When Susan Rainey was 13, she was introduced to Yoga by a Japanese lady for whom she babysat. Later she went through two years of formal training in Costa Mesa, California, at the centre founded by Ramakrishna Ananda, aka Graham Ledgerwood, who started practising yoga in Canada in 1958.
Rainey, who hails from Leon, Nicaragua, and now lives in Dallas in the United States, claims yoga helped her beat ovarian cancer. She found chemotherapy unbearable, while the Indian discipline helped her realise the power of the mind over matter . "Yoga teaches us at the deepest level that we are one with our body, mind and spirit, and that, above all, we are one with all beings," she says.
She took to teaching yoga after beating cancer and has already passed on her sense of peace to more than 2,000 pupils.
Yoga, one of India's greatest exports and one that has shaped the country's image overseas took off in the 1960s, owing to the growing interest in mind-body therapies at the time. As The Beatles danced to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's tune and B.K.S. Iyengar taught the world how to silence the vibrations of the chitta (the mind, the intellect, and the ego), yoga contorted its way into the world's consciousness. The bigger boost came in the later decades.
$1.03 billion amount spent annually on classes, clothes, accessories, books, mats and videos relating to Yoga in the US
As yoga began to be seen more as a health tool, rather than a counterculture fad, its popularity surged. Today 20 million people practise it in the US alone, up five times in the last 11 years. Popularity in the West has led other cultures, particularly the Chinese, to embrace yoga. An estimated 10 million Chinese practise it. Yoga studios can be found all over Beijing, Shanghai, other metropolises and the hinterland.
In fact, China may soon overtake the US in the number of people practising yoga
. It is a multi-billion dollar industry in the West. The Yoga Journal estimates that $10.3 billion is spent annually in fees, clothes, accessories, books, mats and yoga video sales in the US alone.
Many have been cashing in on brand yoga, with fancy centres, retreats, form-fitting clothes, and yoga classes at exorbitant fees. Many others have built fortunes teaching Yoga. The Bikram Yoga Studio in New York offers hugely popular $25 sessions in 105-degree heat.
According to reports, yogaapparel maker Lululemon Athletica, a 14-year-old company, declared $1 billion in revenue last year. Then there are the celebrity practitioners: Lady Gaga, Jennifer Aniston, George Clooney, Madonna, David Beckham, Beyonce and Bon Jovi. They have furthered the soft power of yoga and, by derivation, India's.
That is not to say that yoga's grip has loosened in its place of origin. Instructors such as Suneel Singh, Bharat Thakur and Payal Gidwani have attained celebrity-hood. Those who earned their fame elsewhere - Shilpa Shetty, Rani Mukerji, Kareena Kapoor and Katrina Kaif - swear by yoga.
Just about every neighbourhood gym conducts power yoga sessions, which cost Rs 500 a month to Rs 10,000. The Bihar School of Yoga in Munger, the world's first yoga university, boasts 85 per cent overseas students, mainly from Greece, Germany, Australia, the United Kingdom and the US.
The government has stepped in to do its bit. Its officials have documented more than 1,000 asanas which will be uploaded on the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library. The intent is to stop self-styled gurus from claiming copyright on them.
Baba Ramdev came to spearhead a mass movement, albeit for a brief shining period, because of his popularity on television, which has 30 million tuning into his daily yoga telecast and thousands of fans following him on Facebook and Twitter. Much of Aastha TV's following is because of its yoga sessions, though it also dabbles a great deal in spirituality, like the other religious channels.
Ramdev, however, has managed what few others in India have: line extension of the yoga brand into products. His 2,300-plus Arogya Kendras and Patanjali Chikitsalayas sell everything from salt, cereal and biscuits to shampoo, soap, toothpaste and medicine. All told, he is estimated to rake in a peaceful Rs 1,000 crore a year. "Even if it has become commercialised, all yoga is yoga.
And it eventually transforms you," says Rainey. Has she heard of Baba Ramdev? "I have not, but I love my Baba: Shri Shambhavananda."