Kashmiris are turning to alternate means for fitness and relaxation. Saima Bhat reports how some enthusiasts feel yoga is giving them a new lease on life; one deep breath at a time.
Sitting on a sea of blue and green exercise mats, a row of young and middle-aged women listen intently to their instructor, chant the name of God, and carefully release their breath.
“Allllaaaaaaaaah, breathe out and open your eyes,” Sumaira, a yoga instructor, utters calmly at the end of a meditation session. Sumaira’s yoga and meditation exercises are one amongst an increasing number of such classes that are being taught in Kashmir, and those who practice these say they have been helped significantly.
Anjum, 35, mother of two, would go to a gym regularly, as suggested by her doctor. She was a bit overweight before she started her gym routine, and after hours of workouts for the past year, she lost 4 kgs. However, she would come back home feeling drained. She now attends yoga classes in Kashmir and feels more relaxed and rejuvenated. When she comes home, she says she is able to resume her usual routine. “That’s something which wasn’t possible after my exhausting sessions at the gym,” she says.
Anjum was distressed about her back pain, leg pain, irregular monthly cycles and hypertension. She happened to chance upon information regarding yoga classes in Barbarsha hand joined in the first week of September. She has been going regularly since. “I can’t tell you how relaxed I feel,” says Anjum. “I feel like all my problems have disappeared. My blood pressure is under control, and I don’t even take any medication now,” she says blissfully.
Anjum’s sister-in-law Afreen, 32, has been joining Anjum for the yoga classes. Afreen has four dislocated discs in her back, has migraine headaches, and hypertension. Initially, Afreen would get about four to five migraine attacks a week, despite being on medication. But now she has discontinued medication for both, her migraines and high blood pressure. “It has been a month now since my last migraine attack, and my back doesn’t bother me as much either,” Afreen says. “There was a time when I would be lying in bed for days at a stretch in pain. This is nothing less than magic for me.”
Yoga is a safe, indoor means of relaxation that dates back more than 5,000 years. The word ‘Yoga’ means ‘to join or yoke together’ as it brings the body and mind together in one harmonious practice. The whole system of Yoga is built on three main structures: exercise (physical exercise), breathing and meditation (spiritual) with a proper diet plan. The exercises of Yoga are designed to put pressure on the glandular systems of the body, thereby increasing its efficiency and total health. It uses quantum touch energy for relieving pain and regular daily practice of all the three parts of Yoga which ultimately produce a clear, bright mind and a strong body.
Yoga has played wonders worldwide in reducing and curing problems like diabetes, blood pressure, digestive disorders, arthritis, arteriosclerosis, obesity, eyesight, memory, thyroid, migraines, depression, backache, asthma, varicose veins and heart conditions. It has been helpful in pregnancy also (with proper care and attention of the trainer). But in Kashmir, all of these problems can be cured indirectly by treating its core problem, which is stress, says Mudasir Khan, owner of Yoga Classes in Kashmir, the first privately owned centre of its kind in Kashmir.
Mudasir says, “In Kashmir, I have realized every health issue is related to stress, so if stress is reduced, every other problem will be fixed. I am just a convener to help out my people as we didn’t have any privately owned Yoga classes”. He adds, “Another big issue of concern which has evolved in recent years is the increased use of pesticides in food which affects our bodies badly”.
Yoga Classes in Kashmir call specialists for 15 days a month from Haridwar, which is believed to be the birthplace of Yoga. Mudasir currently owns two Yoga centres and is planning to open more on the request of people, most probably in the rural areas of Kashmir where people have been more affected by conflict. “They didn’t have any remedies despite being so close to nature,” says Mudasir. “There are natural, Ayurvedic solutions but due to lack of knowledge, people are unaware of the treasures that surround them.”
In Kashmir, Yoga classes are being conducted in two other clubs as well—Nigeen Club and Indoor Stadium—but these classes are restricted to club members only.
There is no doubt that Yoga postures and breathing techniques have a positive effect on the body. People these days largely accept the fact that therapies such as acupressure, neuromuscular massage and reflexology can have systemic effects due to the pressure applied to certain areas of the body. The physical basis for the effects of Yoga postures may be related, even the body’s insulin gets released due to such exercises. The posture and breathing techniques provide a deep massage and strong compression of the parts of the body where endocrine glands are located. Many Yoga stretches seem to target the nerves in the legs, arms, neck, and spine. It is believed people who have made Yoga their lifestyle cannot even get the common cold.
Aqib, 21, an MBBS student, has recently joined Yoga classes. He says he feels it is more effective than a gym workout. “I consider a gym workout to be an artificial exercise—if people stop going to the gym, their bodies start to go out of shape again,” he says. His main reason for joining these classes was his stressful life and his raised TSH level. Aqib says, “Everybody knows how demanding our syllabus is, sometimes even 20 hours are not enough. It’s very difficult to manage things for medical students so I found Yoga classes for one and a half hour helpful, as it relieves me of stress and I start my studies every day with a fresh mind and more concentration”.
Yoga is being practised widely since the mid-1990s in Gulf countries but apparently, there are people who are not sure if yoga is permissible, forbidden or somewhere in between. A council of muftis in Malaysia issued a fatwa, banning yoga for Muslims, claiming that the sweaty ‘Oms’ and other Hindu elements of a standard 60-minute yoga class could “destroy the faith of a Muslim”. But in Kashmir and in other Muslim dominated states, the Hindu elements in Yoga have been replaced by the name of Allah. In a lecture once, noted Islamic Scholar, Zakir Hussain also said if Hindu elements are replaced with the names of Allah and His Prophet (SAW) then there is no problem with the practising Yoga.
Mudasir echoes Zakir Hussain’s opinion and says that if people benefit from this exercise, then there is no issue with it. “Our Lord has told us to take good care of our bodies, as it is His property. If we are helping people to relieve themselves of their pains (back pains, stress) then there is no work more noble than this,” he adds.
Almas, 26, a divorcee, had resigned herself to a life of depression after her husband left her. She was 20 at the time of her marriage, and she lived with her husband for 3 years. After the divorce, Almas spent all her time at home, which led to her gaining weight. She is 100 kgs and her blood pressure would constantly stay on the higher end. A few of her relatives heard of the Yoga centre and suggested her to join it. “It has been just two weeks, and already I feel a sense of relief. My mind, which would always remain preoccupied, is less stressed now. I feel light and much better,” shares Almas. But flashbacks of her past still bother her at night—something she hopes will fade away with time—and with Yoga classes.