Nepali Times
Life Times
Bending over backwards  


Yoga in recent decades has undergone a western facelift or perhaps more fittingly a reduction. Avid practitioners of the discipline are less likely to be full-fledged yogis on an ascetic quest to moksha (liberation from worldly suffering) and more likely to be well-to-do urban women.

"They say there are 15 million people practicing yoga in Europe and the US, but I wouldn't say there are 15 million yogis," explains Sam Voolstra, director of Pranamaya Yoga at the Moksh complex in Pulchowk.

The newly opened yoga center joins a list of studios available in Kathmandu, but its fresh, modern look contrasts with its typical ashram counterparts. Voolstra, a partner of the successful adventure sporting company The Last Resort, brings a similar approach to Pranamaya: a streamlined, frill-free brand with program options tailored to the customer's requirements.

"There is no such thing as one style of yoga," says Voolstra.

The center offers a set of diverse styles at varied levels of difficulty, including pregnancy, post-natal and children's yoga. It hopes to appeal to a wider demographic that would otherwise be repelled by yoga's religious connotation.
Pranamaya teams up experienced instructors from Europe, Nepal and North America. Yogatara (Lisa Alessandra) is a French American, who has lived in Nepal for 15 years and studied yoga at Bihar University, and Nadia Turgeon is a French Canadian who has been practicing Hatha yoga for 11 years and teaching for two. Both instructors are trained therapists and counselors who prescribe yoga as an alternative medicine.

"With yoga you go through the body to understand the mind, the soul and the whole being," Turgeon says. "Whereas in counseling, we address the mind mostly to understand. They're just different doors to the same goal."

As a Western import modeled after Hatha yoga of the late Hindu revivalism in the 19th century, yoga popularised as an alternative workout centered on its health benefits.

"So when yoga went to the West and stepped out of the spiritual context, it was almost necessary for it to be understood as separate practice from religion," says Yogatara.

Ironically, as a consumable product imported from the West back to South Asia, yoga strips away the dogma rooted in the yoga sutras of Patanjali, practised by Hindu monist schools.

On the surface, a cultural typing emerges with this exchange. Layered apparel in muted, earth tones and a vernacular which echoes in eco-conscious and organic fads, shape a trademark lifestyle. Beneath, however, the foundation of postures (asanas), breathing (pranamaya), and relaxation (savasanas) remains.

In a beginner's Asthanga (Power) yoga class at Pranamaya, teacher Karina Skjelmose guides novices, mostly expat women, through basic forms, holding and controlling breathing techniques. Her instruction is professional, informative and strict to K Patabhi Jois's original teachings of Asthanga.

Drop-in classes are priced at Rs 600, and package deals are available. Two-day retreats at Rs 12,000 make for a pricey weekend workout. And to accommodate communities across the city, Pranamaya will conduct classes starting 1 July at a second branch at 1905 in Kantipath.

Says Yogatara: "Yoga is a very practical science and tool that can take people to a spiritual path, but not necessarily. Through their breathing and postures, they might discover something else, but that's their choice."

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1. thelastairbender
sure Pranamaya ain't thrilled you called them what they prob shld have been called - Pranayama. Link's wrong too.

but you especially shouldn't make statements like:

It hopes to appeal to a wider demographic that would otherwise be repelled by yoga's religious connotation.

As you say later Pranamaya targets Expats. Expanding to a wider demographic means what? Even the wealthy kathmandu middle-class is not repelled by yoga's religious connotation. Why do you think Ram Dev has millions of adherents in Nepal? Statements like that only reinforce the idea that the writing in this paper is not meant for the general Nepali public.

Yoga is serious stuff. think you should get some serious writing on it, not organic fad eco conscious non vernacular stuff. Om.

2. yogibear
i think the article captures the phenomenon of yoga in the West quite well, as a non-religious, capitalist consumer fad... whether you agree with the fad or not, it's true. and i guess Pranamaya is an example of this sort as a Western import in Nepal. 

3. layman
It is so funny there in the USA. People do not want to here spiritual explanation in yoga class. even thought people practice yoga couples of years look no any change in their mindset and physical appearance.
I have complete training in Nepal when I was there and for advance 500 hours training I have been studying  here in the USA.
The funniest thing is Philosophy behind asana. For example, every yoga teacher and practitioner knows how do preform Virabhadra asana,, but truly most of the yogis do not know who is  Virabhadra.
So I can tell confidently that western yogis are not consider as a eastern yogis because yoga is a service and services should have been consumed in west; they could be Yogi instead of Bhogi.
Thokide Goli Spritual Kuraharulai.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)