Healthy postures in Iraq

18 Jun 2015

PM Narendra Modi’s clarion call to make yoga a mainstream exercise in the world’s largest democracy has evoked protests, mostly from Muslims, but hidden from the glare of this slugfest lies a classic example of how this ancient exercise, if kept above politics, can help transform troubled lives.

Very few in India know that in the heart of strife-torn Kurdistan, the ancient exercise — pushed by ayurvedic doctors and yoga trainers from the garden city of Bangalore — has transformed hundreds stressed and injured in the bloody, internecine war against ISIS. The ayurvedic hospital that started early June is, in fact, a bit of an oddity in Erbil, the strife-torn capital of Kurdistan where violence is routine.

Hospitals are few in Erbil, all chocked-and-blocked with blood-soaked bodies and patients — some without limbs — writhing in pain on rickety, aluminium stretchers gifted by Western nations. But the ayurvedic center, run by Indian doctors from Bangalore’s Art of Living, has made an instant impact — especially among war widows — in a city ravaged by routine violence. On April 18, 2015, a car bomb at the entrance to the US consulate killed at least three and wounded eight people.

Nihad Qoja, mayor of Erbil’s city center and a diehard Muslim, is ecstatic that someone from India had the courage to set up a hospital in Erbil to help locals who — for almost a decade — relied on strong allopathic steroids that caused further complications in bodies.

The Indian treatment, a blend of traditional herbs and oils, along with yoga, is a welcome change for the war-fatigued patients, doing wonders on a list that ranges from high-stressed widows, war-returned soldiers and unemployed youth.

But in India, Modi’s push to the United Nations to dedicate June 21 as first International Yoga Day — he pushed for it last year and had support from 177 nations (including 47 Muslim countries) — is mired in politics because many did not see the exercise — now an escalating global movement — as a mainstream household practice.

Instead of calming blood pressure, the very mention of the word is making some Indians widely wildly hypersensitive. An estimated 45,000 will participate in a 35-minute yoga routine on June 21 but Muslims in India have started huffing and puffing, arguing yoga was rooted in Hindu scriptures, contained Hindu religious chants and involved Sun worship, an anathema because they worship only Allah. Sadly, the element of exercise — so central to yoga — got totally sidetracked in a meaningless Hindu-Muslim debate.

Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, India’s wellness and spiritual guru who received threats from Islamic State (IS) fighters during a visit to Malaysia this March, was instrumental in setting up the hospital as he stayed away from the politics, and merely hinted a fit body is the best answer to a healthy mind.

The bearded saint — actually — insisted on having only ayurvedic doctors against the Iraqi government’s demand that an allopathic physician should also be present in the hospital. The wellness guru said the decision to open the center in a city, an hour’s drive from Mosul, once Iraq’s second most vibrant city and now the hub of Islamic State (IS) fighters, was bold, and peace the only answer to war.

Far from the brouhaha that has enveloped India’s new push for yoga, the hospital has made many sit up and take notice in Erbil, where thousands live in constant fear of being attacked. The locals are queuing up like never before because they have not experienced yoga, nor the Indian ayurvedic treatment which has a calming effect on the body.

The war returnees and their families are queuing up the most, as are Western diplomats based in Erbil. Kurdistan Health Minister, Dr Rikot Hamah Rachid, who inaugurated the hospital on June 2, has called it an “oasis” on the social media, encouraging locals to see yoga as a mode of exercise, not a thrust of Hinduism.

Dr Vishnu Prasad, a trained ayurvedic physician who has worked at Art of Living, is providing treatments like Panchakarma, Marma, Abhyanga, Naadi Pariksha and other spine and knee-healing methods at the hospital along with trained therapists, with the response extremely encouraging in a city where people are in a disturbed state of mind.

A palpable fear of death hangs in the air in Erbil where helicopters routinely circle neighbourhoods, gunfire is heard intermittently and loudspeakers warn people to stay indoors and away from windows. No wonder, the ayurvedic hospital and yoga center is making news. Rabbiya Hadi, 53, a mother of four, lost her husband last year in a car bomb blast and since then, has been on anti-depressants. She was among the first patients, finding in its treatment and fitness programmes a welcome relief. Another patient, Sabaiyah, 55 year-old and a mother of five, managed to control her spiralling blood pressure levels and has encouraged her friends to visit the center. Doctors and officials at the hospital, who work for a little over 10 hours in the strife-torn city, claim the hospital’s instant success was because many saw yoga as a mere fitness schedule and ayurveda a treatment without pills. Actually, it has become an instant answer to Iraq’s ever-failing campaign to lure men to exercise. Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, whose Art of Living completes 30 long years in 2016, says he has plans to open such centers in some of the world’s worst strife-torn countries, like Syria and Somalia. Those in stress need utmost care, is his moot point. No one disputes the wellness guru because he has kept yoga, and ayurveda, above politics. Join it, if you think health is important. Discard it if you find solace in beer.

Courtesy: DNA India