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Flourishing India first gave yoga to the world


I had an opportunity to experience old India during the late ’70s while conducting research and fieldwork in medical anthropology. The culture seemed timeless and colorfully diverse but a world apart from modern society. Who would have known that India’s economic growth would be expected this year to rival that of China? India still lags behind China in infrastructure, but it boasts the world’s largest democracy. Despite its ongoing strife with Pakistan over Kashmir, unlike the dynastic leadership in China, its elected leaders do not lose sleep over fear of barbarians at the gates or of revolution from within.

Manmohan Singh, India’s prime minister, was initially considered only a place holder until Rahul Gandhi, fourth-generation heir of the Nehru-Gandhi lineage, could assume leadership of the country. However, Singh, former minister of finance, has exceeded expectations and facilitated great advances not only in India’s economic stature, but also its diplomatic activities and its role on the international scene. Bollywood, with its myriad movie productions, also has made profound contributions to the India brand.

Long before India began to emerge as a star from behind China’s shadow, it began to export the ancient practice of yoga to millions of Americans. This ancient art includes not only physical postures, but also teachings on morality, right livelihood, mindful breathing, meditation and spirituality. Yet the strategic decision to export the postures, called "asanas," has enabled yoga to find a place in gyms, health clubs and free-standing studios throughout the U.S., including Hawaii. Many millions of Americans practice yoga today, and the number of practitioners continues to expand.

Oahu offers a plethora of options for those interested in getting started. Iyengar yoga classes can be found at the Silent Dance Center near the Moiliili Community Center, the East Honolulu Yoga Center in Hawaii Kai and many other locations. Classes are available for beginners, seniors and experienced students of all ages. Bikram, the hot yoga, can be found throughout the island. You need to be in fairly good shape to handle this style. Ashtanga yoga, another well-known school found on Oahu, is also fairly cardio-intensive.

I first began to practice yoga on my initial trip to India more than 35 years ago and hope to continue for the remainder of my life. It offers vast health benefits for the bones, joints and nervous system. It helps maintain and improve circulation and supports restful sleep. Yoga also can make profound contributions to one’s mental clarity, emotional balance and overall energy level. What could be better for making tough business decisions?

So many Americans focus on cardio and resistance training, relegating stretching to a mandatory few minutes of pre-exercise activity. It is these people who come to the doctor with strains and tears of the shoulders, hips, elbows and knees. People can often get by in their 20s and 30s without attention to flexibility training, but then start to suffer in their 40s and 50s. The truth is that, depending upon the type of practice, yoga can offer not only flexibility training, but also cardio and resistance work. In any case, good health over time depends, without question, upon maintaining flexibility.

As India grows in stature on the world stage, it will continue to innovate particularly in information technology and cinematography. At the same time, India will continue to be the source of an ancient practice that will benefit the health of many Americans.

Ira Zunin, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A., is medical director of Manakai o Malama Integrative Healthcare Group and Rehabilitation Center and CEO of Global Advisory Services Inc. Please submit your questions to


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