Several things make celebrity yoga guru Swami Ramdev experience mind-seizing rages. Corruption drives the pranayama-pushing baba into foot-stomping Rumpelstiltskinian fury. Homosexuality makes him froth in the mouth, while “modern” women make him quiver with righteous indignation, despite his newfound love for cross-dressing. Topping his paroxysm-inducing triggers now are questions about his assets and income-tax returns, which sent him into such throes of perdition that he lost 1.5 kg in a day and landed up at a despised modern hospital chock-a-block with new-age drugs and technology that, in his healthier avatar, he would have rejected for his homemade miracles: cancer-killing asanas and AIDS-fighting pranayama (breathing exercises).
After getting a earful of the Baba’s awesome advice for the faithful on every religious channel worth a viewership for a decade — “Homosexuality is a disease that can be cured with pranayama and meditation” and “Pranayama cures cancer and AIDS” — watching him crumble within days of beginning his corruption-curing fast shocked the faithful and the skeptics alike.
The man god, claims his family, is just 36 (others claim he’s 46), which is exactly half the age of Anna Hazare, the frail old Gandhian who successfully fasted for four whole days before bringing a nervous Government down on its proverbial knees.
Unlike Hazare, 72, who survived the Delhi heat for four days on water alone, the strapling young Baba collapsed on the sixth day of his fast despite having honey (fructose, a basic sugar that the body uses for energy), salt (electrolytes essential for regulating water and central nervous system functioning) and water (prevents dehydration).
So, what made this master of pretzel postures whither away from studio lights under not-so-prolonged exposure to the Indian summer? It could be the prancing and theatrics that marked the first two days of his fast, which even made people who watched break into cold sweat. Added to that was his midnight run for freedom hidden among women and children, which, I’m sure, taxed his yoga-sculpted body beyond endurance.
The Baba’s critics insist the grandmaster of theatrics and pranayama– which, incidentally, means extension of the prana or breath, which symbolises life — is hamming, using his unchallenged yogic prowess to lower his pulse rate and blood pressure.
It seems that the truth, like the baba’s tax returns, will remain elusive. But the yoga studio star’s televised collapse under stress should not be used to undermine the ancient science of postures. There’s ample evidence of its merits. An hour of yoga three times a week boosts mood and immunity in people being treated for depression, showed research at Bangalore’s NIMHANS earlier this year. Another one, in the International Journal of Psychophysiology, showed meditation helped students buffer against academic stressors, improving recall while lowering sleepiness and irritability. Yet another study in Psycho-Oncology reported that yoga improved mood and reduced fatigue in women getting treated for breast cancer.
The truth about yoga is that it does not cure or treat disease, but helps people better tolerate symptoms by boosting flexibility, increasing the heart rate and calming the mind. It brings emotional stability, openness to experience and decreased anxiety, all factors that will help the swami and his followers to stay on the fast track.
Given his fragile health, what remains a mystery is how he plans to raise his grand army of Righteous and Harmonious Fists to fight everything evil in society. Perhaps a leaf from the Californian avatars of yoga — Yo-chi, a fusion of yoga, and tai-chi, and Bo-ga for boxing yoga — will help his unarmed followers last a little longer under pressure than he did.