India’s Harried Elite Now Turns, and Twists, to Yoga Lite

HARI KUMAR – The New York Times

EW DELHI – It was 4:30 a.m., the stars were still out and Swami Ramdev was ready to begin the day’s yoga lesson. His 12,000 students watched raptly as he sat wearing little more than a loincloth, chanting morning prayers in Sanskrit. When he walked on his hands across the stage in New Delhi’s cavernous Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, they applauded.
The students were on the final day of a weeklong yoga camp that the swami had promised would cure whatever ailed them, mentally as well as physically, and without a great investment of time. For a growing number of harried middle-class Indians, worrying about health problems associated with a more affluent lifestyle, that is just the message they want to hear.
While a majority of Indians are familiar with yoga, many think it is too complex and time-consuming to practice, particularly with the increasing demands on their time. The swami, youthful and photogenic, has become wildly popular with a “yoga made easy” approach that promises to yield quick health benefits with minimal effort.
His emphasis is on pranayama – roughly put, breathing exercises or the art of breath control. “If you do pranayama half an hour daily, you will never fall sick,” he claims.
Each month, his weeklong yoga camps attract about 75,000 acolytes, he says, all of them paying at least $11. He receives an additional 60,000 visits to his permanent camp at Haridwar, 125 miles north of Delhi…
…He says he spent eight years in school, dreaming of becoming a saint. At 14, he ran away from home to a nearby Gurukul, a traditional school teaching Sanskrit and Vedic literature. He studied in the school for 10 years before spending many years wandering the Himalayas learning yoga and meditation. He has been teaching yoga for the last 15 years.
He sleeps only five hours a night, from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m., but always bubbles with energy. He eats only fruits and vegetables, and claims he has never had sex.
“I sublimate my libido to positive energy through yoga,” he said. He was 25 before he used a telephone, he says, but now carries a fancy cellular phone….
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