International Day of Yoga 2021: From mental health to weight loss, Yoga Shri HR Nagendra explains benefits of Yoga

Yoga has only become more important in the light of the coronavirus pandemic, during which the practice has not only helped physically, but has also provided help in dealing with mental health issues.

International Yoga Day 2021: Yoga is a practice that has been followed in India for centuries. It is meant for physical, mental as well as spiritual well-being, and this has caused it to become very popular among many other countries as well. The popularity and importance of Yoga was demonstrated back in 2014, when PM Narendra Modi’s proposal in the UN General Assembly to mark a World Yoga Day was endorsed by 175 member nations. Since then, the UN has been marking June 21 as the International Day of Yoga, and 2021 marks the seventh year that the event is being celebrated in India. Yoga has only become more important in the light of the coronavirus pandemic, during which the practice has not only helped physically, but has also provided help in dealing with mental health issues.

To understand more about the importance of Yoga and how it can help, Financial Express Online’s Bulbul Dhawan interacted with Yoga Shri Dr HR Nagendra, who is the Yoga Guru to PM Narendra Modi and to many other ministers in the Union Government. Apart from that, he is also the Chairmanship of International Day of Yoga Task Force, and is the Chancellor of S-VYASA (Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana).

On the occasion of International Yoga Day 2021, Yoga Guru HR Nagendra said, “It should be our moral duty to build an immune, healthier and stronger India by adopting yoga as an effective adjunct to prevent such pandemics. I urge everyone to adopt Yoga as a lifestyle that is based on the science of holistic living.”

Catch live updates on International Day of Yoga 2021 here

Edited excerpts:

With the coronavirus pandemic still ongoing, how can Yoga help people in fighting the infection?

We know that in the modern medical system, more potent and efficient vaccines have been developed, and the research is ongoing to deliver the most effective vaccines. Similarly, there is a lot of research going on to bring about pharmacological and Ayurvedic interventions to deal with COVID- 19. Along with that, Yoga can also help in preventing the coronavirus infection. The principle is that we have to boost our immune system and build a strong army with billions of white blood cells within us. Compared to the coronavirus, our WBC is 100 times stronger. Hence, there is a good possibility that we don’t get infected if our immune system is strong, healthy and full of vitality. This is where yoga can help us achieve this.

If the immune system gets weakened due to harmful lifestyle choices or stress, that could result in an issue. It is well known that stress has an immuno-suppression factor which does not affect us only on the physical level. While physical trauma or challenge can definitely cause stress, mental restlessness, emotional sadness or deep-rooted psychological conflict have the potential to affect us even more. Stress is a multi-dimensional challenge and therefore, when it hits the immune system, it weakens it.

Yoga helps in alleviating these feelings while working at all levels. Through various yoga postures, Pranayama, meditation, and Bhakti yoga can help us understand the various dimensions of anatomy, physiology and pathophysiology of the infectious disease and how the immune system can combat it. Thus, yoga can contribute tremendously as an effective way to deal with these ailments resulting due to the coronavirus infection. Therefore, the Ministry of AYUSH has also approved the yoga protocol and has urged people to practice it every day.

S-VYASA has also developed specialized programmes for every age group which works on all levels of health and wellness. Bhramari Aasan has been proven to increase 15 times more nitric oxide than simple breathing, which can eventually help clear up the virus from our nasal passage. Therefore, it is a wonderful tool that can be used effectively as an adjunct to the allopathic system. Yoga in no way is a replacement for Western allopathic medicines but works collaboratively with it.

Our published paper in the British Medical Journal titled “Yoga for bronchitis” in 1986 outlines some modules and techniques that are relevant in the current context. These have helped people who have tested positive for Coronavirus and had to quarantine themselves, or even got admitted in the hospital in severe cases. We hope everyone adopts the power of yoga and prepares their immune system for any further wave or attack from the virus.

The pandemic and the lockdown, both have had a severe impact on the mental health of people. What role can Yoga play in tackling issues like depression and anxiety, be it short-term or chronic?

The current pandemic has given us the opportunity to stay home, work on family relations and spend more time with them. However, this quarantine or isolation has also impacted the mind negatively. Hence, it is imperative for us to practice and introduce yoga at home to help tackle mental issues such as depression and anxiety. Yoga is well known to be of great value in this area as it is the control of the mind and emotions that is most important in these conditions, and that is where Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga and Karma Yoga can help.

Most people believe that Yoga is for spiritual purposes and not for purposes like weight loss. What is your opinion on this belief? Could you also tell us something about Power Yoga?

This point has been highlighted by our Honorable Prime Minister, who has made it clear that Yoga is not just for people who go to the Himalayas to seek spiritual salvation. It is for everyone in the society. Almost a century back, Swami Vivekananda shared this message that yoga is a socially relevant science and this has been the objective behind launching VYASA and S-VYASA University. Vivekananda preached that yoga is helpful in all aspects of life. We have a special weight loss Pranayama called the Surya Anulom Vilom Pranayama, which if practiced four times before breakfast, lunch, dinner and sleep can work wonders. It can help reduce close to two kilograms a month, and we have seen millions of people benefit from it in the last four decades.

Similarly, recent additions like Power Yoga and Hot Yoga can help reduce weight by burning calories quite swiftly. However, these should be practiced under expert supervision. Therefore, it is essential to understand that yoga can help in weight loss but must be followed with great precision under able guidance.

There are a lot of women’s health issues, like PCOS. How can Yoga be used to battle them?

Our years of study have been able to prove that yoga relaxation by Asanas, slow breathing practices, calming of the mind and practice of effectively integrated yoga modules that we have developed for PCOS have worked wonders for many women. Our university has also been able to publish several research papers.

Thyroid and resultant weight gain is also becoming a major issue. How can one keep this in check with the help of Yoga?

Again, bringing balance is the key essence to deal with all these essential and serious non-communicable diseases. For weight loss, Surya Anulom Vilom Pranayama is the solution. It is also important to adopt relaxation techniques in order to manage conditions such as thyroid.

There are also several lifestyle issues like diabetes, and even stress and fatigue that are being reported in a much larger number of people. What can people do to take care of these issues?

In relation to diabetes, our university undertook a big project on Niyantran Bharat where we studied over 250 thousand people from various parts of the country and published 35 research papers, while 10 more are in the offing. Because of this, the American Diabetic Association in San Francisco last year, awarded us for undertaking the largest and most effective research that has been done in India till date. We have enough expertise to help control issues such as diabetes and other NCDs with the help of specific yoga modules which are based on the integrative approach of yoga therapy that we have mastered over the years.

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