Why Mysore Continues to be the Definitive Destination for Yoga on International Yoga Day

The ancient practice of yoga has gained worldwide popularity, evident in the celebration of the 9th International Yoga Day on June 21, 2023. However, it is a modest house in Karnataka’s Mysore, located in the Gokulam area, that attracts the attention of yoga enthusiasts and tourists alike. This is where the renowned K Pattabhi Jois’ ‘Ashtanga Yoga’ is taught to individuals from all corners of the globe.

When Jois passed away at the remarkable age of 95 in 2009, esteemed international newspapers such as the New York Times, Washington Post, The Guardian, and LA Times published extensive obituaries, paying tribute to one of the original yoga masters.

The NYT notably stated, “Long before yoga studios appeared in shopping centers and gyms across America and Europe, Mr. Jois commenced teaching yoga at the Sanskrit University of Mysore in the late 1930s, as detailed in his biography. Subsequently, he established his own school, the Ashtanga Yoga Institute, drawing students from around the world. Mr. Jois, son of a Brahmin priest and astrologer, was exposed to ancient Hindu teachings from an early age and first encountered yoga at the age of 12, learning from Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, a guru who also instructed another famous Indian yogi, B.K.S. Iyengar.”

Jois is renowned for spreading the Ashtanga school of yoga worldwide. Ashtanga, translating to ‘eight limbs’, involves dynamic exercises performed with controlled breathing. Jois believed that profuse sweating during Ashtanga yoga was crucial for purifying the body.

Interestingly, the widely acclaimed yoga guru BKS Iyengar, who achieved international fame, was also a student of Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, the same teacher who instructed Jois.

Both Jois and Iyengar, hailing from Karnataka in the pre-Independence era, brought the practice of yoga to various corners of the globe, particularly Europe and America. Their efforts preceded the rise of new-age yoga gurus and the proliferation of commercialized “spiritual” centers in India and worldwide. Importantly, fame and influence did not alter their humble nature as they dedicatedly preserved the ancient knowledge until their passing.

Jois’s prominence in the West brought him fame and influence, yet those close to him attest that it did not noticeably change him. He steadfastly adhered to his early morning prayer rituals and subjected all students, including celebrities, to the same rigorous regimen.

Sharath Rangaswamy, Jois’s grandson, remarked to the NYT upon the yoga guru’s demise, “Everyone received identical training, with no exceptions, including myself. Even his own grandson underwent the same training as his other students, perhaps even more rigorously.”

Mysore, the cultural capital of Karnataka and former capital of the princely state of Mysore, has served as a yoga haven for over a century. Yoga is as indigenous to Mysore as its renowned sweet, ‘Mysore Pak’.

Vikram Muthanna, managing editor of the English daily Star of Mysore and the Kannada daily Mysore Mithra, highlights the impact of yoga on Mysore’s economy and tourism industry, stating, “When Sharath Rangaswamy, Pattabhi Jois’s grandson, opens his yoga camp, the entire Gokhulam area resembles a foreign country. Thousands of foreigners congregate daily to learn and embrace yoga. The people of Mysore have been practicing and teaching yoga in its purest and truest form. Yoga encompasses both the physical and spiritual realms. Unfortunately, many neo-yoga centers and self-proclaimed gurus have reduced it to mere physical exercise akin to a drill or aerobics.”

In addition to the globally renowned Pattabhi Jois and BKS Iyengar yoga schools, Mysore also boasts other noteworthy yoga teachers like Bharath Shetty and Sheshadri, among others.

The region of Mysore is home to dozens of small and large yoga centers. It is estimated that at least 50,000 foreigners, primarily from Europe and America, visit Mysore annually to embark on a yoga journey. Some opt for short-term courses lasting only a few weeks, while others devote six months to a year to thoroughly grasp the essence of yoga. This influx of yoga enthusiasts has significantly contributed to Mysore’s growth.

Half a century before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s extensive promotion of yoga and the worldwide activities of modern gurus, Mysore was instrumental in popularizing yoga across the globe, even reaching countries as remote as Argentina.

Indra Devi, born as Eugenie Peterson in Latvia on May 12, 1899, hailed from European nobility. In the 1950s, she introduced the ancient Indian discipline of yoga from the Kremlin to Connecticut. Prominent personalities such as Gloria Swanson, a Hollywood star, were among her students.

More than 60 years ago, she established the Indra Devi Yoga Centre in the capital city of Argentina, Buenos Aires.

Similar to Pattabhi Jois and BKS Iyengar, Indra Devi also studied under Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, often referred to as the true ‘father of Yoga,’ who elevated Mysore to its global status as a yoga hub.

In 1960, India’s ambassador to Moscow arranged for her to meet prominent Soviet leaders, including premier Aleksei Kosygin, foreign minister Andrei Gromyko, and chairman of the Supreme Soviet Anastas Mikoyan. After Devi eloquently conveyed the benefits of yoga, it was legalized in Russia, as affirmed in her 2002 obituary in the New York Times.

R Bharatadri, a resident of Mysore, emphasizes, “Those who truly understand that yoga is not a commodity and are aware of its spiritual and physical advantages come to Mysore. They do not seek guidance from new-age ‘gurus’ or ‘spiritual leaders.’ The yoga gurus of Mysore do not pursue fame; they are not self-proclaimed godmen. They selflessly impart their knowledge to all, treating everyone with the same dedication. For them, yoga is the sharing of an ancient Indian discipline with the world, not a publicity stunt. No matter what others may say or do, Mysore will always remain the ultimate destination for yoga and continue to be the world’s yoga capital,”

 

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