The magic of Yoga takes over in Latin America


     Huma Siddiqui

There is no better feeling than to feel one with one’s inner self. For centuries Yoga is known to awaken in one, the inner peace and tranquility we often go looking for in material things.

Little surprise Latin Americans are clued in to this brilliant science. I fact they rightly consider India a land of yoga, meditation, philosophy, wisdom, culture and spiritualism. Yoga schools can be found all over the region. Yoga and meditation are taught in some Latin American jails to calm down the convicts.  With miles of untouched natural habitat and the deeply held spiritual traditions of the Maya and Incan civilizations, Central and South America is the perfect place to embark on a spiritual journey.

Though Yoga has been practiced in the region for last several years, yet in last couple of year, the kind of ‘explosion’ in yoga seekers and awareness in Indian culture has increased rapidly.  Infact, Yoga is now set for promotion in Peru, Bolivia and adjoining parts of Latin America, with a MoU being signed in New Delhi in this regard recently. The Embassy of India in Peru’s capital Lima has taken up the responsibility for the promotion of Voluntary Scheme for Evaluation and Certification of Yoga Professionals, developed by the Quality Council of India (QCI) at the bidding of the Ministry of AYUSH.

Little surprise then that Latin America is the destination of choice among yoga enthusiasts looking for ways to spice up their yoga retreat experiences – the region just never seems to run out of sizzling options. Countries including Costa Rica, Nicaragua,  Peru; Brazil; Honduras; Guatemala; Mexico; Ecuador;  Chile, all are sought after destinations by the yoga enthusiasts.

A small country Costa Rica has an Indian population of 200 in 5 million populations.  But these 200 people have engaged a larger population of Costa Ricans to be looking at India with high esteem, for cultural, technological and economic reasons. Costa Rica is known as a jewel in Central America region for its natural beauty, peace and economical stability which have also led to expansion of seekers of healthy lifestyle. About a decade ago when an Indian company Havells acquired business of Sylvania worldwide, a young family moved to Costa Rica to manage the regional interest of the company. They not only managed the company, but also expanded the knowledge of India and aroused interest in the spiritual aspect of the Indian culture by opening up Indian restaurants in the country.

Keeping with the spirit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for June 21 to be International Yoga day, KapilGulati the owner of “Taj Mahal” restaurant developed an area to have regular Yoga sessions and Indian classical dance sessions, in addition to Indian cuisine cooking classes.  The whole idea is to make mini India at TajMahal, where the mystique of India and its culture can be experienced by people living so far away from home. To add to the ambiance the owner has three peacocks –India’s national bird, which seems to love dancing in the wonderful weather of Costa Rica while locals are doing Yoga. The musical instruments at restaurants, Yoga classes, Indian classical dance classes, Hindi language classes, Indian cuisine cooking classes, Indian festival celebrations, Bollywood themed Costa Rican movie,   … the Indian culture is blossoming in Costa Rica… and now Costa Rican Ambassador in India is herself a fine example how Indian culture has impacted positively to Costa Ricans.

“The world is going through a lot of havoc in the Kali Yuga and as long as we remain connected to whom we are and know where we are going and why we will help balance the chaos. Yoga is one of the many options to do this.  Yoga is not a religion but a science and art and it can benefit all humanity, says Ambassador of the Republic of Costa Rica, Ms. Mariela Cruz Alvarez.

The yoga passionate who is a grandmother but doesn’t look it, says, “I got interested in yoga through a personal crisis.  I started searching within for answers to my heart and my search took me here to India.  After my first three trips to the north as a tourist I felt the calling to go south and I found my Guru, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and his grandson Sharath Jois in Mysore, Karnataka, back in 2003.”

Ms Alvarez has been to India 14 times including this assignment as an ambassador to India.  “The last 11 trips to my school in India to practice Ashtanga yoga with Guruji and now Sharathji after his grandfather passing in 2009.  My school is very popular in the West and many students from all over the world are appreciating the benefits of yoga as a traditional classical method. The source of yoga is India and that is very important to know because now many teach in the west with no qualifications.  A lot of commercial yoga is watered down yoga as fitness or social gig, instead of a spiritual sadhana,” she says.

Yoga is getting very popular in Costa Rica and we are a hub for international teachers, yoga retreats, nature and practice.  Costa Rica has amazing venues in the beaches, volcanes and jungle and yoga practice transforms us to appreciate beauty, peace and freedom- those values my country deeply understands.  We are a nation of democracy and green development, small in size but big in heart and principles.

In her first mission as a diplomat after almost 30 years of raising a family and being an ambassador for Ashtanga yoga in the world, she says, “My intention in India as a diplomat is to meet my colleagues with an open heart,  no matter if they practice or not.  One of the gifts of this practice is acceptance of who we are and acceptance and unconditional love for others.  I feel so grateful to know them and admire them all deeply.  The blessing my Guru Sharath Jois gave me to teach has put me in touch with many wonderful people in Latin America, Europe and India.  I have no words to thank him for his trust in me.”

She says that “I deeply admire India in all senses and that the wisdom that I have found here has transformed my life and the lives of those around me beyond any expectations. My Guruji used to say:  Practice and all is coming.  I have been through hard times as any soul in this life and yoga has supported me and healed me.  My intention here now in my tenure is to promote peace and stability,   the main value that Costa Rica has to offer the world besides our concern with the environment and our efforts for education and healthcare.  I feel proud to be a Costarican and my country is very much interested in creating a deep relationship with yours.  We may be small in size and population but big in intention.  India has taught me so much:  I hope I can serve my country in the best way and yours as well.”

The Author is Senior Correspondent with the Financial Express and writes extensively about Latin America. View expressed in the article are author’s personal.

Author   @Huma Siddiqui


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