Dr R Nagarathna, MBBS, MD, FRCP, is one of the pioneers in the field of Yoga therapy. She is Dean, Division of yoga and life sciences and chief consultant at Arogyadhama, Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana (S-VYASA). Dr Nagarathna has over 80 publications in national and international journals to her credit and has 11 books on series of yoga for different ailments published. She has been felicitated with numerous awards such as the: Patanjali Award” (2000) for contributions in the field of yoga by Indian Systems of Medicine and Homoeopathy, Ministry of health and family welfare, Government of India. Her stellar role in the growth of SVYASA and Yoga in the country has been widely recognised.
In an interview to Organiser, Dr Nagarathna speaks on International Day of Yoga, its importance, role of SVYASA and benefits of Yoga in general.
What differences do you see before International Yoga Day started and now? How have people responded
There have been lot of changes. Earlier people used to think that Yoga means only asanas. But after International Yoga Day, people now understand that they have to see at Yoga holistically. Because of International Yoga Day people have been made to understand that Asana, Pranayama, Dhyana, relaxation are parts of Yoga and this has happened seamlessly. A common Yoga protocol was devised and was demonstrated, everyone followed the same. It was shown that Yoga does not mean Asanas alone or not a tool for fitness only. International Yoga Day showed that Yoga is also for harmony and peace. This is a great contribution of Yoga Day.
S-VYASA has been instrumental in popularising International Yoga Day. How did it start and how has the journey been?
For this, we have to thank our Prime Minister Narendra Modi who strategised and planned accordingly so that the proposal is accepted in the United Nations (UN) in a short time. The work had started 5 years before International Yoga Day was started. The idea to conduct a Yoga Day on June 21 was first mooted by Swami Amrutha Suryananada who stays in Portugal. It was his efforts to popularise June 21 as Yoga Day that bore fruits later. Many prominent Yoga exponents like Baba Ramdev, Sri Sri Ravishankar and institutions like SVYASA too joined him in his efforts. A signature campaign was launched throughout the country to make June 21 as the Yoga Day and the same was presented to PM Modi.
Our society was immersed in ‘tamas’ and had to come out of it. Stress, anxiety had increased in our daily lives. Hence Yoga was needed now more than ever
PM Modi then took it to the UN and presented it as a tool to tackle the rise in acrimony and terrorism in the World. He opined that more violence cannot tackle violence and only peace can bring an end to endless violence and Yoga is a tool for the same. Not only did the UN accept it, even many Muslim countries readily welcomed the proposal. Once the proposal was accepted by a record number of countries, trainers had to be sent to these countries to train them in the common Yoga protocol. Trainers from more than 28 countries came to S-VYASA, which was the nodal agency for training them, to get trained in Yoga and went back to their countries to train others.
Critics of Yoga say that it has no major role in improving our health or life expectancy which has gone from around 62 to 68 years in the post- Independence period. How do you answer them?
We can’t blame the critics as the entire society had forgotten our own contributions. Not just Yoga, we had forgotten most things that were Indian and were engrossed in our own lives. We had westernised ourselves. Swami Vivekananda too had said that we had forgotten who we were and had to rediscover ourselves. Our society was immersed in ‘tamas’ and had to come out of it. Stress, anxiety had increased in our daily lives. Hence Yoga was needed now more than ever. Even the Government and UGC have supported our efforts to spread Yoga. Yoga has become a part of the routine in many schools. Even defence forces like BSF have adopted Yoga in their routine. State police forces, many universities too have made Yoga as part of their curriculum. In fact, it has become a challenge to cater to the demand for Yoga trainers.
How many trainers pass out of S-VYSA each year? Have those who get trained in Yoga been able to find opportunities for themselves?
We have a short term course called YIC. Minimum 30 trainers pass out of this. These short term courses have been happening for 25 years now. Then we have hundreds of students who graduate from long term courses like BSc, MSc, PhD. While some of them have been absorbed by S-VYASA and other universities, most have become entrepreneurs and have started their own Yoga academies. Many, who have established themselves, earn handsomely as there has been a huge increase in demand for Yoga trainers.
The acceptance and demand has increased across all barriers. As I said, we have not been able to cater to the increased demand. After the declaration of International Yoga Day, the demand has increased 10 times as compared to earlier
With the Union Government starting a Yoga certification for trainers, there has been an increase in people wanting to get accredited by the Government. S-VYASA is a nodal agency for this certification too.
Has there been an increase in the acceptance of Yoga in the common public? Is this acceptance of Yoga across cultures, religions and faiths?
Absolutely. The acceptance and demand has increased across all barriers. As I said, we have not been able to cater to the increased demand. After the declaration of International Yoga Day, the demand has increased 10 times as compared to earlier. The demand for Yoga has increased among students, corporates, health centres, irrespective of faith. For example, in Prasanti Kuteera (S-VYASA University Campus), we used to have about 100-120 residential students. After International Yoga Day, we have students anywhere between 500-600 at the same time. Even this increase has not been able to cater to the demand. We have started Yoga courses in our other campus in the city to cater to the demand.
There has been an increase in awareness of Yoga due to International Yoga Day and the efforts of institutions like S-VYASA. But how can Yoga bring a change in our lives and make us lesser prone to several ailments and diseases?
If we observe the state of health of the nation, about 50 years ago most diseases were related to infections like TB, malaria, polio, etc. There were medicines and immunisations provided to mitigate them. But today, the infection related diseases have decreased and lifestyle related ailments like Blood Pressure (BP), heart diseases, diabetes, asthma, etc have increased. Today about 20 per cent of the population is prone to diabetes and about 25 per cent prone to BP. Our research at S-VYASA is also aimed at understanding standard lifestyles and benefits of Yoga. Along with change in lifestyle, Yoga will help in mitigating these lifestyle ailments. Keeping both the body and mind healthy is important and only Yoga can bring out the balance.