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Yoga Tourism in India

Mohit Mishra

India has emerged as a global destination for medical tourism in recent years. It has become the fastest-growing wellness travel destination, with a projected 22 percent annual growth rate. However, the country has historically been a regional healthcare hub for neighbouring countries such as Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Wes & Central Asian countries. Archeological evidences such as foreign travellers accounts and various scripts tell us about ancient hospitals offering healthcare facilities. These facilities were funded by kings and monarchs. Traditional treatment methods and healing techniques in our country have mostly been developed from Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy ( AYUSH) styles of medicines and practises. Yoga as a set of physical, mental and spiritual exercises and discipline originated in ancient India. The world has originated from a Sanskrit word Yog which means to join. Thus, Yoga is the union between a person’s own consciousness and the universal consciousness. The ultimate aim of Yoga is realisation of the Atman or self realisation. Yoga is a science that encompasses the body, mind and spirit. It can be performed through different ways like Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga, Jnana Yoga, etc. However, the most popular aspect of Yoga in present times is Hath Yoga. Hath Yoga simply means the Yoga of postures through which a practitioner keep his body and mind fit. Meditation is an integral part of these practices that aims at mental health. It is generally referred to a state of extreme relaxation and concentration, in which the body is generally at rest and the mind quieted of surface thoughts. Meditation helps in concentration of the mind and channelizing the thought process towards positive things. It also negates negative thoughts and bitter memories that gets accumulated in the sub conscious mind over the years due to past experiences. There are various yogic postures that target different parts of the body. There is a special emphasis on breathing techniques as it is understood that breath is the source of life in the body and one should have control over it to improve the health and function of both mind and body.

Government initiatives like celebration of International Yoga Day on 21st June have contributed significantly in spreading Yoga across the globe. Yoga has become a fast growing healthcare therapy towards which people are getting aware to live fit. Yoga Tourism has emerged as an integral part of tourism industry with enormous potential of earning huge sum of foreign exchanges and generating employment. A large section of travellers choose India as their destination to experience the serenity and spirituality our country offers. They come here to learn Yoga and other traditional ways to lead a healthy life. From the serene and tranquil monasteries situated in the foothills of Himalaya to far south till the shores of Indian Ocean, the Yoga and the traditional medicinal centres give respite to the travellers from all around the world and offer them the wonders of these healing techniques. A growing number of wellness retreats and ashrams have come out across the country, from Uttrakhand to Tamil Nadu, to accommodate the growing demand for holistic health-based travel. Lets explore some of the ashrams and retreats in India that offer the best Yogic services to the travellers and Yoga enthusiasts.

Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga, New Delhi - It is an autonomous institution that acts as the nodal agency for the development and promotion of Yoga culture across the country. Its objective is to revive the Yoga culture and spread the Yoga philosophy to all parts of the country. The functioning of the Institute is under the Department of Ayush, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India. The institute offers several courses ranging from short term courses to PhD programme in Yogic studies. It organises Summer Yoga Camps that are free two-hour Yoga sessions held in the morning and evening at various parks dotted around Delhi. Beginners can enrol themselves for the Weekend Yoga programmes. These programmes are inexpensive and provide a basic grounding in Yoga practice and philosophy. There are also month-long courses with classes usually being held every weekday morning. There is scholarship available for international students.

Bihar School of Yoga, Munger, Bihar : The Bihar School of Yoga was founded in 1964 by Sri Swami Satyananda Saraswati to impart yogic training to householders and sannyasins alike. The Yoga techniques developed there are a synthesis of many approaches to personal development, based on traditional vedantic, tantric and yogic teachings in conjunction with contemporary physical and mental health sciences. These techniques are now taught by Bihar Yoga Bharati. The Ganga Darshan campus of the school, situated at the bank of the holy river Ganges, is a place of peace, tranquility and karmic good service. A day at the campus starts at 4 in the morning and ends with Satsangi and Kirtan before lights out at 8 in the evening. The School conducts four-month course in Yogic Studies twice a year. A diversity of students with a broad range of interests and backgrounds are sought for admission. The campus follows Gurukul lifestyle and discipline to create an atmosphere in which the yogic life and spirit can be experienced at a subtle level. Alongside yogic education, the stress is also on life and spirit of seva, selfless service, samarpan, dedication, and karuna, compassion, will be imbibed by the students (sadhakas). Students are required to remain within the ashram during the entire period of the course and are not allowed to access external services, including email, banking and shopping. One can visit the website www.biharyoga.net for details.

Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI), Pune, Maharashtra : The institute was founded in 1975 by Yogacharya B.K.S. Iyengar. It is located in Pune, Maharashtra. The students from all over the world come here to receive the essence of Yoga and learn the values of life. The unique design of the Institute has its own significance. The three floors represent the body, mind and soul. It’s height is 71 feet and has 8 columns which represent the eight limbs of ashtanga Yoga i.e.yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. The Yogacharya through research and experience evolved a special technique of Yoga which is now known as “Iyengar Yoga”. The technique enables even an ordinary human beings to experience the wisdom of the Yoga sutras.The Iyengar Yoga classes at RIMYI offer regular classes for all from beginners to advanced; special classes for ladies, children and individuals having medical problems.

Shri K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute, Mysore, Karnataka : Yogacharya Pattabhi Jois was imparted the knowledge of Ashtanga Yoga, an ancient system of Yoga, by his Guru in the 1930s. Concentrating on elements of Yoga like philosophy and meditation, Jois focused completely on challenging physical movements and breathing. The style , developed by him, revolutionised the Yoga world and the result is that the Ashtanga is one of the most easily recognized terms today, along with Iyengar. The institute offers a course that is limited to three months and there must be a six month gap before applying to return. The institute provides no accommodation to students and they arrange for lodging in surrounding neighbourhood. Students from across the world come here to learn the techniques of Yoga. Yoga practices are conducted in the morning. One may browse www.kpjayi.org to get detailed information.

International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres (Pan India) - The organization was founded by Swami Vishnudevananda in the name of his Guru Swami Sivananda who was one of the most influential spiritual teachers of the 20th century. The first Sivananda Yoga Centre was established in Montreal, Canada in 1959 and to date there are over such centres, affiliated centres and ashrams around the world. These centres offer wide range of Yoga courses for physical, mental fitness and also for spiritual growth through Karma Yoga (Selfless Service). The centres help enthusiasts in applying yogic philosophy in daily life. The Yoga Vacation programme is a very popular course offered by the Sivananda Ashram. The schedule of two morning satsangs along with two Yoga classes in a day gives one relief from everyday stress. This powerful and harmonious vacation program is a wonderful way to take a break from busy modern life.

Kaivalyadhama Ashram, Lonavala, Maharashtra : Spread on a campus of 180 acres of land at the picturesque Lonavala in Maharashtra, the Ashram has a research institute, hospital, and officially sanctioned school. It offers various short and long term curses in yogic studies. The Kaivalyadhama Ashram library is home to more than 25,000 works on Yoga and is considered as the largest library in the world on Yoga. Unlike, Bihar School of Yoga, this Ashram allows its guest to explore the surrounding areas during their stay. Details about the accommodation and fee structure can be obtained from its website www.kdham.com.

International Center for Yoga Education and Research, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu - The centre is a traditional Gurukul ashram based on the principles of yogic philosophy and living. All programmes offered here are residential and no contact with the outer world is allowed during a programme. They are rigorous in nature, however, they exhibit authentic ashram experience. Days begin at 4.30 am and ends at

9 pm in the ashram with a goal of attaining the state of samadhi, a complete purification of the body and mind.The centre offers pragmatic approach to Yoga. Over three fourth of students here are foreigners.

Purple Valley, Assagao, Goa : Purple valley is a luxurious Yoga retreat, popular among the foreign tourists. Situated at beautiful beach of Goa, the place offers world class workshops and courses in Ashtanga Yoga. Most retreats run for two weeks. Although, a guest can participate for one week only if the travel time is short. Main focus here is on Ashtanga Yoga which is asana centric. Ashtanga in Purple Valley is taught in the Mysore style. Morning starts with Mysore styled self asanas whereas in the afternoons special classes on philosophy, yogic lifestyle, satsang and pranayama are held. Accomodation is in either of the two guesthouses surrounded by landscaped gardens which gives forest feel.

Ananda in the Himalayas, Rishikesh, Uttrakhand - Rishikesh is considered as the world capital of Yoga. It is home to many ashrams and resorts that offer world class Yogic experience. Yoga is a way of life in these centres. Ananda, situated at the Himalayan foothills, is not a typical ashram but an award-winning luxury destination spa resort which is located on a 100 acre Maharaja’s Palace Estate. It is surrounded by Sal forests and overlooks the spiritual town of Rishikesh and the Ganges river valley. It is one of the best luxury ayurvedic retreats in India, that integrates traditional Ayurveda, Yoga and Vedanta with international wellness experiences, fitness and healthy organic cuisine to restore balance and harmonize energy. Integral Yoga which is a combination of physical poses, breathing exercises and meditation is used by the Yugagurus here to purify and relax the bodies of the. guests. Details about the resort can be gathered from its website www.anandaspa.com.

Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh, Uttrakhand - Parmarth Niketan is a perfect stop for travellers who want to take break from their busy life. Situated at the bank of the holy river Ganges in Rishikesh, the ashram offers its guests an spiritual experience along with restful Yoga and meditation. It is also the site of the yearly International Yoga Festival which is a world-famous event, full of workshops, discussions and displays of different Yoga styles, as well as seminars by notable names from all over the Yoga world. It offers different Yoga programmes from week long foundation course to intensive Yoga programme. A Yoga programme includes prayers, pranayama, Surya Namaskar, traditional hatha Yoga, Vedic Chanting, Karma Yoga and question / answer session. Each day concludes with Ganga Havan & Aarti at sunset; followed by Satsang. One can browse on the ashram’s website www.parmarth.org for details.

Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, Chennai, Tamil Nadu : In south Chennai is situated Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram which has been playing a significant role over the years in popularising Yoga as a holistic science that stems from a well founded theoretical basis, rather than as mere exercises for physical fitness. The organisation works on an approach called Viniyoga, that uses Yoga to create a tailored program for each student. Programs here are designed to access the core of a problem, uproot it, and treat it in an intimate journey for one. The focus of all activities at the institute is that anyone, who wants to, can practice Yoga, that is specifically suited to his or her needs, and experience its multiple benefits. Yoga Therapy is the core of the institute as it believes that the practice of Yoga and the application of its numerous tools must be done to suit the changing needs and requirements of the individual. It receives over three hundred care seekers for consultations and offers upwards of one thousand one-on-one Yoga therapy classes every month. Details about the organisation can be obtained from its website www.kym.org.

The author is a Senior TV Journalist. Views expressed are personal.


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