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India's Ambassador to Turkmenistan on Yoga [interview]

Today, June 21, the world celebrates International Yoga Day. The date, established by the UN General Assembly in 2014, was not chosen by chance - it is the longest day of the year (summer solstice day) in the northern hemisphere of our planet. Yoga-what is it? A culture? A sport? Religion? Vidhu Peethambaran Nair, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of India to Turkmenistan, spoke about the Indian national treasure in an interview with Arzuw NEWS:

- Could you tell us a brief history of yoga? Who is the founding father?

- Yoga is an ancient physical, mental, and spiritual practice more than 5,000 years old that originated in India. The word "Yoga" comes from the Sanskrit word "yuj," which means "to unite" or "to connect. According to the scriptures of Yoga, everything in the universe is a manifestation of the same quantum firmament, and one who experiences this unity of existence is considered a Yoga practitioner and is called a Yogi.

In the Indian yogic teachings, God Shiva is considered the first yogi ("Adiyogi"). His vast knowledge of yoga is believed to have been orally transmitted by him to his disciples. The Indian sage Maharshi Patanjali, known as the "father of yoga," systematized and codified the existing yoga practices into a classic text called the Yoga Sutra. He provides the fundamental foundation upon which the modern yoga we see today is based.

- How is yoga different from stretching or other forms of fitness?

- Yoga is a very different concept from physical training exercises. Yoga harmonizes yourself with the world around you by uniting individual consciousness with universal consciousness. While other fitness exercises focus on the physical aspects of your body, yoga works on several levels of body, mind, emotions and energy, including awareness of each body movement and breath. Yoga gives you increased concentration, tranquility, peace and contentment on a mental level, leading to inner and outer harmony. It is unparalleled in its ability to relieve stress, improve concentration, find meaning in daily life and broaden the mind.

- What do the terms "Namaste," "Om," "Hatha," and "Ujjayi pranayama" mean in yoga?

- "Namaste" is a way of greeting that is practiced in India. The word "namaste" has two parts: "namas" means "to bow to"/"to respect" and "te" means "to you. Literally the word means "to worship you. It has a spiritual connotation, reflecting the belief that the divine/soul of all people is the same, and therefore any person who can be greeted deserves respect.

"Om" or "Aum" is the sacred sound denoting the essence of higher reality, representing the union of mind, body and spirit that underlies Yoga. This sound is considered to be (in Hinduism - ed.) the first sound of the universe. It is a powerful root word that, when repeated, soothes and fills the mind and body with energy, and the vibrations created in the body bring various health benefits.

The word "Hatha" means "strength" and indicates physical postures. "Hatha" comes from "Ha," which means "sun," and "Tha," which means "moon. It symbolizes the balance of masculine and feminine characteristics. Hatha yoga is the practice of establishing harmony between two qualities (strength and flexibility) in people.

"Ujjayi pranayama" or ocean breathing is a breathing technique that calms your mind by focusing on your breath. As you breathe in, you should squeeze your throat slightly to keep each breathing cycle lengthening, creating a rushing/whispering sound. Each inhale and exhale is long, equal, deep and controlled. This saturates the body with oxygen and thus energizes the body and promotes mental clarity and concentration.

- What is the purpose of greeting the sun in yoga?

- This is called Surya Namaskar, one way of honoring the Sun, the ultimate source of energy for the Earth and its people, without which life could not exist here. It is a chain of about 12 poses, beautifully interspersed with stretching movements. As the body moves rapidly through the various poses, its energy pathways are cleared, strength and flexibility increase, joints are lubricated, and tension is released. It's great for maintaining cardiovascular health, losing weight, improving cognitive function and strengthening the immune system. "Surya Namaskar" is best done in the morning on an empty stomach.

- Is yoga a religion or a sport?

- Yoga does not adhere to or promote any particular religion, belief or community. It is a means to inner well-being and a harmonious life. Anyone who practices yoga with passion can reap its benefits regardless of his or her faith, ethnicity, or culture.

Yoga is also not a sport. Yoga requires serious physical activity, such as playing sports. It includes spiritual and philosophical aspects that are not usually part of any sporting activity. It is a healthy lifestyle with consciousness that has far-reaching benefits for people of all ages because of its healing properties. Its focus on comprehensive health, both individual and social, makes it a worthy practice for people of all religions, races and nationalities.

- Does flexibility increase the risk of injury?

- Flexibility is the ability to move muscles and joints in their full range of motion. It is an ability that we are born with, but that weakens with age as our lives become limited and sedentary.

Yogic movements are performed slowly, controlled, without jerking and coordinated with breathing, which makes the body flexible and healthy. The risk of injury to muscles and ligaments during yoga is zero. In fact, stiff, inflexible and fatigued muscles are more prone to injury.

- What types of yoga are there?

- There are four "ways" of yoga:

  • Raja yoga is the yoga of mind control, the path of meditation.
  • Jnana (Gyana) Yoga is the yoga of knowledge, the path of intellect/wisdom.
  • Bhakti yoga is the yoga of devotion, the path of love/emotion.
  • Karma yoga is the yoga of action, the path of selfless service.

- What are the necessary factors for people to follow? Do they have the importance of proper nutrition, sleep and the best time to do yoga?

- Positive lifestyles to follow when practicing yoga include:

  • Physical activity
  • A balanced diet
  • Healthy Sleep
  • Recreation

The practice of yoga, along with a proper diet and good sleep, works wonders for a person's overall health.

The ideal time to do yoga is in the morning before sunrise. But, given today's lifestyle, it is possible to practice yoga at a time that suits a person best. Because the key to accessing all the many benefits of yoga is to practice it consistently over time, you need to make a routine that fits your lifestyle and fits your schedule. This can change over time as your routine changes.

- In what cases and conditions is yoga not recommended for people?

- During illness, surgery, sprains, or fractures, it is advisable to refrain from practicing yoga. A patient may resume yoga practice after recovery and after consultation with specialists.

- What events were held in honor of "International Yoga Day" this year?

- In the current situation with the global pandemic, yoga has become a powerful tool for overcoming the uncertainty and isolation of daily life and for maintaining physical and mental well-being. During times of isolation in various countries, more and more people are turning to online yoga classes to restore balance and strength. This shows the growing importance of yoga in any such crisis situations.

The Embassy of India in Ashgabat organized the following events on the theme "Yoga for Health" as part of the "International Yoga Day (IDY) - 2021":

  • On May 28, the Ashgabat International School hosted an IDY - 21 curtain-raising event with a yoga demonstration.
  • A yoga session and quiz was held at the State Medical University in Ashgabat on May 31.
  • On June 19, General Yoga Protocol sessions were held at the Embassy building to spread awareness about health through yoga.

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