India’s soft power push in China, via yoga

MUSHROOMING INDUSTRY:A yoga session under way in Dujiangyan, southwest China. —PHOTO: ATUL ANEJA  

In a school hall in Dujiangyan — the home of Taoism — hundreds of young people elbowed for mat space, to soak in from an authentic Indian master the finer points of yoga, which has become the new spearhead of India’s soft-power push in China.

From a stage, an energised but profusely sweating yoga master Zubin Zarthoshtimanesh upbraided an enthusiast for striking an angled pose: “This is not Kung Fu, but yoga,” he said.

Zubin’s words and tone were translated in real- time into Chinese by Tian Yan, a qualified yoga instructor. This was Ms. Tian’s second outing with Indian masters in Dujiangyan. The crammed hall signalled yoga’s surging mass appeal in China that has helped it mushroom as a lucrative industry.

“We have no dearth of students, but finding good teachers is a big problem,” said Wu Haixia. Ms. Wu is the general manager of the Sacred Yoga and Dance Company, in Chengdu, a major city in southwest China.

Multiple centres

Her fitness enterprise has 700 branches already. Each class has 40-50 students, who, with little complaint, are spending around 3,000 Chinese Yuan (approximately Rs.30,000) every month on their training. Ms. Wu said that during the two-day yoga festival, she hoped to forge business partnerships with some of the visiting Indian yoga teachers. “The presence and guidance of masters from India would elevate our business to an altogether new level,” she said excitedly. [The two-day festival concluded on Sunday.]

Back in the school hall, preparing for his class, Uday Bhosale of the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute acknowledged that Chinese students are being deprived of the real essence of yoga. “Our job here is to explain the bio-mechanics of yoga; of the physiological and mental processes that are involved in asana s, so that greater awareness of the uniqueness of yoga is created among the students,” he said.

He agreed that yoga in China is gender driven — with far fewer men than women practising the art. “It is perhaps [because of] the way we market yoga, with women at the forefront,” he observed.

Jin Xue Yang, a young student already five years into yoga, said that it was unfashionable in her Province to link yoga with masculinity. “Many men think it is not a manly thing to do,” she observed, pointing to a skewed attitude towards yoga.

Officials in Dujiangyan said there was a need for the institutionalisation of a soft-power “package”, , that includes powerful elements from India and China.

Zhao Wenqiao, a senior official of the Communist Party of China (CPC), in Dujiangyan, advocates the early establishment of a “cultural park” in India and China, which covers films, yoga, Tai chi and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) within its ambit. “Hopefully, in next year’s event, yoga would be supplemented by a film and food festival as well,” he hoped optimistically.

Yoga in China

is gender driven,

with far fewer

men than women

practising the art