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Updated: May 21, 2014 17:07 IST

Kahn do!

SHONALI MUTHALALY
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Rajeev
Rajeev

Aaron Kahn a.k.a Rajeev, an American who's on a yoga mission

His name is Rajeev. His name is Aaron. He's a yoga teacher. He's an actor/ director/ singer. He travels the world teaching yoga. He dreams of making TV serials in Los Angeles.

When Aaron Kahn did his first suryanamaskar at age 16 in his Chicago-based Arts high school, he had no idea this was his first step into a colourful career that would span two worlds, two identities and even two names. “It was painful and boring,” he grins, balancing carefully on two Iyengar yoga blocks at 136.1 Yoga Studio, Alwarpet. Aaron-turned-Rajeev was here to teach Anusara yoga, a discipline that has been gaining popularity around the world.

“Its founder John Friend in 1997 came up with five universal principals of alignment that underlie all postures,” he says, explaining how Anusara, based on Tantric principals, is called ‘heart opening yoga.'

Rajeev's own journey began in LA when a friend introduced him to power yoga. He went on to learn ashtanga between theatre productions. “I realised theatre was taking a lot out of me, and giving back little. Yoga was giving, and giving and giving.” His development into a teacher seemed natural. “I'm much healthier. Happier. I have opportunities that my friends and colleagues don't. They stay in LA, suffer in LA. I live in Paris and travel the world.”

Then, his name changed in a suitably dramatic fashion. “I was living in Arcosanti, an experimental town in the Arizona desert, to work on a theatre project.” As he was sweeping a community café, he bumped into an old man who told him about the Mount Madonna Centre in California. “He said it's a community that does yoga together, and I was hooked.” Later, on a road trip with a friend, he visited the centre and met Baba Hari Dass, the silent monk who gave him his new name. “I'm now Rajeev Kahn on my passport. So I'm in the unique position where my birth name is my stage name, and my spiritual name is my legal name!”

“Given the gangs, cults, alcoholism in LA, I feel very lucky it was yoga that I found when I was 21,” he says, quoting Leonard Cohen's ‘Democracy' to explain why yoga is inspiring people across America. “It's here the family's broken/ and it's here the lonely say/ that the heart has got to open/ in a fundamental way.” He adds, “Yoga is providing many things that extreme, deformed, mutant capitalism has taken away. People are realising, after you buy that house, that car, that yacht, you're still unhappy. Then what do you do?”

Rajeev talks of research proving psychotropic medications can be replaced by pranayama. “They say it's more effective for depression. But then pranayama takes 15 minutes, as opposed to popping a pill.” Yoga, he insists, is more than just a workout. “Typically all students want is asana practise. But they understand they will get more. At the gym, maybe you'll see a hot guy, but otherwise it's quite flat as an experience. It doesn't change your perception of the world. Or give you a bigger liberation than what exercise promises. Yet, even if you move through life stuck in an asana, it will improve your digestion, focus, calm, clarity of thought. This is mindful fitness.”

Slick American yoga seems to conquering the world. Even India. “I believe yoga's every Indian's birthright. If it was not for British occupation, there would have been no interruption and young people in India would not be ‘rediscovering' it today,” says Rajeev. “I get the sense you put away a lot of tradition. Ayurveda in favour of allopathy. Bharathanatyam in favour of ballet. Kalari in favour of karate. Yoga in favour of the gym.”

“It's a strange and unpredictable phenomenon. Here I am, an American Jew, living in Paris, teaching Indians yoga. I feel very blessed.”

(Rajeev Khan is teaching at Ulpotha, Sri Lanka, for the next two weeks. Details at http://www.ulpotha.com ).

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