Yoga practitioner and teacher, Tanvi Mehra, talks to her guru, Raju Ghosh, about the therapeutic and medical benefits of yoga.
In a city, you will find many yoga teachers but there is a real dearth of gurus. I’ve been lucky that as a yoga student, I have had two gurus (Yogacharya Bharat Shetty and Yogacharya Raju Ghosh) guiding me on my journey, improving and working on my practice and teaching me a life of true yoga. In Bombay, my Guru Raju Ghosh (36 years) has been my constant for the last six years. It was destiny that brought us together.
In September 2015, I bumped into a friend on the road with a yoga mat in her hand and she mentioned heading to her yoga teacher’s home. She profusely praised this teacher and I was intrigued and insisted on being introduced to him. I contacted (my soon to be Guru) Raju Ghosh once and waited for an audience with him for three weeks. I wasn’t aware at the time that he was testing my seriousness to practice with him and hence the wait. I finally got to meet him, half expecting to see an older man with grey hair and I was pleasantly shocked to see a radiant young man with the most genuine smile.
Raju sir, as I fondly call him, has been my guiding light ever since. I have never met a more generous, compassionate, positive and wise soul. Class with Raju sir is like a deep meditation. When he teaches, he never looks at the time. His inner knowledge flows like an endless river and he never holds back. Under his tutelage, I have learned about pranayama, asana, meditation, kriyas and most importantly, how to be a better human being.
He teaches me how to teach, has elevated my own practice, advises me about my business, counsels me on how to be the best daughter, sister, wife, teacher and entrepreneur. His medical yoga class training has given me the confidence to work with students with all sorts of mental and physical conditions. Yoga class with sir is not just another class it is our daily dose of peace, deep healing and growth.
Every student who walks through his doors is transformed by his immense knowledge and by his commitment to yoga. Raju sir is truly gifted and has a deep understanding of the human body. What I admire most about him is his simplicity and humility and his eagerness to spread the love of yoga to anyone who walks through his door. He works his way effortlessly with each student from the inside out. His teachings are and will continue to be infinite as his understanding of yoga is such. Here’s a glimpse into his wisdom.
Tanvi: What is your definition of yoga?
Raju: The subject of yoga is as vast as the universe, as large as the aakash and as deep as the oceans unfathomable. It’s very difficult to contain in words, as it is a journey into limitlessness, it is about going inward and there are so many layers to learn and understand. As Mahamuni Patanjali says in his sutra, “Sa tu dirgha kala nairantarya satkara sevito drudha bhumihi,” which means only “continuous unbroken practice” can truly help one experience yoga. The way you see yoga depends on your own personal journey, it is constantly evolving day by day, year after year, as your practice progresses.
Tanvi: How did yoga come into your life?
Raju: As a child, I was very athletic and into all sorts of sports activities. When I was five, I once saw a group of students practicing yoga. I felt drawn to it as though some energy was pulling me and I soon started practicing not knowing fully what I was embarking on but I felt I am on “a path.” I felt expansive and back then, I didn’t realise it would one day become my livelihood. Blessed are those who can practice and help others practice.
Tanvi: Can you talk about your yoga journey and how it has evolved?
Raju: I didn’t know for many years that I was on a journey of yoga. It was something I enjoyed practising during my tough childhood as it was like a parent, holding my hand firmly and not letting me go astray. My mother used to ask me back then, “You don’t have food in your stomach but you are always ready for practice. Why are you investing so much time? Do you think it’s going to help you make a livelihood?” Today I am grateful to live a life everyday where my passion and livelihood are the same.
Tanvi: What made you discover therapeutic yoga and how did it help you?
Raju: My students set me on a path of therapeutic yoga because they asked me to help cure them of some physical discomforts they were experiencing, and to help them practice yoga with their various limitations. In those days, I had to travel to my clients so I had to modify asanas to suit them. I did so by using whatever was available at their homes — from stools to dining chairs, tables to bed pillows, cushions to dupattas, etc.
This ability of yoga to heal the mind and body over time is the most interesting journey to be a part of. To see the sheer joy and relief on my students faces and to see their family members’ beaming faces is intensely satisfying. Teaching and practising therapeutic yoga has helped me to sharpen my focus, deepen my research and build a stronger understanding of how to be precise in technique and execute instructions with ease when one prepares the body of the students in various postures.
Tanvi: What is your take on Western medicine? Do you believe in doctors or any kind of medical interventions?
Raju: I believe everyone has a place in society and doctors are an important part of this. When one is in an emergency such as an accident or a sudden heart attack, then doctors are truly a Godsend. When it comes to daily care, an individual needs to take charge of his or her own health in terms of lifestyle. There are various kinds of people who get their assurance from various sources one such source is doctors.
Tanvi: You had arthritis 15 ago. Can you share how you healed your body?
Raju: At the age of 21, a couple of years after I started teaching in Mumbai, I was completely bedridden with all my major joints jammed. I was told after minor surgery and medical investigation, that I had arthritis and my world came crashing down.
Other than my body, I had no source of livelihood. Today when I look back, that was the best thing that happened to me. It taught me everything I know and made me the person I am. My understanding of human psychology and physiology got so well entrenched that I felt I went to a world class medical school. During this period, I learnt about nutrition from my Amma ( Dr Vijaya Venkat from The Health Awareness Centre, Mumbai). She taught me many things, the most important being, “pause” such an important yogic principle which I had completely forgotten in my race to pull myself out of poverty and establish myself as a yoga teacher in this city of dreams.
I fell ill because of the fact that I had worked non-stop from a very young age and had limited access to nutrition.
I started eating the right food (fresh, raw, local and seasonal ) in the right combination and at the right time (before sunset). My food is primarily fresh seasonal, regional fruits, dry fruits, raw vegetables, sprouts and nuts ( almonds, walnuts, cashews)
As I firmly established “rest and relaxation” in my daily life, I healed within a month after suffering from joint pains for six months. Later, I had a life and death battle due to drug toxicity. The same drugs which were meant to heal me from arthritis brought me to my deathbed, but I used my yoga sadhana and particularly, my pranayama practice to heal. I’ve come a long way and I balance my work (teaching yoga and yoga therapy sessions ) and personal life. This balance is key to healthy living. In hindsight, I realise that the experience was training for me to fulfill my mission to help people through yoga.
Tanvi: Can you describe the therapeutic yoga classes you teach and how they benefit an individual?
Raju: The best thing that happens to an individual is his/her initiation on the path of yoga. Each student might come with an ailment or disease and as healing occurs through regular consistent practice, they are able to experience the 360 degree effect of yoga on all aspects of their life. This is the biggest benefit of yoga one receives. An important aspect of therapeutic yoga is to understand the student’s conditions and then bring yoga to them. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. The practice is customised to bring the student’s body into harmony. There is no formula or standard sequence for everyone.
Tanvi: Do you have to have any problems/ailments/injuries to do a therapeutic class or do you recommend the same for all ?
Raju: The beauty of practicing yoga is its ability to spotlight the area where energy isn’t flowing, where there is lack of light. While many come with a specific concern, the real issue might lie somewhere else. Some discover their issues while on their journey of the yoga practice, which they can then address over time. Yoga is life’s philosophy. It is a part of your daily life. How you live your personal life, your self-discipline and how you interact with society are influenced by the yamas and niyamas.
Tanvi: Can you highlight a few cases where your students have healed with the practise?
Raju: There are many such cases. I will let the words of my students do the needful.
“From the time I have taken Raju sir as my guru, my life has taken a 360 degree turn. I have noticed a change in my temperament, a change in my health — be it my backache, sciatica, piles, cholesterol and my high blood pressure issues. My need to take aid of medicines for every ailment has completely reduced. My confidence in practising yoga has increased tremendously and despite being a heart patient, I am happy to be able to do headstands with the help of props. My guru is so intuned with my mind and body that the moment I enter class, he designs the class as per the day and my energy level. I haven’t ever met someone who teaches from such a deep place of understanding and connection. I was a person who would run to doctors everyday and I have forgotten the road to all these clinics thanks to Raju sir. I would want more and more people to know about Raju sir and benefit from his teachings.” Pappu Mehra, 68 years.
“I restarted my yoga journey with Raju sir two years ago. I suffered a major shoulder injury that just got worse with my corporate desk job. All doctors suggested surgery and steroid shots, but that was not the path I wanted to take. With sir, I understood the importance of alignment and how yoga can be used to transform the mind and body. Today, I have reached a stage in my life where my shoulder pain does not exist, my postures and alignment are better, my mind is peaceful and focused, and I am always eager to get deeper and deeper into the journey of yoga. Yoga has truly transformed my life.” Fazela Bhagchandani (46).
“I’m 23 and my journey started when I was going through some emotional problems and personal issues. I was dealing with substance abuse. I approached Raju sir, whom my family knew for almost 15 years, to help me with free-hand exercises to get my body and mind in a better shape. Instead he introduced me to yoga which transformed my life and got me into a much better mental and physical state. and helped me take a more positive approach to my daily life .He understands what people my age are susceptible to and deals with it in a very holistic way. The rigorous training has made me realise that yoga is a way of life meant to be practised all the time. I am trying to imbibe the most I can. Raju sir is a very strict taskmaster. That is precisely what has helped me. So now I practice with him on a daily basis and try to follow a healthy lifestyle as much as possible. I’m a much more strong, confident and calm person now.” Name withheld for privacy.
Tanvi: Do you encourage the practice of ashtanga yoga, vinyasa yoga and any form of rigorous yoga?
Raju: According to me there is only one yoga, which is Mahamuni Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga, the 8 limbs of yoga. If something is rigorous, it’s certainly not yoga. Yoga is for the mind. Asana practice, which is the third limb, should be done by the body, for the mind. The mind is a very subtle entity. It is best when it’s in a calm state and anything that disrupts this calmness is not yoga. The entire asana practice is done to bring the body, the breath and the mind in alignment. A practice to achieve this is yoga. Like I have said before, yoga has to be brought to the student’s abilities. Every student is on a learning curve. Hence, each style has its own place.
Tanvi: What do you think of advanced poses and the excitement to achieve the same?
Raju: For me, an advanced pose is either a tadasana (mountain pose) or shavasana (corpse pose). I am sure you were expecting me to say adho mukha vrkshasana (handstand) or vrschikasana (scorpion pose). Why tadasana or shavasana? Because many of us find it extremely challenging to be quiet for 15-20 minutes and hence to achieve that, requires continuous practice. This continuous practice makes these postures fall under the category of advanced poses for me. It displays rigour, discipline and commitment.
I appreciate the desire and wishes of many students to reach advanced postures more quickly. These are attractive poses and goals which give a tremendous amount of confidence to students. Hence, it is important to learn them in your yoga journey. My only wish is that students do not take the achievement of these asanas as the end of their journey and they continue on the path beyond these asanas.
Tanvi: Your take on the use of props in a daily yoga practise?
Raju: I believe your body is the first prop. The ground on which you are standing is the second one. Anything around you which can help you ease into an asana can be a prop and enabler. So yes, props are very significant to daily practice. Props are your teachers.
Tanvi: Can you talk about your favourite props and postures that all should practise daily?
Raju: It’s difficult to choose but my current favourite prop is blankets as they both softly and firmly support us in various postures. For daily practice, I suggest all standing asanas because they keep you grounded and firmly rooted. If your roots are strong your branches will be abundant.
Tanvi: Can you share your thoughts on the future of yoga?
Raju: Yoga is here to stay. Its future is very bright as it lights one up from inside out. Already many have benefited through its practice and will continue to further kindle other people’s path towards yoga. It certainly has a very bright future.
Tanvi: Your thoughts on the importance of nutrition in yoga practice and in healing inside out?
Raju: Our body is a temple in which the divine spirit comes to take residence. Keeping this physical body in utmost health, caring for it is indeed a great responsibility. Our physical body is annamaya kosha, hence its very existence depends on ‘anna’ (that is food) for its nourishment. Eating right in the right combination at the right time is essential for yoga sadhana. A sadhaka (practitioner) must take utmost care of this body because our very life exists in this body. In this body one experiences yoga. Your food is your medicine. Eating it right makes it amrita (nectar) and eating wrong makes it vish (poison).
Asana photos courtesy: Raju Ghosh
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