Date: 22nd Sept 2016, SLI
Laksmi Ranganathan has been a student of Sri. TKV Desikachar and was one of the first teachers in Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram where she worked till 1986. She has been a yoga teacher for more than 40 years and has conducted multiple workshops on Pranayama and Meditation. She is adept at the therapeutic use of yoga as a treatment and has led several seminars on Yoga for Women, Breath & Yoga Therapy and Philosophy. She also trains teachers on the use of yoga as a means for therapy and practice. She is the co-founder of Sanjeevani Ayurveda and Yoga Centre in Chennai. She is also an honorary Yoga instructor at “The School” run by the Krishnamurthi Foundation of India (Breath & Ayurveda in Yoga Therapy with Lakshmi Ranganathan and Dr. Padmini Ranganathan, 2013).
1. How would you explain the essence of yoga to an amateur like me?
It is a very simple yet the hardest question one can ask. To be honest in the beginning like you, even I did not know anything about Yoga. It took a long time for me to understand it. My teacher did not explain it to me but just made me practice for a purpose - for treatment: as I was injured from an accident. In the beginning I did not even understood the philosophy of Yoga but as I practiced I knew that something was happening to my body. It was not like any other exercise; the pain I had reduced with simple movement accompanied by breathing- Pranayama. I realised that something was happening inside- that was my first insight on Yoga. And I would say what the definition says from Yogasutra- “Yogash chitta vrutti nirodhah- it means the ability to concentrate on object you require, contemplation and sustain this concentration for a length of time without any disturbances. But to really explain what this is will take more time. To put it simply, I would say Yoga is to be positive inside; yoga helps you to have quietness within.
2. How old were you when you came in contact with Yoga?
I started Yoga in 1969, in my early 20s. I had a very long hair and it got caught in the vehicle because of which I met with an accident, because of the accident I was in a lot of pain (neck) and was under severe medication and then I met my teacher -he said we will try and throw away your collar and I did it with faith. One thing about Yoga is that you need faith. I was in pain for few months and then it disappeared then I continued with my practice along with my other work and in one point I left my work and learnt Yoga and then became a Yoga teacher and started teaching by 1975.
3. According to you what is the importance of yoga in this contemporary society, especially with regards to women’s wellness?
I have been working in this area for a long time, we have even conducted many workshops with this regard, but unfortunately Yoga has travelled outside India and has been sold back to us. We are realising the value now after losing lot of our own background, but there are lot of references- my teacher Shri. T. Krishnamacharya, he had talked a lot about women and yoga.
Now- a-days women work both within and outside home, they have lot of stress and lot of anger: all these things slowly have a very negative impact on their body and their mind is full of fear. For example today in the session a caterpillar fell on a young woman and she screamed as if something very terrible had happened, so what I mean is fear complex has increased, and fear, anger all these aversions have negative impacts on the women of the present generation and Yoga is something which can help in this area specifically on menstrual complaints, difficulties in pregnancy, post-natal and menopause etc but the most important thing for women is not just to get treatment but the maintenance of their health which can be attained through Yoga.
Yoga is not just a physical exercise, Asanas lead you to a higher level of Pranayama, Gyana; something to understand and reflect on yourself. The yogis did this a long time ago to define and understand what it is and to understand themselves (aatmadharshana), they did it with great devotion but now everything is done with some expectation, expectation itself is kind of a negative component. The most important quotation in Yoga is “Do your activity to your best and the result will come by itself”.
4. Do you think that the present lifestyle of women provides her the space and time to practice yoga daily? How can this be facilitated, particularly with rural women?
Of course, everyone can commit their time to do what they want to do. If you can find time to go to the beauty parlour, you can find time to talk on the mobile phones for hours, you can also keep aside just half an hour for Yoga. If you want something, even if it is not easy, you make effort to get it with faith-abhiyasam. Abhiyasam is long-term practice with devotion; it is a continuous process without break and with positive attitude. If you continue Abhiyasam then whatever you practice becomes part of you. But the time one takes to attain it depends on person to person. Some people are very intense and some are not so much, I have seen many young people who are not very motivated in the beginning but come out of requirement/desperation but later they become the best example as once they realise that they are getting something positive out of it, they really get attached to this. Once you start doing Yoga regularly, you won’t stop it. And I believe that if you really want to do something, help comes to you in some way or the other.
5. In the urban area there are many centres where people can learn Yoga which is not present in rural areas. According to you what are the sources where the rural population can learn Yoga?
Actually if you ask me, now-a-days whatever is available in the cities slowly trickles down to villages. But one thing that rural women have is-connection with the nature, they work along with them. Infact if you look at them they have a certain body co-ordination, body language and they are relaxed in their mind. The ability to be with the object is Yoga and they have that ability. Yoga is not just Asanas but to be with the object; concentration without stress which they have or at least had.
To be truthful the teachers generally don’t want to go to the rural areas and teach Yoga anymore, unfortunately such commercials aspects have crept in Yoga, the temptations is very high for teachers. But rural women so far are fine as they are comfortable with their surrounding, and they are content (have quietness in the mind). We are not comfortable with our surroundings.
6. Is there a difference in teaching Yoga to the urban and the rural people?
For me where they come from is not important but the person matters. The way I was taught was very different, very traditional- only one student, as it is not just teaching but also observation- what is good and bad for the student and little bit of counselling. Traditionally it was not a group method, group is actually a western idea. Yoga was not grouped learning but an individual learning, teacher to student, a guru-sishya parampara. But unfortunately now we have to package it differently and sadly in India there is no follow up of anything, things come and go. For example whatever I spoke today, the women might not have registered; I mean they will go back to their home tomorrow and follow their usual schedule. But maybe if I leave a drop and make them think about it then maybe they will learn Yoga someday.
Now Yoga has become more like a gimmick, it went outside and came back in beautiful package; the material does not seem to be important but the packaging seems to be more important and people are attracted to these packages. We think what we know are all that exist, but still there are many sincere teachers who practice Yoga and teach but they are not known as unfortunately people are more attracted towards the commercial aspect of Yoga.
7. You have been involved with Ayurveda and a practitioner of yoga for a long time, how would you explain the connection between Ayurveda and Yoga?
The way we talk about the state of mind in Yoga and state of body (Vata, Pitha, Kapha) is similar. Ayurveda explains diet for different climate, diet for normal health, diet for diseases etc and through Yoga I use my own interpretation of Asanas and practice, I find the combination of both these comfortable and effective.
We tell the people do’s and don’ts for their diet because people have started consuming unhealthy food –these are the unknown causes of many illness as we don’t know what is in our food, these food can reflect or change the nature of your body and mind. So looking into it, we explain the diet and slowly try to convert their diet into healthy diet. In the beginning it is difficult as you can’t change the diet of the people easily but once they practice and get use to it, the body starts rejecting things that are unhealthy. We also suggest them other small things like eat when you are hungry and don’t force yourself when you are not hungry.
8. SLI is involved in promoting sustainable livelihoods to rural women. Do you think they have lost contact with the traditional knowledge of yoga? How can SLI help revive to these?
Rural women earlier were very much in sync with nature but now they seem to have lost their contact. Unlike the olden days, now if they have some pain they go to the hospital and get shot, their lifestyle has changed, they are not aware of it but slowly it’s changing.
For a livelihood program I think Yoga needs to be an integral part as the women needs to be free from stress to be healthy. For that the institute could conduct Yoga program and select few women who are really interested and good in it and train and certify them so that they can go back and teach Yoga in their home town.
Interview By: Tendel Zangmu Thongon