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In Pakistan, Yoga Rises Above Its Indian Origins

In Pakistan, Yoga Rises Above Its Indian Origins
From New York Times - December 10, 2017

KARACHI, PakistanI first heard of yoga while I was growing up in Pakistan in the 1980s, with the arrival on the Karachi scene of a colorful personality called Professor Moiz Hussain. He had trained at the Yoga Institute in Mumbai, then branched out into alternative stress-reduction and healing techniques like reiki from Japan, NLP (neurolinguistic programming) from California and qigong, with roots in China. His Institute of Mind Sciences and Classical Yoga attracted a certain type of Karachi womanaffluent and well traveledwho was interested in developing her mind and body. Slowly at first, one teacher after another emerged to offer classes. Still, they had to be careful: The 1980s was a time of rigorous Islamization in Pakistan and cold hostility to India, and anything remotely associated with India or Hinduism was discouraged if not outlawed.

This particularly affected the arts, namely classical Indian dance; government officials banned public performances as both vulgar and Indian; Pakistani students of the art could not obtain visas to study under gurus in India, and local teachers had to immigrate to other countries because classical dance became so unpopular they could not attract students. (Only Kathak, with its Mughal origins in northwestern India before partition, was looked upon with a less jaundiced eye than the unabashedly Hindu-flavored Odissi or Bharatanatyam schools of dance.)

The way around this was to introduce yoga as a practice less spiritual than physical, but yoga classes in Karachi remained small, private and for a select few. Then, in the 1990s, when state-run television gave way to a profusion of private television channels, yoga found another outlet: breakfast and morning shows in which a physical activity segment aimed at housewives often included a 20-minute or half-hour yoga session. Sandwiched in between advice on the best foods for a baby and how to cook enticing meals for the household, a nonthreatening form of yogano extreme physical poses, just one that could be performed in modest clothingwas available to women in Pakistan with access to cable channels.

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