That yoga class was a rather different sight to me – mats rolled up, students discussing and pouring over several Yoga booklets and posters . It was only when Katyayini offered to do a one hour session on Pranayama did I realise that the group was brainstorming on the events to be held during the International Yoga Day celebrations on 21st June. The students were rather enthusiastic, I should say – one volunteering to look after social media, one extolling the virtues of Yoga and convincing everybody present to get their friends to SAC on the 21st, and several huddled around a laptop, making changes to the posters. Katyayini offers a suggestion here and there, but mostly she looks on the proceedings with much satisfaction. She tells me later, “I think Yoga Day is a good thing. The kind of initiative and awareness it is creating is tremendous. After all, Yoga is probably the only tradition that has survived in its original form in 6000 years of Indian history. We do need to celebrate it.”
Katyayini has been an Yoga instructor for 15 years now. In 1996, as a professional interior designer suffering from regular back and neck pains, she reluctantly took up Yoga. Her doubts about the effectiveness of Yoga all but vanished when the world got inverted, literally. “When I did the headstand (sirshasana) for the first time, I felt like a different person altogether. My confidence had soared up and I felt more positive.” Headstand is unsurprisingly her favourite asana. It also is the first of the 12 asanas that Sivananda Yoga, the form of Yoga that she is trained in, considers fundamental.
Later, she says she registered for Yoga instructor course, intending to teach her son. But soon enough, people from outside trickled in to see if she can help them with their problems. The first of these was an ophthalmologist. When Katyayini worked with her to reduce her asthma, the results were visibly better. This gave her immense confidence. “When I could help out a doctor, I felt I could help out anybody. And, frankly, there has been no looking back since then.” She is a full-time trainer now and trains at several places. At IIT-M, she started about three years ago. She counts a wide cross-section of the IIT-M community as her students – from faculty, students, alumni to even Gurunath staff.
She reveals that students mostly approach her with a backpain and neckpain – possibly, a consequence of the excessive sitting in front of computers and leading a stressful lifestyle. “Back and neck are the closest to the brain, and the effect of stress physically spreads to these parts”, she explains. Obesity is also another problem, she adds. In fact, diet is one of the five focus areas of Sivananda Yoga that she teaches – exercise, breathing, relaxation, and meditation being the rest. She adds exercise can help till a certain point but food intake has 75% effect.
At any point of time, there are about 50 people in the class, although there is a significant drop-out rate as the semester proceeds. Mostly people cite work reasons. “Students keep complaining about work load. But, I think they should take out an hour for themselves everyday, especially if it’s going to improve the 23 hours of the rest of the day.” She admits though, the turn-up ratio here is much better than outside, where most people, especially housewives, keep missing classes for smallest reasons like children’s homework deadlines or having guests at home.
Reflecting, she says she must have trained several hundreds of people on the campus. “You know why I train at IIT?”, she asks me before going on to answer it herself. “IIT’ians are future leaders. People look upto them because of which they have real power to impact the society. I hope that one day my students will inspire more people to take up Yoga.” Whether that will happen or not is for us to wait and see. But, interestingly enough, some of the German students on foreign exchange at IIT-M have pursued Yoga dedicatedly under her and even gone on to do certification programs in Yoga teaching.
She also counts students and friends with different religious faiths who practise Yoga. Amidst the opposition from the Muslims to the practise of Surya Namaskar, she says Yoga may well have been invented by a Hindu, but it is simply about focusing on yourself – your mind, body and breath . “We may be divided by our beliefs, but we do not breathe differently”, she emphasises.
A career that she accidentally picked up, when she set out to learn yoga so as to teach it to her son, has indeed spanned out very successfully. She also counts an Indian Army contingent amongst thousands of her students. As ironic as it may seem, she admits that her son doesn’t practise Yoga yet. “I don’t force anybody to do Yoga. Not my students, not my son. But, I do wish he picks it up eventually, seeing both his parents practise Yoga”
This Yoga Day, she is hopeful that a lot of campus community will turn up to practise Yoga and would continue to turn up even after it. “To do the same thing day in and day out requires patience, especially when it can take as long as 6 months to notice improvements to your self.” But, going by the accounts that several students had to give, it does seem a worthy investment of one’s time. You can check out the events scheduled for the International Yoga Day here.