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Yoga becomes popular in Pak
MOHAMMED ANAS  New Delhi | 20th Jun 2015

Yogi Haider

Yoga, which is popular worldwide and which now has its own international day courtesy Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is taking roots even in Pakistan. This Islamic country now has dozens of yoga teachers, including women, who are active in all leading Pakistani cities. Some of them claim to impart yoga lessons to bureaucrats, military men, the incumbent Sindh Chief Minister, a former Governor of Punjab, and a growing number of other enthusiasts.

Yogi Haider is the most popular of Pakistani yoga teachers. He has established a centre named Yoga Pakistan and Way of Nature in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad and boasts of having around 10,000 students in Karachi, Rawalpindi and Lahore, apart from Islamabad.

"My students come from all sections of society — students, doctors, politicians, celluloid personalities, bureaucrats, armymen, etc. When I started in 2004, nobody believed that yoga could be a holistic way of keeping your body and soul in shape. But now there is a clamour to learn the postures of this natural way of exercise. Even my wife Shumaila has joined me as an instructor and we organise workshops in all leading cities of Pakistan. The present Sindh Chief Minister, Qayem Ali Shah and former Punjab Governor, Ghulam Mustafa Khar, have attended our classes," said Haider.

However, Haider did not want to disclose the names of the army officers and civil servants who attended his workshop in Rawalpindi.

Haider had a "dramatic" introduction to yoga and studied the discipline in India and Nepal for years before becoming an expert.

"While working in Saudi Arabia in the early 1990s, I had to undergo a painful operation. My doctor suggested that if I could control my mind and body, my suffering would lessen. I tried and it worked. Then I delved deep into the art of breathing and other methods of controlling your body. In 1994, I went to Nepal in search of yoga gurus and came to India in 1997. I found a guru in Satya Narayan Goenka and learnt vipassana meditation, and other yogasanas like pranayam. I returned to Pakistan in 2004 and I have active here since then," said Haider.

Haider charges Pakistani Rs 8,000 a month for a one-month course.

He said that he has even contacted the Pakistan Cricket Board to help the cricketers learn yoga to fight stress and fatigue.

Two other Pakistanis, Yogi Wajahat and Yogi Baqer run their centres in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Faisalabad, Hyderabad, Multan and Sukkur.

Wajahat describes his variety of yoga as the Indus Yoga. "Yoga originated in the Indus region. Somehow, these exercise techniques remained dormant but now kapalbhati, pranayam, vipassana are known words here. People are showing an increased keenness to learn these exercises," said Wajahat. He added that most of his clients show interest in improving memories, stopping hair loss and enhancing weight loss. "Yoga has the power to cure all these ailments," he said.

Wajahat did not disclose how much he earned, but said that he learnt his yoga from various gurus, some of them Indian. Yogi Baqer and his wife run classes for the diplomatic corps living in Islamabad. They refused to share any information about their work. Similarly, Aisha Chapra and Survat Sumaira are two famous lady yoga teachers based in Islamabad and Lahore. Aisha even organises yoga retreats for her clients and tours various places in Pakistan like Chitral and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. Sumaira runs her classes in Lahore and has mostly young students, many of them girls.

The Sunday Guardian checked online, and via journalistic sources in Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore to find that many other little known yoga teachers are active in Pakistan. When asked whether they had faced any opposition to their classes from hardliners and whether yoga was termed a part of Hindu culture, they said that one of Yogi Haider's workshops was attacked in Lahore, but largely yoga has found supporters in Pakistan. "Health is a universal concern. Yoga is drawing more people every day. The increase in the number of yoga teachers and their flourishing businesses are a testimony to that. Yoga's health benefits have prevailed upon all other concerns," said Haider. Ironically, despite yoga becoming popular in Pakistan, the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi refused visas to two yoga teachers from India. The teachers were to participate in the International Yoga Day celebrations at the Indian mission in Islamabad on Sunday.

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