Pranayam: Hold Your Breath
By Amit Mahajan
I know the symptoms well. The woman standing in front is restless with the need to talk, but she is a woman and I a man. So it is the man with her who takes the plunge. “Where are you from?” he asks. And barely waiting to hear the answer proceeds to tell their story. They have come from Cooch Behar, the further-most corner of West Bengal. In the year 2000, the man had a heart attack; some blockages in his arteries were indicated. He went through many doctors and hospitals in Assam, Chennai and Bangalore. He was put on medicines, to be taken, he was told, as long as he lived. A few months on, he was asked to get ready for a bypass. One of the blockages in the arteries was 80 per cent, another 65 per cent — operation ought to be done within three months.
“And then I discovered Pranayam. I didn’t go to a Ramdev camp; somebody who had learned Pranayam here had begun teaching it near my hometown. I have been practising Pranayam since then. As if miraculously, my heart problem seems to be under control. I have gradually stopped all medicines. There were the inevitable side effects of the medicines — hyper-acidity, boils and sleeplessness. All that is also better. I am here to see the doctors if they have any other advice. She is here with her father’s reports. We now also plan to teach others Pranayam…”
As it turned out, the doctor advised him that he should not be doing one of the Pranayam exercises in his heart condition, even though he had been doing it for a few years now without any problems. She also suggested some medicine for the boils and told him it was optional because the boils were reducing anyway.
Numerous such stories can, of course, be heard on the television channels that showcase Swami Ramdev and his Yoga camps, in the Divya Yog Mandir’s publications like Yog Sandesh, and also in our neighbourhood and our homes. These narratives, while they create a halo around the persona of Swami Ramdev, have brought the discipline of Pranayam closer to us, displacing it from the pedestal of an esoteric knowledge, practised only by advanced practitioners of Yoga.
Patanjali Yogpeeth is an attempt to invest in that halo, to make it bigger and larger — bigger and larger than the parent organisation, Divya Yog Mandir Trust. The idea is to set up a grand institution to practise Yoga and Ayurveda and to make this knowledge and the techniques of Pranayam more accessible to a larger number. A university for Yoga studies, a department for Naturopathy, an in-patient facility and an outpatient department (OPD) are part of the vision. The project is being completed in a phased manner. The first phase is already operational with a large OPD for 5,000 patients every day, and a pathology laboratory for treatment and research.
A massive gate greets you right on the Delhi-Haridwar Highway and leads to the complex comprising the OPD, residential complex, restaurant, Yoga hall, etc. It is a huge enterprise conceptually and visually, capable of catering to thousands, even if far too impersonal in its feel. However, the people, their enthusiasm and their energies provide an enormous sense of warmth to the place.
The OPD is operational from 6 am to 8 pm; you need to register by filling a form with basic personal information (the form also has an additional questionnaire about your experience with Pranayam and Yoga). You will be sent to one of the 50-odd doctors who will examine you and prescribe a combination of medicines and Yoga and Pranayam. The medicines are prepared by the Divya Yog Pharmacy and can be bought on the campus itself.
As per the prescription of the doctor or on your own accord, you can learn Yoga and Pranayam right there at Patanjali Yogpeeth. From 6 am to 8 pm, a series of teachers conduct lecture-demonstration classes, teaching the various Pranayam and asanas, in an open hall. Anybody who wishes to join is welcome. During the one hour that I spent there, a grey-haired elderly lady, with a lot of zest and infectious magnetism, led us through a series of Pranayam and asanas. She demonstrated each practice herself and then patiently answered the visitors’ doubts and questions.
People from near and far places flock to the Yogpeeth — some come only for day visits, have consultation in the OPD, attend a Pranayam-Yoga class and leave, often combining it with a visit to Haridwar. Others come and stay for a few days, absorbing the knowledge patiently over many hours and sessions, exchanging notes and interacting with the Yogacharyas and other patients.
The Divya Yog Mandir Trust was started in 1995 in Kankhal, Haridwar by Swami Ramdev along with Acharya Karamveer and Acharya Balkrishna. While Karamveer is well versed in Yoga and the Vedas, Balkrishna is a physician with a degree in Ayurveda. Patanjali Yogpeeth is a multi-dimensional unit of the Divya Yog Mandir Trust, begun for the purpose of treatment and research in Yoga and Ayurveda. The first phase of the project was made operational in April 2006.
To be fully completed in another couple of years, Patanjali Yogpeeth is an ambitious project with plans for a Yoga university, a Naturopathy department that would be able to handle 1,000 patients at a time, a residential complex for patients, a hall for 5,000 people to practise Yoga and a large OPD ward to treat 5,000 patients a day.
TREATMENTS AND TARIFFS
Consultations with the doctors in the OPD are free. Learning Pranayam and asanas by Yogacharyas is also free. On recommendation of the doctors or for your own benefit, you can get various tests done in the pathological lab here at prices that are lower than the usual market rates. Complete Body Check (Rs 1,200) includes a host of blood and urine tests. Basic Health Check (Rs 700) is a smaller package of tests.
Swami Ramdev is a known face in India and several other countries, famous as a promoter of Yoga and Pranayam. He has learnt Yoga in gurukuls and meditated in the Himalaya. He caught the popular imagination through his programmes on television and by holding camps where he teaches Pranayam to hundreds of people together.
The camps are held under the aegis of Divya Yog Mandir Trust, an initiative of Swami Ramdev and others. Patanjali Yogpeeth is an offshoot of the Divya Yog Mandir Trust. The more than 50 Ayurvedic physicians at Patanjali Yogpeeth have BAMS or MD degrees in Ayurvedic medicine. The Yogacharyas who teach asanas and Pranayam are experienced and well versed in these techniques.