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Yoga is going mainstream, but proper funding is still a far cry

Yoga is going mainstream, but proper funding is still a far cry

Publication: The Times of India
Date: Anjali Joseph
URL: May 18, 2005

When you call the mobile telephone of Satyapal Singh, special inspector general (Konkan range) of the Maharashtra police, the caller tune you hear is the Gayatri mantra. Not quite what one expects from the police? In a similar vein, next month Singh is organizing a one-month trial of Yoga designed for police officers in Thane. Rather than being a reaction to the marine Drive rape case, Singh says the project results from a 20-year interest in yoga. "It's basically designed to teach police officers to manage stress. If you can't control your mind and your attitude, you can't work effectively," he says of the trial, devised by Kaivalyadham londavala.

Worldwide, yoga is going mainstream. In medical research, for example, the United States's government-funded National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine spends part of its $100 million-plus annual research budget on studying the effects of yoga on various diseases including multiple sclerosis, HIV and depression-the last two in a collaboration with Bangalore-based Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana (SVASYA) which the Indian government funds for applied research on Yoga.

In Indian too, yoga is rapidly being institutionalised, even if research is hampered by much smaller-scale funding. The ministry for human resource development, which this year is funding Kaivalydham Lonavala to the tune of Rs. 65 lakh, every year sends 30 allopathic doctors to undergo the institute's nine-month yoga teacher's diploma. But some, like Yoga teacher Bharat Thakur feel Indian clinical trials in yoga will take off only if private industry takes an interest in funding them.

Doctors from various specializations now recommend yoga to their patients. Mumbai gynaecologist Ashwini Bhalerao-Gandhi says she advises asana and meditation for women suffering from hormonal imbalance . Doctors like Bhalerao-Gandhi advocate yoga because of positive anecdotal evidence rather than the results of clinical trials. People who do yoga say it helps them manage their ailments. Seventy-three-year old Mumbai dentist Nishabh Parikh, for example, says regular yoga practice has stalled the progress of arthritis, which his doctors told him was incurable.

The flip side of taking yoga seriously as a medical intervention is that it may need more regulation. At present, little prevents someone with a one or two-month certificate in yoga setting yoga as a teacher. "When I started a studio in Dubai, the authorities wanted to see my certificates and there were a lot of laws to comply with. Why don't w have that in India?" questions Thakur.

If yoga is to join mainstream therapies, there are likely to be some interesting battles on the way to establishing any 'official version' of the science. Most yoga derives from the 2,500-yr-old Yoga Sutra laid down by the sage Patanjali. Even so, enough variations are doing the rounds, from the outlandish (power yoga', Bikram yoga, and, in the US, hybrids like Yogalates or hip-hop yoga) to the classical. Which way now on the path to inner awareness?

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