The sound of the waves is interspersed with soothing instructions to ‘Breathe in, breathe out’. In the quiet after Cyclone Nada, beyond a carpet of torn tents and battered shamianas, an intruigingly multicultural group of people strike impressive poses.
As the foam gently caresses their feet, two of them bend their knees and freeze in a half-sitting position, while another balances her weight on their thighs, gracefully folding her hands in a nonchalant namaste.
They disentangle only to stick back again, like magnets, for another posture. In the background the audience gasps with every twist and turn.
Acro Yoga, as it turns out, involves more than just bending and breathing. Practise every day, and you might be able to balance a person heavier than you on the soles of your feet — and look disarmingly elegant while you do it! This was just one of the many revelations for freshers at the recent Yoga World Festival. As it turns out, there’s a lot more to yoga than pranayama, vajrasana and shavasana.
The festival, organised by Yuvaa Yoga Manthiram Trust, in its first edition at TTDC Resorts, Mamallapuram, brought together over 50 certified experts in Tai Chi, Laughter Yoga, Acro Yoga and Kung Fu from all over the world.
Yuva Dayalan, former Indian badminton player, yoga trainer in Hong Kong, and president of the festival, says he cherry-picked the best of the teachers he has met during yoga tours across the globe over the last 11 years.
He is convinced that yoga is a trend with a lot of potential, now more than ever as more people take to it to tackle stress.
While the rage for this age-old art continues worldwide with festivals such as The Groove Festival (Croatia, Germany, Canada, India and Nepal), Yoga Connects (England) and Bali Spirit Festival (Indonesia) to mention just a few, Yuva felt it necessary for Tamil Nadu, which he claims is the birthplace of yoga, to host a festival on its soil.
“It’s a trillion-dollar business in the U.S. I charge $1,000 for a 90-minute session. But here, we do not understand its worth. I want to take it to the grassroots, to students, and make them realise that yoga can be a great career option,” says Yuva, who facilitates job interviews for yoga professionals looking for overseas opportunities.
To this end, Yuva arranged for schools to bring students to the event. The count of the students alone hit the 3,000 mark over the five days.
The number of other registered participants (the fee ranged from $550 for a five-day pass to $50 a day for foreigners, and Rs.15,000 for a week and Rs. 2,000 a day for Indians) was close to 300.
“Yoga tourism is huge these days; it’s going to bring in huge revenue to the State. If there is one advantage that beaches in Tamil Nadu have over the pristine ones in Miami, it is a yoga festival like this,” he says, adding that the State Tourism Commissioner has agreed to make it a calendar event every first week of October.
By noon on the first day, the festival is already buzzing with energy and colour. Yuan from China is wrapping up her ‘Tai Chi Yoga’ class on the lawn, while Kay Wawaruk from Thailand is gearing up for a laughter session with students inside a hall. As a gang of turkeys strolls by, Yuan, 13th-generation inheritor of the Chen style Tai Chi Quan, dressed in a black top and black palazzos, demonstrates how the chi (life force) goes up and down, using moves as fluid as a dancer “I have combined the tradition of yoga from India and Tai Chi from China to create Tai Chi Yoga,” she says, in charmingly accented English.
What this means is that her style is a mix of traditional classic philosophy combined with her knowledge of human anatomy, psychology and physical education.
“Tai Chi is the easiest to learn, and the quickest to do. In a short span, you feel energetic and livelier,” she says.
Meanwhile, loud rhythmic laughter from inside the hall sends the turkeys fluttering away.
Kay, a World Laughter Ambassador, is surrounded by students who giggle at first, and, eventually, laugh. Also an expert in musical therapy, pendulum healing and yoga nidra, Kay says she found her calling in laughter yoga, which she says, can be done by everyone, including those with special needs. “I travel to institutions for those with mind-related disorders, to old-age homes, and prisons in Thailand, where we even have laughter leaders,” she says.
While it’s commendable that the festival could bring in so many experts from around the globe, C.P. Yogaraj, a Guinness World Records holder for 40 hours of non-stop yoga, says that it is sustainable only if the Government gets involved.
“Things are looking good after October 2 was declared International Yoga Day, but a lot more has to be done to whip up interest in yoga across the country. For example, Acro Yoga was practised by yoga legends such as BKS Iyengar and his guru Krishnamacharya long before it was westernised,” says Yuva.
“Festivals like this are an important reminder that it all began here.”
Highlights from the festival
Launch of MYoga app
If you are a Chennaiite and are moving to any other part of the world for a while, you can use this app to find yoga trainers who are in a five-km radius around you. Available free for download, the app connects over 1,000 yoga teachers all over the world, and will include free sessions by experts, lessons on Thai massage, Tai Chi and yoga for therapy, besides special sessions for women and corporate workers. It also includes a collection of free ebooks on fitness, and will live telecast yoga sessions from around the world.
Yoga in sports
Natarajan, the tallest and fastest Indian sprinter, a National record holder for nine consecutive years, who competed in the 200-metre event in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and was the BBC expert for the Rio Olympics, spoke about the significance of yoga in sports. Natarajan, who has been running the India Sports Promotion Academy for 17 years, said yoga increases flexibility and range of movement, helps one stay injury-free, accelerates the recovery process and improves concentration.
A total of 777 people did sirsasana or headstand at the same time at Marina Beach, breaking the previous Guinness World Record of around 400, as part of the festival.