In the limelight Yoga
Yoga has become the newest trend to capture Sri Lanka by storm.
Perhaps due to its worldwide fame, some Sri Lankans have been quick to
take it up as an easy way of exercise. Yoga has gained tremendous
worldwide popularity during the last few years, and it is the most
rapidly growing health movement of the present day, despite having
existed for thousands of years.
A yoga class in Sri Lanka. Pic by Chamari Senanayake
Celebrities and yoga are a great combination for this exercise and
fitness market, as the public is automatically attracted to things that
celebrities endorse. Celebrities like James Bond actor Daniel Craig,
Jennifer Anniston, Ricky Martin, and Madonna have all admitted to using
yoga as a means to calm the spirit, tone the muscles of the body, and
increase physical strength. The history of yoga can be traced back to
India as far back at 1500 BC. Archeological findings from two of the
largest cities, Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, has revealed a portrait of a
human being or god meditating in what looks like a yoga posture.
The first yoga accounts are written in the Rig Veda and priests
documented their practices and beliefs in a collection of 200 scriptures
called the Upanishads. According to the origins of yoga, the word yoga
means to “unite.” And if you practice yoga you are trying to unite your
individual self with the universal soul. It is a means to enlightenment.
Modern Yoga is said to have begun at the Parliament of Religions in
Chicago, 1893. Swami Vivekananda from India made a deep impression on
the Americans as he introduced them to Yoga while Russian born Indra
Devi, opened a Yoga studio in Hollywood in 1947 and started teaching
For the first time, in 1961, Hatha yoga was presented on American
television by Richard Hittleman, and his book ‘The Twenty Eight day Yoga
Plan’ sold in the millions. Then, in the middle of the 60s, yoga got a
real promotional boost when the Yogi Maharishi Mahesh taught Yoga to the
famous pop-stars the ‘Beatles’. Dalai lama is a great yogi from Tibet,
and has inspired many westerners to learn more about Buddhism and yoga.
Salman Khan, who has one of the most envious bodies in Bollywood, is
discovering the benefits of yoga and others include Aishwarya Rai, Rekha,
Shilpa Shetty, Preity Zinta, and Kareena Kapoor out of hundreds more.
Madonna is one of the most famous celebrities who
practise yoga and contributed to its popularity.
In Sri Lanka, yoga classes are springing up at every corner nowadays.
Even the Indian Embassy Cultural Centre holds a three-month course in
general yoga. Vyasa Kalyanasunderum, who had studied at Swami
Vivekananda Yoga University in Bangalore is an instructor there and he
says the course is popular among people of all ages. ‘We have from
children to seventy five year olds studying yoga, and we mostly teach
general yoga in three stages called beginners, intermediate and
advanced.’ When asked about its newfound popularity he says, ‘Many Yoga
classes were here even ten years ago, but they were not advertised much
According to him yoga has a surprising long history in Sri Lanka. A
society called ‘Divine Life Society’ has been teaching yoga for free
from 1950 till 1983. Swami Sivananda Saraswathi Mathaji (1907-1978) the
founder of Divine Life Society, and Sivananda Thopovanam, and Swami
Satchidananda, through their joint tireless efforts introduced yoga
culture to Sri Lanka. Knowledge on Vedanta and meditation was carried
forward by Mrs.Selvam Kalyansunderam and during these times Kriya Babji
Yoga center was also conducting classes in Dehiwela from 1970 to 1983.
Although it was immensely popular during sixties and seventies
however, went in to some sort of hibernation after that period.
Everybody’s favourite ‘Friends’ actress
Jeniffer Aniston doing yoga.
Then, Hatha yoga classes in Colombo revived in nineties. Most of the
well-trained Sri Lankan yoga instructors have received the yogic
instructors qualifications from (SVYASA) Swami Vivekananda Yoga
Anusandhana Samsthana University in Bangalore. Chamin Warnakula is a
popular Yoga instructor in Sri Lanka who also has studied there after
falling for yoga first at the age of 16 while studying martial arts in
India. He says many Sri Lankans are drawn to yoga to relieve stress,
obesity and health related problems and that he has seen many followers
finding positive results for asthma problems, diabetes, obesity and even
blood pressure. ‘More and more Sri Lankan celebrities like Malini, Anoja
and even parliamentarians are following Yoga nowadays.’ he adds,
‘Majority of my students are over 45 years of age, and they come here to
relieve stress, fight depression and find ways to control their health
Most females are drawn to yoga to control their body shapes and keep
youthful looks, and with this kind of popularity, many hotels and
resorts have also added yoga as part of their spa and Panchakarma
treatments and that in return attracts a large number of tourists to our
country as well. Whatever the reason maybe, seems today’s Sri Lankan
majority has found yoga the newest fashion to follow. We can breathe a
sigh of relief that at least they are following a healthy fashion.