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Twist and shout

Students of Yoga during a demonstration at Bangalore Press Club during a press meet to announce the 36th National Yoga Championship. Photo: K. Murali Kumar   | Photo Credit: K. Murali Kumar

The 1983 Kannada film “Kaamanabillu” altered M. Prashanth Kumar's life irrevocably. Watching an extraordinarily lithe Dr. Rajkumar practise yoga on screen, Prashanth decided he simply had to take it up too. “He was doing it in spite of advancing years,” the 21-year-old gushes. “He inspired me. That is why I began.”

Later this month, almost seven years after performing his first aasanas, Prashanth – and several hundred others – will travel to the Dakshina Kannada town of Dharmasthala, for the National yoga championships. Despite the lack of acceptance in mainstream sport, the event is in its 36th year, with organizers of the latest edition hopeful of a good turnout.

The championships, conducted by the Yoga Federation of India, are expected to draw close to 800 competitors from across the country, with 27 States having confirmed their participation. West Bengal and Haryana have utterly dominated previous editions, emerging overall champion 34 of the 35 times with Karnataka being the winner on the only other occasion.

“Competition will be very tight,” feels S.R. Pradeep, a former National champion and Prashanth's Karnataka team-mate. “There are so many of them coming through that even selection for the Nationals cannot be taken for granted anymore. Half of those that travel this year may not do so the next.” Contestants will be split into six age categories (8-12, 13-17, 18-21, 22-25, 26-40, 41-60) with States sending three entries in each.

Participants will be tasked with performing 10 aasanas– these differing among age groups – and judged on how well they're performed. “It should be flawless,” explains Pradeep. “Your knees must not bend nor should your legs shake, you must return to your original position perfectly. It is much harder doing it on stage, no matter how good you may be in practice. You just sweat more. One slip and you lose points.”

G.N. Krishna Murthy, Secretary of the Karnataka State Amateur Yoga Sports Association (KSAYSA), claims the scale of the event will be greater than in previous years. “I was a competitor in the first edition in 1979,” he says. “It was very difficult to convince people then that a competition could exist. But 35 years later, I find there is no problem.”

One reason for yoga's rising acceptance in India is its raging popularity in the western world, reckons Prashanth. “Ten years ago, it wasn't a craze. Today, because they see that the West likes yoga, more Indians are drawn to it.” Shashi Kumar, another competitor, though, is dismissive of any spin-offs or variations occidental practitioners have introduced. “Power yoga, disco yoga, hot yoga – aa yoga anthe, ee yoga anthe.Each day a new one pops up on the internet.”

But the rising international and local popularity of yoga itself notwithstanding, the question of its classification lingers uncomfortably in the backdrop of the meet.

The governing body of yoga in the State was earlier called the Karnataka State Yoga Association. The change in nomenclature (KSAYSA) is not coincidental. Recognition for the YFI as a National Sports Federation was dropped earlier this year, along with bodies heading some other disciplines, with them to be granted only affiliate status. “We don't know why it is so,” says Krishna Murthy. “Yoga must be called the king of sports because it is something a lot of sportspersons practice to keep fit.”

Prashanth and his mates are at pains to emphasize that their pursuit is not trivial, though if this alone is enough to qualify yoga as one thing or another is debatable. “We spend over four hours each day in training. Events are highly competitive. It becomes hard to accept that even those who have won medals internationally don't find quotas in entrance exams.”

Not all, though, are as disheartened, however nebulous yoga's status may be. “All of us here are professionals; we know it is serious,” says M. Prashanth Kumar, a 25-year-old who took it up at the age of nine to alleviate his wheezing troubles. “It is possible to win BScs, MScs and PhDs in it at university. It doesn't matter how people perceive yoga. I teach yoga for a living.

“It is my vrtthi.”


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Printable version | Sep 25, 2021 5:32:58 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/twist-and-shout/article2653066.ece

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