Yoga is set to get a huge push in Russia, where the Indian art was banned and lessons were passed on secretly during the Soviet era.
Dmitri Medvedev, who will take over as Russia’s president next month, is a known yoga man and is expected to do what his predecessor Vladimir Putin did to judo.
“Little by little, I’m mastering yoga,” Medvedev, who takes pride in his ability to perform shirshasana, a headstand pose, recently told the weekly newsmagazine Itogi. “The responsibility (of my job) is huge… To prevent headaches, I needed to practise yoga more intensively than before.”
Yoga was banned in the Soviet era as the art, with its Hindu-spiritual underpinnings, was seen as inimical to the prevailing philosophy of Marxism-Leninism. Today, it sweeps through Russia’s physical culture studios, which until recently were dominated by bodybuilding and martial arts.
“Ten years ago there were only three yoga schools in all of Moscow, now there are several hundred,” said Inna Assekritova, a Moscow business executive who got hooked to yoga 30 years ago, when it was strictly banned.
“In Soviet times, it was almost impossible to find a teacher, and all information about it had to be secretly passed from hand to hand,” she said. “Now we have teachers from India, and plenty of information.”
When Putin came to power eight years ago, his favourite sports of tennis and judo seemed to typify the manly and martial character of Russia’s ruling political class. But as relative affluence spread across the country in recent years, bringing with it stresses of modern life, yoga has gained ground.