Yoga can make you steady and self-reliant, says Hansaji Yogendra on the transformative power of yoga

Hansaji Yogendra. a septuagenarian who practises and preaches yoga, talks about the benefits of yoga for a healthy, happy and long life.
Hansaji Yogendra
Hansaji Yogendra is the Director of The Yoga Institute. Image courtesy: Hansaji Yogendra
Radhika Bhirani Published: 21 Feb 2024, 08:59 am IST
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You’re never too young nor too old for yoga, and Indian yoga guru Hansaji Yogendra is a living example. She began doing yoga asanas when she was all of three years old. Now at the age of 76 and since decades, she has been spreading awareness about the philosophy, psychology and practice of yoga worldwide. With her calm demeanour and charismatic persona, Hansaji, through her social media presence, is becoming a catalyst in spreading the goodness of yoga for physical and mental health, among the youth.

Hansaji Yogendra, Director of The Yoga Institute in Mumbai since 1997, has had a keen interest in educating women about the benefits of yoga across different phases of life. In this exclusive HealthShots She Slays interview, the accomplished author, yoga expert, educator and motivational speaker, shares her journey, the global popularity of yoga, gender disparity in the field of yoga, and why everyone must focus on overall health rather than looks.

Q. Can you share your early experiences with yoga?

Hansaji Yogendra: I was born in a family that followed Jainism, and there there was always a certain discipline at home. I was put to yoga when I was three years old. My father used to learn from The Yoga Institute. When he used to come home, he would forcibly make us do all sorts of asanas. It was challenging to sit with eyes closed, but the challenge was who could sit for longer? My three brothers and I were made to compete, and very often I would win. Then we were asked to do Savasana (corpse pose) without shaking the body. In childhood, we were trained like this and we were never put to any comics or any other magazines. That helped us to start imbibing the spirit of yoga into our personality. As I grew older, I started loving this subject. Why? Because it taught me to be steady for some time.

Q. We have seen a remarkable rise in the popularity of yoga worldwide in recent years. Your thoughts?

Hansaji Yogendra: In the beginning, yoga was not popular at all. Rather, ladies used to get frightened if their husbands would come to the center to learn yoga. They said they would become sadhus and sanyasis. Yes, yoga was linked with sadhus and sanyasis. But at The Yoga Institute, we taught yoga for householders. We made it very clear that instead of crying in the home, that our husbands will leave us, you better come here and do something for yourself. Become capable, healthy and strong. So, slowly, ladies started coming to learn.

Yoga was accepted abroad very fast. People learnt yoga and some foreigners would even come to India and teach yoga. At that time in India, somehow the concept was that anything coming from abroad was good. They did not appreciate Indian things so much as imported things, and yoga also was like an imported subject for them. Whatever it may be, slowly yoga became popular in India once again. In every country I have been to, people really wanted to learn yoga because they found that it not just helped them at the physical level, but also at an emotional and mental level.

Yoga expert Hansaji Yogendra
Hansaji Yogendra says yoga is essential for mental calm. Image courtesy: Hansaji Yogendra

Q. Historically, yoga has been male dominated. Has the landscape of yoga changed in terms of gender representation?

Hansaji Yogendra: Well, actually in spirituality, there is no discrimination between gender. We don’t talk about man and woman at all. In spirituality, we talk about the state of mind a person is in, and accordingly they are divided. For me, there was no problem at all because we are teaching yoga for householders. As a householder, the woman is most important. She is the center around whom the whole family is always revolving. That concept was clear to us that every individual – man or woman – has to learn how to live life and become self-reliant.

Q. Media often portrays a certain type of yoga body that can be discouraging for individuals who don’t fit this stereotype. How can we challenge these unrealistic standards?

Hansaji Yogendra: Yes, nowadays physical fitness seems to have made certain norms. One is zero figure! Everybody wants to become zero figure. But becoming zero figure doesn’t mean that you are healthy – at all. For health, it is important to see a person is flexible, free from sickness and disease, and have a balanced state of mind.

At the body level, you may be trim and slim or you may be little plump, it doesn’t matter. As you grow older, it becomes a hard task to maintain your body in a slim, trim form, especially when a woman is going through menopause. A woman always has to give more importance to her health rather than looks… Don’t give undue importance to external looks. Give importance to your personality, how you are as a person, how you behave, the words you speak, how caring and compassionate you are. These things count more for healthy living.

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Q. At the age of 76, you are a testament to the benefits of yoga for maintaining physical and mental agility. Could you tell us about your daily routine?

Hansaji Yogendra: I am 76 now running 77. People need to to take care of their body once they are above 50. Earlier, I was busy looking after the yoga institute, spreading the message of yoga, giving lectures here and there, and so on. I knew I had to spend some time on my body, but I was finding it difficult. But I realised that yoga has to be absorbed in people’s day-to-day management.

Taking out time separately was becoming difficult for me, and I am sure it is difficult for any woman who has to do many duties. But there are little things you can do throughout the day. The moment you wake up, do some stretches and asanas. Take a few long breaths, sit in meditation for some time right in the morning. Your mobile should never be in front of you in the morning. Keep it in the cupboard so that your attention doesn’t go there. You can also do some exercises while bathing. Some things I do in the bathroom when I’m taking my bath are bending forward, bending backwards, sitting down, getting up, twisting, holding hands behind… You can also do these easily.

Make sure you eat a timely and healthy breakfast. Food should be taken at a regular intervals, preferably at a 4-hour gap. Simplify your food habits, simplify your other habits. Before eating, I bend down to the ground, thank the Mother Earth, and then automatically you are doing what’s called Hastapadasana (hand-to-food pose). It gives a good stretch to your spine and arms, as well as boosts circulation for your head.

I also go for a walk in the morning, afternoon and evening. Naturally, the body gets good amount of oxygen when you are walking. You can also divide doing breathing exercises and meditation throughout the day.

Good sleep is also important. So I see to it that after sunset, I don’t eat so that when I sleep, my stomach is practically empty. That’s how I maintain my health, maintain the state of my mind and enthusiasm. I work the whole day, but I enjoy every moment of my work. If you enjoy the work you do, you will never get tired.

I believe that a person can live a very smooth and healthy life if a person can absorb the essence of yoga in day-to-day routines.

Also read: A pilot once, celeb trainer Anshuka Parwani found new wings in yoga

Doing Yoga, meditating and taking breaks can help you live better. Image courtesy: Pexels

Q. What message would you like to share with the younger generation?

Hansaji Yogendra: The younger generation has picked up only the physical aspect of yoga. I would very strongly say that physically, you have to go on making changes according to your age. You can’t do just anything difficult which involves twisting and turning at any age. You must make changes in the asanas, Pranayama and meditation you do according to your age and health. A person who is a depressive personality should never do meditation. That person should do more Pranayam and more asanas. Everyone must understand these things and make your choice accordingly.

Everything is for the mind in yoga. The asanas we do are also to train the mind. Today’s youngsters have restless minds. Make your mind steady. And then with that steady mind, when you pick up some area to get knowledge, you will get a greater grasp of that knowledge and grow healthier with it.

Q. What are five things you would recommend people to increase longevity?

Hansaji Yogendra: There are fundamental things you must follow for a healthy life.

1. To be happy is the first thing you must do in life.
2. Take care of your body
3. Maintain your friendships
4. Always pursue your hobbies
5. Work on self-development and spiritual upliftment

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About the Author

Radhika Bhirani is a journalist with close to 15 years of experience in the Indian media industry. After writing extensively on health, lifestyle and entertainment, she leads the English content team at Health Shots. She has a special interest in writing on mental health and wellness. ...Read More

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