Yoga: Indian practice turned global phenomenon

Members of India's National Cadet Corps (NCC) take part in a mass yoga session to mark International Yoga Day at the Bison Polo Grounds in Hyderabad on June 21, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 21 June 2019
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Yoga: Indian practice turned global phenomenon

The Indian discipline of yoga, involving spiritual and physical practices, is followed in myriad forms today by millions of people worldwide, with an entry in UNESCO's intangible cultural heritage list.

Here is some background for International Yoga Day, marked on Friday for the fifth time.

Transcending suffering

The word “yoga” has its origins in the ancient Sanskrit language and means “to attach, join, harness, yoke”.

This is the notion underpinning the discipline, according to French historian Bernard Sergent, which is to join the intellect of the one practicing with the “universal soul”.

Yoga first appeared in ancient texts such as the sacred Hindu epic the Bhagavad Gita, written between the fifth and second centuries BC.

It is born of an “awareness of the unsatisfactory character of the human condition,” says India specialist Tara Michael, author of the book “Yoga” published in France in 1980.

The practice emerged as a way of transcending this suffering.

However, in its present-day use, yoga is often no more than a form of exercise, Michael says. 

A modern (re)invention

Yoga became known in the West towards the end of the 19th century as it was undergoing a major revival in India under the Hindu teacher Swami Vivekananda.

This philosopher-monk stressed yoga's rational and scientific qualities in a bid to make the discipline compatible with the West.

His book “Raja Yoga” lays the foundations for a modern and international yoga.

In the first half of the 20th century, Western texts began to detail yoga postures, also known as “asanas”.

The emphasis on these postures and their sequences, such as the famous Sun Salutations, is a recent development, says India specialist Sita Reddy in “Yoga, The Art of Transformation”.

Modern Western references such as the Oxford English Dictionary define yoga as a “spiritual and ascetic discipline” which includes “breath control, simple meditation, and the adoption of specific bodily postures.”

Global phenomenon

Indian metaphysics captured the imagination of counter-cultural movements of the 1960s and 1970s, as epitomized by the relationship between The Beatles and the Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh.

Yoga as a spiritual practice was popularized at this time with the more athletic and dynamic methods developed in the 1980s and 1990s, says Mark Singleton from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

It is difficult to say just how many people practice yoga around the world today, although some estimate it could be up to around 200 to 300 million.

Studies have shown its benefits for dealing with anxiety, depression and sleep disorders, with yoga considered more effective than a simple physical activity but less than psychotherapy.

World heritage

Since coming to power in 2014, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi has used yoga as an emblem of India's flourishing in the world, pushing for the UN resolution that has -- since 2015 -- consecrated June 21 as International Yoga Day.

UNESCO added yoga to its list of intangible cultural heritage in 2016 in recognition of its influence on Indian society, “from health and medicine to education and the arts.”

“Designed to help individuals build self-realization, ease any suffering they may be experiencing and allow for a state of liberation, (yoga) is practiced by the young and old without discriminating against gender, class or religion,” UNESCO added in a tweet.


Startup of the Week: Protein Laboratory: Making healthy eating fun and easy

Updated 17 September 2019
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Startup of the Week: Protein Laboratory: Making healthy eating fun and easy

  • And with growing health awareness, many Saudis are switching over to more nutritious dietary habits

JEDDAH: An enterprising Saudi family is aiming to take the world by storm with its scientific approach to healthy eating.

The Bogari’s newly opened Protein Laboratory restaurant in Jeddah is the brainchild of brothers Ahmed, Hussain and Hassan.

The three doctors got the inspiration for their startup from hospital laboratories while studying in medical school, and with the help of their parents set about establishing their innovative culinary venture.

In recent years the health and fitness fad has become a flourishing business sector in the Kingdom, which has witnessed a dramatic rise in the number of gyms and fitness centers.

And with growing health awareness, many Saudis are switching over to more nutritious dietary habits. However, eating clean can be a challenge for those with busy, modern lifestyles who do not have the time to prepare meals.

Enter the Protein Laboratory, opened to add fun to the idea of healthy food. “We wanted to reintroduce the concept of healthy food to the Saudi health and fitness community,” Ahmed, 27, told Arab News.

“We believe that healthy food does not have to be boring and achieving your goal of fat loss can actually satisfy your taste buds and leave you happily full at the same time.

“We are planning to expand in Jeddah and Makkah to help more people achieve their fitness targets while enjoying tasty food, and we are aiming to be recognized globally,” he said.

The trio started planning their enterprise while studying at medical college but credit their parents’ support for helping turn their vision into a successful business launch.

Their father guided them in setting up the company and their mother took responsibility for the restaurant’s kitchen, playing a major role in developing recipes and supervising operations.

The brothers’ association with the field of medicine also helped them in their efforts. Ahmed was first inspired by hospital laboratories and the way researchers worked on minor details to get the best possible results.

“The long counters, glass walls, and test tubes are what I liked the most, in addition to the complete transparency of the place. It is exactly how I wanted our restaurant to be. Everything to be prepared and cooked just in front of the customer with a high level of attention to detail,” he added.

The idea behind the name Protein Laboratory was to ensure customers had the option to select, mix and create ingredients according to their taste or preference.

“Customers can order their meals according to their nutritional needs and preferences, starting with selecting the protein base, cooking method, side dishes, the sauce and portion of the meal’s components in grams.”

Ahmed said: “We use the healthiest cooking methods possible. We don’t use frozen meat; we blend our own spices and make sure everything is always made in the healthiest way.”

The brothers and their mother work like scientists. “We spent one year testing ingredients and creating healthy recipes. We had only one goal in mind: High protein in a healthy meal and a portion that could help us and others to stay healthy while still eating the food we desired with higher quality and better taste,” Ahmed added.

Their lab salad dish includes more than 20 organic ingredients high in protein, fiber and antioxidants. The restaurant’s burger has only 396 calories, and one of their best-selling desserts is a sugar-free banana pancake.

“We aim to make our prices within everyone’s reach,” Ahmed said.

One of the services offered by the restaurant is subscription to a meal plan drawn up according to the nutritional needs of the customer and delivered to their workplace or home.

Protein Laboratory is located in Helmi Kutbi Street, in Jeddah’s Al-Zahra district and can be followed on Instagram @proteinlabsa.