Mr. Gaitonde in conversation with Dr. P. N. Ramani: Yoga: The Science of Healthy Body and Sound Mind [Archives:2000/13/Interview]

March 27 2000

Mr Suresh D. Gaitonde, a well-trained Yoga instructor specially brought from India, conducts classes in Yoga at Taj Sheba Hotel, Sana’a. “Yoga is the science of sound mind and healthy body,” says the sixty year old teacher,Mr Gaitonde, who was interviewed specially for the Yemen Times by Dr P.N.Ramani, Associate Professor of English, Faculty of Education, Sana’a University, Sana’a. In this interview, Mr Gaitonde explains, among other things, what yoga is, why it is necessary for everyone to practise it , and what its benefits are. Here are some excerpts from the exclusive interview.
Good afternoon, Mr Gaitonde.
Good afternoon, Mr Ramani.
Mr Gaitonde, I understand that you have been conducting a course in Yoga at Taj Sheba Hotel. Could you tell us briefly what Yoga is all about?
Yoga is the science of sound mind and healthy body. It is the science of holistic living, which aims at the harmonious development of the body, mind, and spirit. Yoga is the conscious art of self-discovery. It is a process by which the animal man ascends through the stages of the normal man, the superman, and the divine man. In short, it is the all-round development of one’s personality at the physical, mental or intellectual, emotional, and spiritual levels.
Why do you think yoga is the best option available to modern man ?
All over the world intelligent people are going towards Yoga. The question arises – why is it so? Modern life, with its emphasis on materialism and sensate culture, has brought artificiality in life & life of drugs and plastic flowers. The stress and strain of a rigid routine results in all sorts of abnormalities, tension, worry, anxiety, depression and various other afflictions. It is said that at least one person in every four consulting their doctors suffers from some form of nervous tension.
In olden days human beings lived to eat, sleep, and procreate. Now the modern era is of very sharp intellectual human beings. The people are in search of something that will give them the right direction and the way by which they can get solace or peace of mind. They found that Yoga in the East, that is in India, offered them the right direction, as I explained earlier. It was a great contribution of India to humanity and the world. Yoga is the need of the hour.
What is the duration of this Yoga course you are conducting?
There are two courses with different duration Ñ one is for 18 days and the other for 10 days. The course is conducted for about an hour every day.
Is it open to men, women and children of all ages? I am asking you because recently one gentleman was surprised that a younger friend of mine has been learning Yoga – he said it was only for the older people. What about people with certain abnormal physical conditions like high blood pressure, arthritis, or a weak heart? Can they also practise yoga?
Yoga is for all human beings – man or woman, young or old, sick or healthy, irrespective of caste, creed, religion, sex, nationality – all can take advantage of it and can see the direct results, benefits and comforts it can give to them in their daily life.
Could you tell us about your own background and training – where you are from, how and where you were trained?
I come from a Hindu family settled in Panaji in the state of Goa in India. I started my Yoga training from my eldest brother with what is known as the Surya Namaskar (or the Sun Salutation). I learnt Yoga at the Lonavla Yoga Institute called Kaivalyadham, then at Sri Ramtatva Yoga Institute in Karnataka, and at the Yoga Institute in Bombay (now called Mumbai); practical Vedanta from Shanthi Ashram in Andhra Pradesh and Vivekananda Kendra Yoga Research Foundation in Bangalore. With all this training, however, I feel that as a teacher I must always be a student seeking knowledge and imparting it to my students.
How did you happen to visit Sana’a?
I was invited by Taj Sheba Hotel, Sana’a. I am particularly grateful to Mr Mayank Mehta, the General Manager, and Mr Prakash Shirlekar, Manager of the Fitness Centre at the Hotel.
How long have you been in Sana’a ? Is this your first visit, or have you visited Sana’a earlier ?
I came to Sana’a on February 3rd and this is my first visit.
What would you say are the general benefits of practising yoga? What is the most important value? What would be its ultimate benefit?
The practice of yoga helps to maintain the physical body in good condition, and makes an unhealthy body healthy. It makes the mind strong and able to endure pain and unhappiness, develops the power of concentration and stabilises the mind. It enables one to cope with the difficulties and problems of life more calmly and easily. It is almost a necessity for spiritual aspirants to awaken their psychic faculties.
By practising yoga, man will be able to free himself from the ailments associated with modern civilised life, such as constipation, rheumatism, stiffness, frustration and tension. In short, he will have more strength and energy to face the problems and responsibilities of life.
I couldn’t agree with you more. As one of the participants of your course, I would like to say that I feel more calm and relaxed than before, and I have better concentration too.
Yes, better concentration and stability of the mind are the ultimate results of regular yoga practice.
You may be aware of other physical exercise programs such as aerobics, jogging, and swimming. Some people consider Yoga as a set of contortions of the body – bending or twisting. This is what we gather from some books and the pictures in them. That is why many people may think that it is difficult to learn and practise it. Is this a correct understanding of yoga? In what way is yoga different from, if not superior to, those systems?
Though yoga is becoming very popular, there is still certain amount of confusion and there are also certain wrong notions among the public about yoga.
Some think it is a system of stunt, gymnastic skill, limb twisting, sitting on iron nails, walking on burning coal, eating glass pieces, drinking nitric acid, lying buried in the ground, and so on. Another misconception is that yoga is considered as a form of exercise to promote good health and this finds great acceptance due to wide publicity through different media.
Yoga is much more than this. First, the other forms of physical exercise like jogging and aerobics require you to expend a lot of energy, but yoga helps you to conserve and control energy. Secondly, as a result, strenuous physical exercise makes you feel exhausted and worn out, while you feel quite fresh and relaxed after a session of yoga practice, never tired, exhausted, or sweating.
It is said that asanas (or yogic postures) and physical exercises should not be combined. But in your course you gave us some general physical exercises like stretching and twisting. Why?
In a short course, we give some general physical exercises to loosen your limbs and make them flexible enough for the asanas. But you should remember that after such exercises, you should relax your body for a sufficient length of time before starting the asanas. In fact, you should relax the body even between asanas.
How does meditation fit into the method of yoga?
Yoga prepares you for the highest form of meditation, but meditation per se, as it is taught in some centres, does not include yoga.
This brings us to the next question: Can one learn and practise yoga by reading books on yoga or watching TV or video cassettes?
Never practise yoga without the guidance of a trained and experienced teacher by reading from the books on yoga or watching TV, because, you see, in books or TV there is no scope for corrections if you do not understand something or do something wrongly, or if there are some problems in practising it.
In essence, what is the underlying philosophy of yoga? Can you put it briefly and in simple language?
Yoga is one of the systems of Indian philosophy and sage Patanjali is said to have compiled the essential features of yoga from the various Upanishads, in the form of sutras (aphorisms), thus making a vital contribution.
The Yoga comes from the verbal root “yuj”, which means “joining” Ñ Yujyate anena iti Yogah. Yoga is that which joins. In higher terms it means the joining of the individual with the Universal. In ordinary terms, it means living with equanimity in the situation one is placed as ordained by Destiny!
Sri Aurobindo emphasizes the all-round development of human personality Ñ at physical, mental or intellectual, emotional and spiritual levels. By yoga, he means a methodical effort towards self-perfection by the development of potential latent in the individual. Patanjali says that Yoga is a process of gaining control over mind. It is a means of calming down the mind.
Shri B K S Iyengar says that yoga is ‘Education’. It is character-building. The term ‘Education’ has been derived from the Latin word “Educare”, which means to unfold the talent, the potential, that is, drawing the best in man. To Shri J Krishnamurthy, Yoga is the path to bridge the conscious with the unconscious.
According to the Bhagavadgita, Yoga is dexterity in action. The dexterity is bound to keep one ready for action in a relaxed attitude and efficiency is the outcome of all such actions performed.
Are there some special instructions to follow while learning or practising yoga – certain do’s and don’t’s?
Yes. You should wear loose and convenient clothes. You should not take any solid food for at least three hours, and liquids at least one hour before you start your practice. And for at least half an hour after the practice session you should not eat or drink, not take bath or swim, do not do any exercises. It is preferable to have a bath before the practice session.
Those who have some specific health problems should ask the instructor and get their doubts cleared. Ladies should not practise yoga techniques during their menstrual cycle.
Care should be taken during pregnancy, immediately after abortions, delivery or operations. It is better to consult the instructor and get his guidance.
It is said that Yoga has to be learnt over a long period of time and without any kind of pressure. Your own training perhaps lasted a long period. What then could you aim for in a short-term course such as the one you are conducting ? What could be the value of such courses ?
I agree that the course is only for 18 days, but for lasting benefits, you must continue the practice. Continuity of practice is the secret of success.
I have come across the term ‘yogi’. Who is a real ‘yogi’ ? Can anyone who practises yoga be called a ‘yogi’ ?
Persons who have stayed in totally enclosed spaces for a long time or perform some miracles like producing something from mid-air claim that they are all Yogis and it is often given credence by the layman because he himself cannot perform such feats. A yogi does not perform miracles or do anything showy either for publicity or for bread or for fame. He never exhibits his talents to prove his claims.
Merely by wearing a saffron-coloured dress one does not become a ‘yogi’. In my opinion, a ‘yogi’ is one who is always a well-wisher of every fellow being and serves humanity selflessly.
What would you like to say finally to the readers of Yemen Times?
Modern man has numerous conveniences at his disposal to give him physical comfort and enjoyment. He works in a high-tech office, sleeps on a thick foam mattress, travels everywhere in a car, and watches television for recreation, but he uses sleeping pills and all kinds of medicine to get peace and rest, and to counteract the negative influence of modern life. But instead of peace, rest, relaxation, and real happiness, he gets a lot of physical, mental, and emotional tension. He can find no way to unburden himself of the frustrations and anxieties of life.
Is there a way for him to find relief ? Yes! Through YOGA.
For all those afflicted by worldly ills, yoga is the only alchemy.
Besides, yoga is not a religion or a cult of India. By practising yoga, Hindus can become better Hindus, Christians can become better Christians, and Muslims can become better Muslims.
Thank you, Mr Gaitonde. We are indeed grateful to you for giving us so much time for the interview.
It has been my pleasure talking about a subject close to my heart.