It would be early to rate the popularity of yoga in Kazakhstan from five years ago, since the idea of this ancient practice was not welcomed very well in 2010. The practice of yoga has begun to grow and the major reasons for starting it are fitness and general rehabilitation. Eight percent of Astana’s population was practicing yoga in 2013, according to a sociological study initiated by the city’s department of tourism, physical education and sports.
Interest in this ancient Indian physical, mental and spiritual practice continues to increase among the people in Kazakhstan, especially in major urban areas of the country. Astana is a city of government employees, students and many other busy and hard-working individuals who are involved at different levels in events, projects, conferences or other important business.
South African Ambassador to Kazakhstan Shirish M. Soni was glad to offer a special programme at the yoga centre in Astana with his former teacher and long-time volunteer at The Art of Living (AOLF), Swami Brahmatej. Students of Californication Beauty Yoga & Spa had a chance to experience a meditation session which Brahmatej led. In the session, the teacher shared how breathing can be extremely effective in relieving stress and being joyful in life. After conducting simple breathing techniques, he led the gathering in a relaxing meditation.
In an interview with The Astana Times, the ambassador said that yoga helps him to be energetic, cope with daily work and achieve big goals. Breathing and meditation techniques with Brahmatej helped him to keep a calm and contemplated mind during difficult years as a freedom fighter in his country.
“In any situation when you can have your body, mind and soul aligned, you will be more dynamic,” said Soni.
For more than two decades, Brahmatej has been teaching advanced meditation programmes within AOLF, one of world’s largest non-profit organisations. He has trained thousands of teachers from all over the world and established the AOLF education wing, which runs more than 200 schools in India and operates in 152 countries worldwide.
Many yoga studios have opened in Astana and instructors who conduct sessions for office workers talked about the corporate practice of yoga in the city. Dinara Karshalova, an instructor at Californication Beauty, noted people these days realise they don’t want to use medication, alcohol, coffee or energy drinks when they can achieve more with yoga and come to practice because they are concerned about quality of life and longevity. The New York-originated air yoga is already being taught at her studio, along with Ashtanga, Hatha, yoga for kids, pregnant women and couples and many other styles which her clients enjoy.
“It’s pleasing that people are not afraid to experiment and like to try new things,” she said. “Some even manage to train in mornings for a better work performance essential to a metropolitan life.”
Karshalova stressed that there is still a need for a simpler way to convey knowledge and awareness about yoga in Kazakhstan.
“It is not just putting fancy clothes on, sitting down on a mat and stretching in a lotus pose,” she said.
Aigul, one of her pupils, added yoga is a state of mind.
“A person does not simply start practicing yoga out of the blue, but comes to it consciously,” she said.
For most people outside India and the Eastern world, yoga means they have to twist their bodies into difficult positions, Brahmatej shared in his interview. He explained that yoga’s physical training helps to keep the body fit, flexible and strong, while the spiritual and mental practice helps the person connect with his or her inner self.
“Yoga does not only affect the body, but impacts the mind. We encourage people to take yoga as a journey that brings peace, happiness, love, joy and enthusiasm to life,” he said.
Brahmatej advised beginners to start with basic breathing and stretching techniques that are simple and enjoyable to perform, while suggesting advanced users continue practicing classical yoga. Basic breathing techniques can be done anywhere, anytime, such as on airplanes or before important events and meetings, and train a person to remain calm, have self-control, throw away self-doubt or overcome obstacles.
“Every religion wants to make people happy, loving and content in life. Our foundation has a volunteer from every race, religion and language of the world,” he added.
In December, the UN General Assembly declared June 21 as International Day of Yoga. Over 40 Muslim countries joined the worldwide celebration this year, proving that yoga does not have to interfere with religion; on the contrary, it helps to be at peace, respect one another and keep away from many problems. Kazakhstan participated with more than 190 countries for the first time and nearly 800 yoga enthusiasts in Almaty grabbed their mats and conducted various exercises. In Astana, more than 400 yoga lovers and practitioners gathered near Astana Opera Theatre to engage in yoga practices.