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Yoga’s appeal stretches to China
By Liu Xiaolin and Mari Watanabe

SOME 500 yoga fans are expected to gather at Shanghai University of Sports, along with another 200 at Jing’an Park, this Sunday to celebrate the first International Day of Yoga.

Events are planned in about 15 cities around China, including Beijing, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Kunming, Ningbo and Wenzhou. In Wuxi, for example, about 1,000 enthusiasts are expected to practice yoga on the banks of Taihu Lake.

The United Nations initiated the event to honor the ancient tradition of physical, mental and spiritual exercise.  


Balachand Bamboriya and other Indian yoga masters will attend the Shanghai events, demonstrating various levels of yoga practice and discussing the benefits of such exercise.

“Yoga means ‘union’ in Indian,” said Naveen Srivastava, Indian consul-general in Shanghai. “It’s a union of mind and body. There are levels for all people.”

Addressing the UN General Assembly last year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the essential message of yoga is the unification of body and mind and bringing people closer to nature. That might, he said, serve as a metaphor for unifying people around the world.

The assembly subsequently passed a resolution last December initiating International Day of Yoga.

“June 21 was chosen because it is the summer solstice ­— the day with the most daylight (in the Northern Hemisphere),” Srivastava told Shanghai Daily. “So you can do yoga for a long time.”

The exact origins of yoga are uncertain. It is known to have originated in the East. The earliest forms of yoga postures were found on artifacts dating back to 3000 BC. In later centuries, yoga was practiced by Buddhist monks.

Yoga caught on in Western countries back in the 1960s, introducing an ancient Indian practice of uniting mind, body and spirit through “asanas” (posture), “pranayama” (breathing) and meditation. It is a relatively recent arrival in China, where it has captivated a growing number of young urban professionals looking for ways to reduce stress and bring harmony into their lives.

“Yoga has become one of the most popular daily activities today for people of all ages,” said Song Guangming, a well-known Chinese yoga master. “I have taught kids who are only 7 and people over 70.”

According to Song, the two most popular types of yoga are Raja yoga and Hatha yoga.

Hatha yoga focuses on physical health and is especially popular among younger practitioners, while Raja yoga focuses on the inner self and tends to be favored by older people.

“Yoga is definitely booming in China,” Song said. “Take Shanghai as an example. At this stage, an estimated one million people here do some form of yoga.”

Yoga clubs are certainly on the rise.

“People used to think of yoga as an activity for women, but now there is a rising number of men who practice it,” said Sun Yangxin, who owns the Yangxin Yoga Club, where he teaches.

Rosa Chen, an Indonesian who photographs yoga practitioners and is currently based in Shanghai, said she was impressed by the passion of yogis in the city of Urumqi in northwestern China, which held a yoga festival in June 2014. Around 200 yoga fans attended the event.

“Some of the fans had to travel for hours — by bus, by plane, by donkey cart — to get to the event,” she said. “They were terrific. There were 35 grandmothers performing yoga.”

People come to yoga for different reasons.

“I have been doing yoga for a year now,” said 23-year-old Kelly Tan, who attends the Yangxin Yoga Club. “I got into it mainly because I wanted to lose weight.”

However, exercise is just one part of yoga, explained Consul-General Srivastava. It also involves creating calmness of mind and getting your life in tune with its surroundings.

“The two elements cannot be separated,” he said. “Yoga is a way of life. It helps day-to-day living. People who do yoga regularly feel more energy and more inner calm.”

A lesson in yoga

Q: Many young people turn to yoga to lose weight or improve their physical appearance. Does it work?

Yoga master Song Guangming: “Of course doing yoga will help, but this points to a basic misunderstanding about yoga. This is a process. To truly achieve ultimate inner peace and happiness, you will need to start at step one, which is learning to control your own body. A few yoga types, such as Hatha, focus on the physical body, and people who do Hatha yoga would certainly experience some weight loss and other body improvements. But the goal of this type of yoga is not simply weight loss nor better skin.”

Consul-General Naveen Srivastava: “The common idea that doing yoga will make you slim is only partially true. It involves a combination of several things, including a healthy diet. When you become a serious practitioner of yoga, you also naturally change your eating habits. That may help you slim down.”

Yoga photographer Rosa Chen: “Yoga is not about losing weight, but rather cleansing the body. When you do yoga, you twist and stretch, using the muscles that are seldom used in daily life.”

Q: Yoga has became one of the most popular workouts among young generation. Is it safe? Can it be harmful in some circumstances?

Yoga instructor Yang Kairui: “Just like working out in the gym or doing any other sports, there is always a chance of injury. Yoga is considered to be very safe. However, it is important for people to know how to do yoga the right way, and those who push beyond their limits could easily pull their muscles or suffer bone injuries.”

Q: Is it more effective to do yoga alone or with a group?

Yang Kairui: “Yoga is a sport you can do pretty much anywhere as long as you have a yoga mat. For beginners, it’s often best to start with a group; and then once you are familiar with the practices, you can do yoga alone. Those who are most dedicated to yoga prefer to do it alone.”

Rosa Chen: “I prefer to practice in a group because you get support and encouragement, and can laugh together when you fail to get a posture right. It’s a form of healthy ambience.”

Q: When is the best time to practice yoga?

Song Guangming: “You will want to make sure that ... the stomach is empty. This will make inversions and forward bends more comfortable. It will help energy move more freely throughout the body. Therefore, practicing yoga in the morning is always recommended.”

Q: Do you need to be a vegetarian to do yoga?

Yang Kairui: “You do not necessarily have to become a vegetarian to practice yoga, but a healthy diet is encouraged. Once you practice yoga over a period time, you will have better control of your body and your appetite.”

Q: Is yoga only for women?

Yang Kairui: “Many people assume that, but it is wrong. It is excellent for both genders and all ages.”

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