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Ramdev breathes new life into ancient yog prescription

Reported January 06, 2009

Whatever might be said of yog master Swami Ramdev Ji, one cannot accuse him of being dull. Clad in orange robes, his early morning television show pulls in 20 million viewers in India alone, with the usual video and summer camp spinoffs, as well as things like yoga cruises.


Three years ago, Ramdev triggered a row with India's health minister after allegedly claiming yoga could cure AIDS. He also upset Mahatma Gandhi followers by seeming to question his contribution to winning India's independence and he fell out with an MP who alleged Ayurvedic treatments made by the guru's Himalayan laboratory contained human bone.

But in the latest entry to his remarkable list of achievements, the guru is being recruited by the Indian government for a health initiative. In what might seem like a case of selling ice to the Inuit, the health ministry wants him to help persuade more Indians to take up yoga.

Yog, designed to bring about spiritual and physical transformation, was developed in India an estimated 5,000 years ago. Ancient seals contain figures in various postures, or asanas, while yoga is mentioned in the Hindu scriptures. Yet despite efforts to introduce yoga in schools, only a fraction of the population practises it seriously.



In the past decade, experts say growing numbers of Indians have become interested in yoga, not for religious reasons, but for its health benefits. Some believe the uptake has been boosted by its rising popularity abroad.

On its face, the thinking behind India's yoga plan makes sense. Economic growth has led to a health crisis due to a changing diet and increasingly sedentary lifestyle. While up to 60 per cent of Indians under age three are malnourished, in urban areas, an estimated 20 per cent of men and 30 per cent of women are clinically obese. About 40 million have diabetes.

Yet the guru's recruitment by the Congress Party-led government is unusal. Also, Anbumani Ramadoss is the same health minister with whom he had a public row earlier.

"We are focusing on preventive health care and we see yoga to be a leader in preventative health care," Ramadoss said. "(Ramdev) is working to help the government. Our vision is that each village should have a yoga teacher."

Born Ramkishan Yadav in Haryana state, Ramdev studied yoga at an early age. He has said he suffered paralysis as a child and gained full use of his body through yoga, so began to live a monastic life and teach in villages.

He may have started small, but he has since become very big. In 1995, he established an organization to promote yoga where the river Ganges emerges from the Himalayan foothills. His headquarters is home to yoga camps and equipped with a lab to research scientific evidence of yoga's benefits.

Reports suggest his flagship project, Patanjali Yogpeeth, earns $40 million a year. And in fall 2007 Ramdev unveiled plans to open a $5 million yoga and Ayurvedic centre in Houston.

There's little doubt the 56-year-old is hugely popular.

Millions follow his teachings through videos, television or his camps, also held in Canada, the U.S. and Europe.

Holding classes for 2,000, he has told students that yoga can cure from cancer to heart disease. Voice of Asia reported one camp participant described how yoga saved her from a terminal lung disease. When other cures failed, she turned to Ramdev's lessons; within six months she recovered, stunning her doctors.

The guru confirmed his plan by email. "The Patanjali Yogpeeth and health ministry are eager to work together to build a healthy and an ideal India," RAsked about the benefits of yoga, Ramdev said: "There are instant benefits of yoga. In many diseases, like heart ailments, hypertension, high blood pressure and diabetes... one gets immensely benefited by doing yoga. In India, nearly 50 per cent of people over the age of 40 years are suffering from different types of arthritis... the stress level is also on the increase. All these problems are taken care of effectively by yoga."

India's Department of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy admits the benefits of yoga, but some officials urge caution. "It's wrong to give the impression that yoga is a cure-all," said Varghese Samuels, department secretary. "Diabetes and hypertension have been treated by yoga but that does not mean it's a standard treatment."

Source : Torstar News Service e : Torstar News Service