PM, look before your locust leap

En masse teaching of asanas carries risks

By Our Bureau
  • Published 23.06.15
Prime Minister Narendra Modi performs the Salabhasana (the locust posture) on Rajpath on Sunday. (PTI picture)

June 22: The Guinness record achieved at yesterday's International Yoga Day extravaganza on Rajpath may have come at the cost of potential risk to many of the 35,000-odd participants.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi won many accolades for conjuring an unprecedented spectacle but, in the process, he could have put to hazard many in the congregation, including himself.

Health experts, including those with knowledge of yoga, have questioned the choice of some of the yogic exercises that the Prime Minister and a crowd demonstrated yesterday, saying they carry health risks that should preclude them from being prescribed, or performed, en masse.

"A yoga posture isn't one pill that works for everyone," said Monica Chand, a faculty member at a yoga teaching institution in New Delhi. "Ideally, asanas should be tailored to a person's individual needs, depending on age, medical history and physical limitations."

"Yoga asanas should not be taught en masse," she added.

Calcutta-based cardiologist Debal Sen strongly affirmed that all yogic exercises and postures are not for everyone to undertake, as did happen on Rajpath yesterday, and indeed at many other centres nationwide where Yoga Day events were organised.

"There are some forms of asanas that should not be practised by people suffering from spinal cord problems, for instance," Sen said. "Yoga was never formulated to cure diseases. The regular practice of true yoga results in good health. A proper yoga trainer has to work with a physician and then find out a composite prescription for the patient."

Sen's advice is against a collective regimen and for person-specific yogic asanas depending on the individual's physical ability.

Some of the yogic exercises, or asanas, performed by the Prime Minister and the assembled crowds on Rajpath in the capital, as elsewhere in the country, should not have been attempted by people with a range of underlying medical conditions - from cardiovascular disease to spinal disorders to migraine, experts said.

A 34-page booklet produced for mass circulation by the ayurveda, yoga, naturopathy, unani, siddha, and homeopathy (Ayush) ministry ahead of International Yoga Day had, in fact, cautioned people with medical conditions and pregnant women not to attempt some of the asanas on the "common yoga protocol" designed for the Rajpath event.

Particular concern has come to centre on the Salabhasana, or the locust posture, performed by Modi and the crowd on Rajpath.

At 64, the Prime Minister, known to be a regular yoga practitioner, would have required to be protocol-cleared by his doctors to perform the Salabhasana as part of a fast-paced 35-minute ensemble.

The Salabhasana is a strenuous posture and should be avoided by "cardiac patients" and those with severe lower back pain, the Ayush booklet had cautioned. This posture involves lying flat on the stomach, inhaling and raising the legs off the floor and staying in that position for about 10 to 20 seconds.

Sen was pointed in warning that the Salabhasana is not for everyone. "The Salabhasana should not be practised by people having pre-existing diseases like congestive heart failure (a condition in which the heart is unable to pump sufficient blood to meet the body's needs), uncontrolled hypertension, lung problems or a ventral hernia," he said.

"For someone with cardiac or lung problems, this can create trouble because it involves a lot of strain. There is a lot of pressure on the cardiovascular system during the exercise. One should practise the Salabhasana and other asanas after undergoing medical check-ups and under medical and professional guidance," Sen added.

The Ayush-funded Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga in New Delhi helped choreograph the demonstrations on Rajpath through the booklet called The Common Yoga Protocol.

The director of the institute, Ishwar Basavaraddi, said the protocol was designed after consultations with several leading yoga experts representing different schools of yoga. He did not name any.

"All the asanas chosen for Yoga Day are relatively easy to perform and can be done by most people," Basavaraddi had earlier told this newspaper.

He said people with underlying medical conditions were expected to consult their doctors before deciding to participate. It is not clear that the majority of participants at Rajpath's record-breaking event did that.