The Yogic Champion

Ever since the International Day of Yoga became a household affair, India is discovering new exponents of Yoga who are making India proud. Many come from small towns but have held the tricolour high across the world in international competitions. One such champion is Sameeksha from Karnataka’s Channapatna who won medals for India at the International Yoga Championships in Malaysia and Bulgaria 
A round 60 kms from Bengaluru on the highway to Mysuru is a quaint town of Channapatna. The wooden toy industry here has earned it the moniker of ‘City of Toys’. As soon as one hears the name of Channapatna, they either think on the wonderful wooden toys or silk, the other major produce of the region. Everyone who stops here, is either looking for toys or materials made from silk. But all that is about to change and the small town could become famous as a powerhouse of Yoga as one its own daughters is making the country proud at the national and international levels.
In June 2019, Sameeksha V represented India at the 4th Yoga World Championship held at Bulgaria won 2 medals and made the country proud. Last year, she won a silver and bronze medal at the 7th International Yoga Fair held in Malaysia. Within a year a girl from the small town made the country proud at the international level by winning medals at two prestigious competitions. Sameeksha is that proud daughter of Channapatna.

Path to Expertise in Yoga

The success has not been without perseverance and years of practice. Sameeksha started to practise Yoga at a very young age. Her biggest influence was her mother Sowbhagya who herself was a Yoga champion and had won at several competitions. Smt. Sowbhagya started a Yoga Institute in Channapatna which paved way for the greater things ahead. Sameeksha accompanied her mother to the institute daily and in the course of time it became a part of her life. She won her first gold medal at the age of 5.
But routine practice of Yoga is not sufficient at the international level. Sameeksha knew this very well and in order to pursue Yoga professionally, she decided to quit her profession as an engineer. Despite having earned a B.E. in Mechanical Engineering and an M. Tech in Machine Design, she was recognised as a Yoga champion and that is when she decided to pursue a career in Yoga.
“I continued to do Yoga over the years and gained expertise in it. I had won medals in many competitions and gained recognition through Yoga. I used to teach Yoga at my mother’s Yoga institute right from age 10. But as I decided to pursue a career in Yoga, I left my career in Engineering and continued to teach Yoga as a full time profession at the institute,” says Sameeksha.

When asked about the kind of preparations she made for the World Yoga Championship at Bulgaria, Sameeksha reminds that it was the culmination of years of efforts and practice. She says that she used to accompany students of their institute to various Yoga competitions and won many competitions with them. “This helped me in practice and preparations for larger competitions,” she says.
Despite the years of practice, International competitions require lot more dedication and hard work. “While I used to practice 1 to 1 & 1/2 hour’s daily, I used to practise at least 4-5 hours every day for the competition”, says Sameeksha giving an insight into the kind of perseverance that goes into the preparations for such competitions. The entire Indian team for the competition was in Bengaluru and she used to practice with them for close to 5 hours every day. This was the dedication of the entire Yoga team.
Despite India being the origin of Yoga, participants from other countries cannot be taken lightly as they too are experts in Yoga and would have practiced it for many years. They too are very dedicated, says Sameeksha.

Challenges for Yoga Professionals

Apart from the Gold she won in Bulgaria, Sameeksha has also won medals at the International Yoga Fair in Malaysia. There are many who look up to her now. Talking about the challenges she faces as a professional Yoga expert, she says that despite the fame Yoga has gained now, the lack of institutionalised support from the governments is a huge let down. “Yoga does not get the kind of support other sports get. This is because Yoga is not considered as a sport for people to take it up professionally at the national and international level. Yoga does not have a federation of its own like other major sport bodies. There are private associations but they are not under the government and lack its support”, informs Sameeksha.
 Yoga should be made compulsory in schools and as part of curriculum and be considered as sports so that those interested can take it up as a career. Governments should also institutionalise Yoga and make Yoga compulsory for its own employees in different departments
This is true that having a dedicated body to regulate and support Yoga practitioners would do wonders for Yoga professionals. The advantage of having a separate government body for Yoga is that those who participate in international competitions can get good support from the government in travel, stay and accommodation. It is very difficult for a Yoga participant to generate funds and support for international competitions on their own or through private institutes. “I only wish that Yoga gets the same kind of importance as other sports if not more”, says Sameeksha.

Sameeksha performing Yogasana 
International Day of Yoga has made it popular across the globe and more and more people are practising it today. But for someone who wishes to pursue it as a career, things are far from perfect. “It is good that the International Yoga Day has caught the imagination of the people all across the country and globe. But Yoga should not be limited to a single day event and posting photos of the event on social media. Yoga should be made compulsory in schools and as part of curriculum and be considered as sports so that those interested can take it up as a career. When Saudi Arabia has considered Yoga as a sport and made it compulsory in schools, why can’t Bharat, which invented Yoga, do the same”, asks Sameeksha.
It is time our governments took Yoga more seriously and focus on these issues and not rest on a single day event. Fathom this: There were 3 participants from Chhattisgarh and they were supported by their state government for the competition in Bulgaria to the tune of 3.5 lakh rupees. However, there were 11 participants from Karnataka but the Karnataka government did not help them with a single rupee for the competition. The Yoga athletes had to support their own travel and stay for the competition. “We did not receive any monetary funding except few letters expressing support from MLAs and MPs”, rues Sameeksha.
“I urge the governments to institutionalise Yoga and not limit it to a single day event. This will ensure that more people take up Yoga professionally. Governments can also make Yoga compulsory for its own employees in different departments. This will also give an opportunity for Yoga experts to become tutors for them”, she suggests.

Yoga after IDY

Sameeksha has been a Yoga trainer for over a decade and has seen it from close quarters. When asked what has changed after Narendra Modi became PM, she says that Yoga has got the biggest fillip since he became the PM. “I have been teaching yoga since 2009-10. Earlier, the perception was that Yoga was limited to those ailing from some health issues or problems. After International Day of Yoga (IDY) was declared by the UN due to the efforts of Modi government, people were educated on benefits of yoga and awareness about yoga increased tremendously. Many schools and institutions started to take up Yoga for their students. Before IDY, Yoga was conducted once in a week and was not taken seriously. People came to know that Yoga is not just an exercise routine for reducing weight but means a lot more. This awareness came through due to IDY”, she says.She is also a ‘Central Government Accredited Certified Yoga Instructor’. But without a proper way to channelise the efforts and convert it into gainful employment, such accreditations have a long way to go. Governments have to institutionalise the effort and give opportunity to the accredited Yoga instructors to teach at various government departments and public sector undertakings. Governments can recruit certified Yoga instructors for the purpose which will be truly meaningful.

Sameeksha with the trophies 
Sameeksha suggests that schools and institutions which have Yoga as part of their curriculum should also recruit Yoga instructors who have been accredited as certified Yoga instructors by the central government. This will give more credence to the profession and also give sanctity to Yoga and create more experts like Sameeksha for the country.
Though people knew her as a Yoga expert, today people in Channapatna are proud of her achievements. She commands more respect from common people as they see it as an achievement of a girl from their town.
Today more parents want their wards to emulate her achievements. This is a good development for Yoga in
the country.