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Asia prepares to roll out yoga mat

Though yoga is equally popular in the east and west, Asia is home to some of the best yoga retreats in the world.


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Updated: June 20, 2018

Millions of people around the world will roll out their yoga mats on June 21 to mark the fourth edition of International Yoga Day.

Yoga Day was designated by the UN in 2015 on the insistence of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi – himself an ardent practitioner. Yoga is an important part of Indian culture and was first made popular in the west by Swami Vivekenanda when he spoke about it at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1894.

However, yoga is much older – almost 2,500 years to date, and was practiced by the religiously inclined yogis in ancient India.

It became hugely popular in the 1960s’ west, with several versions of yoga and meditation surfacing in the decades that followed. The Beatles got inspired by yoga and Indian spiritualism which eventually prompted many westerners to spend time in Indian ashrams.

Though yoga is timeless new dimensions have been added to it. The newest fad is called Beer Yoga – hopefully propagating the basic yogic principle of harmonious working of the entire body – physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual.

Given its soaring popularity across the globe and indeed Asia – India has instructed its embassies and high commissions to observe Yoga Day in as many as 192 countries. Here’s looking at how popular yoga is in Asia.

China

China Daily reported that yoga fever has gripped the country with thousands of Chinese readying to participate in scores of events across the country to mark Yoga Day.

This, according to officials, will be the second biggest celebrations of the day in the world after India.

India’s economic archrival kicked off the celebrations a week earlier – at a special function at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation headquarters. There has been an explosion of yoga schools across China and a study was even commissioned on China’s growing yoga industry, The Week reported.

Beijing’s iconic Great Wall as well as numerous parks, lakes and resorts across China have become venues for both official and unofficial yoga events being held with active support of Chinese government bodies.

Though yoga has become immensely popular over the years in China, vying with ancient indigenous physical fitness martial art form Tai Chi, it got an official sanction when Chinese Premier Li Keqiang joined Prime Minister Narendra Modi here in 2015 at a joint event during the latter’s visit.

China also backed India’s move in the UN to make June 21 as International Yoga Day, giving a fillip to hundreds of yoga clubs and organisations.

Thailand

Thailand is known for its tranquil yoga retreats and is a dream destination for yoga enthusiasts.

In Thailand, the Indian Embassy has decided to woo practitioners this year by offering free yoga mats, T-shirts and refreshments. The Embassy in Thailand even has an endorsement from Miss Thailand about the benefits of yoga, The Week reported.

The Nation reported earlier that dozens of female prisoners take a yoga class at Bangkok’s Klong Prem Central Prison. “I feel calm listening to the instructor’s voice, and as my muscles unwind, my heart lifts,” says a 30-year-old woman who’s serving time for murder.

Two of Asia’s top spots for a rejuvenating yoga retreat are in Thailand – Kamalaya in Koh Samui and the Sanctuary in Koh Phangan.

Apart from Thailand, Bhutan and Sri Lanka also boast scenic yoga retreats. Laos, too, has a beautiful yoga retreat and is popular with both novices and seasoned yogis.

Indonesia

In Indonesia, the International Day of Yoga has been celebrated three times. However, this year, the event is set be even bigger, backed by the support of the Tourism Ministry.

The inaugural event kicked off on April 22 at Malang Muhammadiyah University in Malang, East Java, and was followed by various events in Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Bandung, Bali, Surabaya and Medan, The Jakarta Post reported.

Tourism Minister Arief Yahya said in a statement that yoga was an exercise that focused on strength and breathing to improve one’s mental and physical state. The exercise has attracted many people, including Indonesians.

Indian Ambassador to Indonesia Pradeep Kumar Rawat has welcomed everyone to join the Yoga Day celebration.

The peak of the celebration is scheduled to be held at Prambanan Temple in Sleman, Yogyakarta, on June 24. This event is expected to be attended by 10,000 participants.

For the main celebrations, yoga instructors have been flown in from India.

South Korea

The Korea Herald reported that many Koreans are choosing to work out of home and also exercise at home.

“Without leaving the comforts of the home, people are able to carry out an extensive workout, proponents say. A wealth of home training videos available online allow those pressed for both money and time to stay fit with less hassle,” the report said.

What is interesting is that there has been a rise in sales of exercise equipment for those opting to break a sweat at home.

“In January, sales of yoga mats rose 36 percent at online retailer Gmarket compared to the previous month. Sales of yoga towels rose 276 percent, while sales of cycling machines rose 134 percent in the same period.”

Some opt for more whimsical routines — such as “Yoga With Your Dog.”

Pakistan, Bangladesh & Nepal

Yoga is becoming equally popular in Pakistan, even though many conservatives frown upon the practitioners. Yoga retreats are occasionally held in the foothills of the Himalayas.

A couple of years ago, Aisha Chapra, a young Pakistani woman, tried to bring peace and tranquillity into the lives of women prisoners in the southern port city of Karachi by teaching them yoga.

“…I began yoga and I often find myself sitting in a cross- legged, lotus position with my hands on my knees, palms facing upwards, trying to focus on being upright, silent and mindful of the present, both figuratively and physically while struggling with an avalanche of thoughts that clutter my head,” wrote a yoga practitioner in Dawn.

Speaking at a seminar on “Yoga: Nation in Motion” in the restive Balochistan province, yoga expert Wajahat Ali Afridi said depression and anxiety are on the rise in Pakistan as people refrain from exercises such as yoga, Dawn reported.

The concept of corporate yoga to increase productivity at the workplace is gaining popularity in Bangladesh.

Speaking at a yoga and meditation camp, a mayor in Dhaka encouraged workers to take to yoga for a healthy life, The Daily Star reported.

Shazia Omar, a known yoga trainer in the country, says “yoga improves mental, psychological and physical health”.

“Mindfulness techniques can help people reduce stress. Meditation can help people relax. Breathing exercises can be used to calm or energise oneself. A regular yoga practice improves health (circulation, respiration, digestion, sleep and energy levels), increases core muscle strength (preventing back injuries and reducing back aches), leads to weight loss, raises immunity and reduces sickness,” she wrote in a piece for The Daily Star.

Yoga is equally popular in Nepal. “Embrace Yoga to fight your demons,” advices a piece in The Kathmandu Post.

A yoga practitioner writes about his understanding of Yoga which was limited to stretching of limbs and breathing exercises and which changed when he enrolled for a three-month yoga programme.

“…the main purpose of yoga is liberation—meaning the freedom from Kleshas.”

Klesha, a sanskrit word, refers to the intrinsic states of mind such as greed, jealousy, pride, anger, and fear among others, he explains.

Malaysia, Cambodia & Vietnam

The Star reported that 40 students took part in a yoga programme recently to get help with self-development.

“..the pupils were taught the basics of the body’s structure, capability of the mind, breathing exercise, stress management and a healthy diet,” event organising chairman W. Murugan told The Star.

“We also held short meditation sessions alternately with games and other activities, including discussion sessions,” he added.

Cambodia has been organising mass yoga events for the past few years to encourage people to boost their physical and mental health.

The Ministry of Tourism and the Embassy of India joined hands to organise the second edition of International Day of Yoga last year with events in Siem Reap, Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh.

Over 8,000 people are expected to take part in Yoga Day celebrations in Vietnam tomorrow. The third edition of the event in Việt Nam was kicked of in Hà Nội on June 16.

Singapore

The Straits Times in a report quoted a recent research on yoga saying it may not be as safe as it is made out to be. This is a concern that has worried many – with some trainers lacking expertise.

Yoga is one of the fastest-growing sports worldwide, but new research released last week suggests that it is not as safe as previously believed. A joint study, conducted by the University of Sydney in Australia and the Mercy College in New York, found that 10 per cent of people who practise yoga experience musculoskeletal pain, while 21 per cent experience further pain to existing injuries.

The study looked at injury rates for those who practise yoga.

However, this study in unlikely to create a dent in the popularity of yoga or dampen Yoga Day celebrations tomorrow.



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Lamat R Hasan
About the Author: Lamat is an Associate Editor at Asia News Network.

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