“Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Gandhi
Those who are interested in Baba Ramdev’s politics, fasting, wealth, his past etc should skip this article because this doesn’t deal with his current affairs. This is an attempt to understand the rise of Baba Ramdev from sociological perspective. We will also try to understand his interpretation of yoga through the traditional yogic perspective. India and Indians are well aware of yoga and yoga gurus. In fact may be with certain misunderstandings but every Indian knows yoga conceptually. It’s not very long since yoga took its shape as a science to cure physical and mental problems and used as a therapeutic measures for aliments. Originally Yoga was treated as a path of spiritual achievement but emphasising its journey through physical perfection. And hence ancient Yogic scriptures always talk about lots of miraculous physical and psychological benefits that can be claimed with consistent practice of Yoga. Baba Ramdev is not the first Yoga Guru to promote yogic science. BKS Ayyangar is well known around the globe for promoting yoga on a scientific basis. Long before Ayyangar, Swami Vivekanada interpreted Patanjal Yogasutra which is considered as a bible of yoga and his interpretation is still popular and considered as an authority among yoga students. Besides, there are many Yoga Gurus who taught meditation and other different aspects of Yoga. So the concept is not new in India or abroad. Ayurveda, Accupuncture which Baba Ramdev uses along with yoga are also well known sciences. Mere combination of those techniques didn’t make him different than others. The rise of Baba Ramdev has deeper sociological reasons. Before we begin to enquire into the details one should keep in mind that there are four well known world fame institutes other than Baba Ramdev’s Patanjal Yogapeeth, working in the field of yoga since many years. Kaivalyadham was founded by Swami Kuwalayanand at Lonavala and Yoga Institute by Swami Yogendra in Mumbai, Ayyangar Memorial by BKS Ayyangar at Pune and Bihar School of Yoga by Swami Satyananda Saraswati at Munger, Bihar.
Aggressive usage of Electronic Media
There are other famous institutions which are already mentioned above are working long before Baba Ramdev in the field of yoga and they have done some concrete work which is well-known in the world. But the founders of those institutions have different philosophy and approach. One may not find lots of branches of Kaiwalyadham or Yoga Institute. This doesn’t mean that they didn’t want to spread yoga. They wanted people to come to their institute, learn, go back to their places and teach others. They were not interested in expanding the institution into the branches. May be they were worried about the quality or maybe they already drawn certain limits or maybe they want to spread as much as they can personally bear. Whatever may be the reason the fact is, even in the era of electronic media you will rarely find the old institutes having programs on TV channels. I don’t wish to deal with the issue that says whether this approach is right or wrong. One need separate discussion to handle that question. On the other hand, Baba Ramdev used electronic media with all its potential in a quiet aggressive manner that made his reach easy to every house. He occupies considerable time in the prime slot on the popular channels. I won’t call it marketing but if you really wish to promote anything today, you can’t bypass electronic media, the TV channels especially. At the same time he has everything that is required to make him presentable in the media. His way of carrying himself, his speeches, his charisma everything seems to be so well blended with the media ways and its infrastructure. At no point he is seen novice or uncomfortable. One must give him all the credit for his skill of handling the media so well. We must make a note at this point that this doesn’t mean other institutes doesn’t possess those skills. But as I have already discussed, they have their own approaches and philosophy regarding the spreading of yoga.
Speaking Common Man’s Language
If you read yoga books or listen to any Yoga Guru, you will find that they have their own way of explaining the concepts. Especially Yoga people speak through spiritual sphere. Half of the population think that yoga is for old people when you are done away and fade up with the luxuries of life. It’s time to turn your attention towards nirvana etc. Other half strictly focuses yoga for physical, mental and spiritual achievement. In any case the special language is used such as body, mind, conscious, subconscious, siddhis, Yogasutra, patanjali, chitta vritti, yama, niyama, pranayama, pratyahara, kindalini, dhyana, samadhi and the list goes on. This particular terminology though essential sometimes make the concept heavy to understand and may turn some people nervous. Baba Ramdev speaks common man’s language. As far as language is concerned you can compare Baba Ramdev with Shivsena Leader Balasaheb Thakrey. One of the most important reasons behind Thakrey’s magic is; he can speak common man’s language. With this approach, Baba Ramdev could reach lower middle class and even the lower class and the class below poverty line. Everyone can understand his language because it’s free from the technical jargon. And this is new beginning for Yoga because till now it was occupied by higher middle class, well educated, white collared and rich population. Though he sometime uses certain phrase from Patanjal Yogasutra, it is just to give an idea of the concept he is explaining practically.
Word of Assurance
Modernity has its own pros and cons. Life style diseases emerged from stress, competition, insecurity, unemployment, fear and lots of other things that come along with the pleasures and comforts what modernity provides us. Media tap the hidden fears of people and aggressively market the products, make them buy to assure better living. This begins with the face cream to become presentable and ends with life insurance to remain stress free from the responsibility of the family when the life gets over. When Baba Ramdev says his yoga “Cures the ailments” it acts like a miracle. This word “Cure” is very important. Some people think that his amazingly flexible body, the way he rotates his stomach muscles and other impressive talks and techniques attracts masses. This may be true to certain extend but one can find this in any regular yoga centre. How come and how far people will remain impressed when most of the viewers who are suffering from one or the other physical problems, do not have physical ability to try those posture and difficult practices? Hence the demonstration has its own impact to the limited extend but when he says his yoga cures blood pressure, diabetes, removes heart blockages, cures cancers and much more difficult incurable ailments, it acts like wonder. Yoga books also filled with the benefits but most of the books also mention the necessity to learn the techniques described in the book under proper guidance. Besides when a person in real flesh and blood tells you with confidence, it penetrates far deeper than the books. At the same time Baba Ramdev give the report of the research and data his institute has collected in favour of his claims. And this is supported by the people who stand and describe their positive achievements after following his techniques. Let’s make a note here that I am not making any statement about his claims, whether they are scientific or not. I want to find the reason behind his mass support that follows him and his techniques.
Yoga advocates the necessity of Guru or an experienced person under which a disciple is suppose to learn the techniques of this science. It has its own reasons. Certain practices of yoga if followed incorrectly can adversely affect the body that can lead to permanent damage. This is especially true with Pranayama where one is expected to regulate the breath which has direct connection to every system of the body. Within Pranayama, holding of breath which is called “Kumbhaka” is the most important and dangerous part where one has to be very careful. The caution about the dangers is described everywhere in yogic literature. The consequences of those cautions are obvious. People get scared and turn their back to yoga. Baba Ramdev discarded the holding of breath at once in his version of Pranayama so the dangerous part is somewhat eliminated. There is no counting of breath and maintenance of ratio during inhalation (Pooraka) and exhalation (Rechaka). This simplification of techniques relieve people’s mind and they can practice yoga freely. At the same time he keeps on simplifying postures, add certain techniques of acupressure which can be practiced by anyone. In short he has designed his techniques in such a way that no one will feel burdened, or the technique out of reach. This is again strongly supported by Ayurvedic medicines that can be readily available in the countless shops opened by his institution. All in all people have no worries if they have money and everything is available with a reasonable price with no tension. Simplified techniques really matter to those who start yoga late in their life and are suffering from certain ailments. Besides, rather than spending fortune with the hospitals and specialists, it is always worth try once a person who claim to cure the problem with such a simple remedy. Let’s not forget at this stage that we are not discussing whether his techniques are effective or not. That is altogether a different issue.
Yogic Perspective and Problematic Issues
If you are just a regular yoga practitioner you wouldn’t know the debates in yoga. Even a general yoga instructor may have little idea about it. But those who probe in depth they know that there is a debate about whether Kapalbhati is pranayam or kriya. But it’s not so important. The grave question in Yoga is whether to begin with body or mind? Patanjal Yoga sutra devoted just one sutra to define asana. On the basis of it certain streams of yoga feel that body posture is not the essential requirement and practising of asanas belong to the discipline of HathaYoga. Again Hathayoga is considered to be strictly physical and it is looked down by so called higher spiritual achievers. They argue that it just deals with body and has nothing to do with spiritual development. Even the novice yoga practitioner can figure out that there is an aura of superiority around meditation and then Pranayama, rather than body postures. There are Yoga gurus who preferred middle way and they incorporate asana as an essential base to practice higher techniques of yoga. They interpret Patanjal YogaSutra from this point of view. Keeping this background in mind we will try to figure out Baba Ramdev’s position with this regard. Is it really difficult to understand that one needs sound and steady physic to practice higher techniques of yoga? I personally feel that body posture is not an optional issue. One has to condition body for the higher goals in yoga. The journey must begin with body and it should always be continued while you work with mind and spirit.
What to begin with?
Baba Ramdev exclusively advocates Pranayama than any other yogic practices. It’s easy to understand when he emphasises more on yoga than ayurveda with the argument that one should try medicine only when it is absolutely essential. He further state that we all should try yoga to keep ourselves free from problems before getting down to the stage of taking medicine. While explaining his techniques he clearly inclined towards Pranayama than Asana or body postures. You will rarely find any traditional school giving so much importance to breathing practices than postures. In fact mostly, the people start with basic postures and gradually reach to the level of elementary basic techniques of breathing practices. Baba Ramdev has no doubt about the effectiveness of Pranayama and he seems to be thinking that Pranayama has a cure for any and every ailment. But what about the training of the body to get conditioned for breathing practices? What about the innumerable diseases that yogic science claims to have cure with the help of body postures since ancient time? This view of over emphasising Pranayama may make people to think body postures are either secondary or of no importance. Besides this particular view is quiet radical and still doesn’t have much support from well-known institutions because they follow the way of balance with Asana and Pranayama.
This is another problem and probably the more serious one. The simplistic language in turn dilutes the concept. Though the intention may be noble, people become little careless about the basic requirements. For E.g. one need to attend Padmasana for Pranayama. But this simplistic view which is actually adopted not to discourage people who cannot attend Padmasana turn people to think as if they can practise Pranayama in any posture they want. They can sit in any which way they want. I will give another example that will throw more light on the consequences of oversimplification. There is a Kriya in Yoga called “Nauli” where a practitioner moves stomach muscles. It is one of the difficult tasks to attend. One needs to achieve mastery in “Uddyana bandh” which is a prerequisite of “Nauli”. You need to use force to achieve the muscle movement. But with Baba Ramdev’s technique, people stand and bend and try to imitate him blindly. In this process, they rub their hands on the knees and think they are practising “Nauli”. Some of the population must be reducing their yoga routine to rubbing of the nails on each other in the hope of growing hair on their skull. Over simplification is a depressing aspect of yogic discipline. Though it may help elderly people to start initially, in the long run it adds careless attitude towards the serious requirements of Yoga.
Undoubtedly, Baba Ramdev brought Yoga Revolution in the country. There should not be any dispute on this issue. His revolution is different in the aspect of the inclusion of lower class in the mainstream practices of yoga. This class was indifferent towards Yoga. He is one of the first Yoga Guru in the history of Yoga who has effectively used electronic media to propagate yogic science. He has reached to millions along with his Yogic techniques and perspectives. His methods may be debatable. His claims may need to be examined. But that’s the task medical science need to look after. His sincerity towards the goal of the betterment of people is unquestionable.
It’s disappointing to see the man like Baba Ramdev who is a Maestro of ancient yogic science feel that politics is the only platform that can change the world. The temptation of political power can surpasses every noble goal. It’s utterly depressing to watch Baba Ramdev entering in the political arena. He could have used pure Yoga Teaching to change the world effectively, rather far more effectively than the politics. Baba Ramdev’s inclination towards mainstream politics actually delivered a massive blow to yet unsettled yoga revolution. This is one of the most miserable tragedies of Indian Social life.