with renewed vigour, on June 21. A quote from his address that initiated the process of declaring the International Yoga Day, speaks with clarity, the thought behind the initiative. Narendra Modi, during his speech at the UN General Assembly, on 27 September 2014, stated:

“Yoga is an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition. It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfillment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature. By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help in well being. Let us work towards adopting an International Yoga Day.”

So, the Antarāshtriya Yog Divas was planned and celebrated in different segments in their own indigenous ways and scales. The Ayush Ministry had its own activities, the cultural organisations and bodies put up a variety of programmes, group yoga events and cultural performances. Some were relevant, some allied, and many, totally unrelated to the concept of either the physical, intellectual or spiritual aspects of this practice. In the latter, the word ‘yoga’ appeared, used and misused to the extent that the meaning of the word was misinterpreted to suit the needs and intellectual standards of the participant. It was not only surprising, but totally appalling, that in a popular composition of Muthuswamy Dikshitar describing the grand attributes of Thyagesha, the words ‘raja yoga vaibhavam’ were equated or appropriated to the ‘yoga’ practice. The performance of padams in the T Brinda style, compositions that related to sringara rasa, cannot be appropriated to the practice of yoga that is spiritual and concerns the enlightenment or nirvana sthithi. These were some of the fallouts of lack of appropriateness in the cultural arena.

The yoga gurus today are working tirelessly to bring in the correct practice of the breath control, physical flexibility, internal activation of the chakras or energy centres, and more than all, elevate the pedestrian quality of the small shops that are marring the element. It is essential for young practitioners of arts and yoga alike to understand that the physical discipline of the element is only the path to the ultimate realisation of sat-chit-ananda. The Yogishwar’s or Maha Shiva’s creation of dance, included innately, not only the physical postures, but also the internal activation of the chakras through the breath that clears the blocks, making them spread the energy to every part of the body, from head to toes, to the tips of the fingers, resulting in the moment of ecstasy or paramananda. Similarly, the music performer, through the melody and lyrics, is able to immerse himself into the portals that lead him, finally, to the moment of paramananda. This has been found true in every medium of arts, including visual arts.

The Minstry of Ayush, as a mark of the nomination of Yoga in UNESCO’S Representative List of Humanities, must bring out a simple publication of excerpts from the Sutras, that would educate, enrich and enhance the understanding of the element for lay persons and youth. Simple booklets could be handy reference for beginners and practitioners. Workshops, discussions and seminars that bring forth the spiritual aspects of the practice must be organised. The knowledge of the philosophical and spiritual aspects enhance the understanding of the mechanics of the body. While Ayush Ministry has done humungous work in the space and is continually contributing to make Yoga a manner of lifestyle rather than a practice of exercise, much needs to be done in certain regions of India. Grassroot level work making this a mandatory learning in village level and district level communities is essential, so is explaining the importance of the practice in areas of health and body wellness. Students will benefit in the educational space through the technique of concentration and focus.

Yoga is inter-related with arts and culture, where a great deal needs to be done. Few art practioners have taken up the allied knowledge and practice of yoga as an analytical essentiality in their primary form of practice. The practice of yoga must become a compulsory part of the training in dance, music and visual arts. The techniques of breathing, concentrating and meditation will contribute in a 360 degree approach of learning and practice.

Yoga must become a composite part of daily life. Whether an artist or an officer or a clerk or a daily labourer or a railway engine driver or a taxi driver or a cycle rickshaw driver or a domestic help, any one must be explained and taught the significance of breathing right, of being healthy, of physical fitness and wellness, of relaxing physically and mentally, of bringing the concept of Sat-Chit-Ananda into one’s life with the one and only element that is today the declared ‘Human Treasure‘ of the world emanating from India.

— Usha RK is a Delhi-based art consultant. In her recent assignment with the Ministry of Culture, her contribution in achieving the nominations of Varanasi as Unesco’s Creative City of Music, Yoga as humanity’s treasure in Unesco’s Representative List and the successful submission of Kumbh Mela and Sowa Rigpa has been widely acknowledged. Her deep understanding and training in Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi and her immense love for music has led her to research in various aspects of composers and compositions in Carnatic music. She has changed the fabric of classical dance presentations in India.