From New York to Mumbai, yoga has taken the world by storm. At Niraamaya Retreats, the yoga guru introduces guests to this ancient system of harmonising body, mind and soul, and takes them on a journey of physical healing and self-discovery.
With a view like that, yoga should be a cakewalk. Actually, not more difficult than that Vrikshasana or the tree pose that Ayappan sir teaches me—“Lean a little against the wall, stabilise yourself, look at one point, and then straighten. You won’t fall,” he assures me.
I attempt that, and voila, the one pose that I have found the most difficult to hold, suddenly seems like a child’s play. Every morning, from the edge of the rugged cliff on which the retreat is located, you can see Narayana Ayappan gently leading his students, the guests at the retreat, through the smooth movements of yoga. The sessions are held on the striking open-air wooden podium with columns saved from old homes in Kerala, which stands perched above the beach and is surrounded by the magical views of the sea and the palm-strewn Kovalam coastline.
The guru has devised a stellar yoga programme at Niraamaya Retreats. He is stationed at Niraamaya Retreats Surya Samudra, Kovalam but travels to different properties to host special classes and workshops for guests.
There can’t be a better introduction to this ancient system of healing that marries exercises or asanas with slow breathing techniques and meditation.
A brief history of yoga
Derived from the Sanskrit word Yuj, “the roots of Yoga can be traced back to the Vedic texts written in India,” says Guru Ayappan. “Till now, it was said that yoga is about 10,000 years old. But new research shows it could be older; it could be traced back to the Indus-Sarasvati Civilization. Yoga is considered one of the six Indian philosophies, each of which takes you to higher planes of spiritual growth.”
Archaeological records in India show that the Indus-Sarasvati Civilization was also known as the Harappan Civilization and flourished from 3300 B.C to 1800 B.C. Rigveda, a collection of ancient Sanskrit hymns which mentions Lord Shiva as the founder of yogic practices, is said to be have been written around the time of Harappan Civilization. Of the six Indian philosophies, only Yoga has an element of exercise.
It was Sage Pantanjali who documented, synthesized and organized the vast knowledge of yoga from the older traditions in his classic Yoga S?tras of Patañjali, a collection of 196 Indian sutras (aphorisms) on the theory and practice of yoga. “It is considered an authoritative text on yoga and even today, no one has been able to change or add to those 196 aphorisms,” says Guru Ayappan.
The modern practice
While the aphorisms of yoga and its ethical-spiritual beliefs have remained constant at the core for centuries, its practice has evolved to keep up with shifting personal goalposts to do with fitness and mental health. One of the reasons why this ancient practice of breath control, asanas or yoga poses and meditation has survived the vicissitudes of time is because of the flexibility with which it adapts to contemporary times. As Guru Ayappan says, “Yoga is not a static science. It keeps growing, it keeps evolving.”
From the time, Sage Patanjali penned down the Yoga Sutra to now, several schools of yoga have evolved, many of them popular in the West, too. There is Hatha (In India, hatha yoga is associated with the ‘yogis’ of the Natha Sampradaya through its mythical founder, Matsyendranath); Iyengar (founded by BKS Iyengar, who popularised yoga in the West); Sivananda (which has 12 asanas, but several variations in its advanced form); Ashtang (this dynamic, physically demanding practice synchronises breath and movement); Viny?sa (yoga practised as one breath, tied to one movement); Bikram (hot yoga); Anusara (modern school of Hatha yoga), and Yin Yoga (a slow-paced style where the asanas are held for longer periods of time).
“Yoga will offer you what you seek from it: you could look at it as a purely exercise form, which beautifully harmonises mind, body and soul through a series of asanas (poses), pranayam (breath control exercises to calm your mind and strengthen your body and your willpower) and meditation. You could approach it as a path to health and peace, or you could use it to further your spiritual practice,” says Guru Ayappan. “You can tailor your practice depending on what you want out of yoga.” At the very basic, Yoga helps improve flexibility; strength and muscle tone, offers greater endurance, and an enhanced immune function. “But it can also transform your personality from an anxiety-ridden one to a far more calmer individual,” he says.
Yoga atNiraamaya Retreats
At Niraamaya Retreats’ Surya Samudra, Kovalam the morning yoga classes at the podium are an everyday affair. The Sunrise Session includes Surya Namaskaar or sun salutations. Guru Ayappan guides guests through the basics of yoga practice. Based on what the doctors at the Niraamaya Spa prescribe, once the body constitution according to Ayurvedic principles has been determined, guests can opt for private classes, where, depending on their level of comfort with this ancient healing philosophy, he customises the practice.
The yoga classes are conducted in areas that help guests integrate with their surroundings and nature—a stunning sweep of the southern coastline and the sea. All of Niraamaya Retreats offer yoga classes both as a morning exercise routine, and as part of short-and long-term Ayurveda programs. Guests can also request for separate Pranayama and Meditation sessions.