Jai Kumar Pillay is a senior Iyengar yoga therapy teacher with over 20 years’ experience. He specializes in therapy training for chronic ailments, such as spine and knee problems. Today, on World Yoga Day, Jai Kumar Pillay spoke to Team Optimist on the future of yoga on the global map. Excerpts…
Team Optimist: How has Iyengar Yoga therapy evolved over the years? How did you learn it?
Jai Kumar Pillay: I was 19 years old when I started my yoga training. I was lucky to have the opportunity to train under BKS Iyengar, himself, whom everyone lovingly addressed as Guruji. Later, I also trained under his daughter, Geetaji. In fact, when I started my own yoga centre, Yogdeepika, in Pune, Guruji inaugurated it.
Iyengar yoga has become extremely popular over the years, especially in the West. BKS Iyengar felt that yoga was for everybody. No matter what the challenges — physical, mental or of age — he didn’t see any limitation. Iyengar Yoga lays a lot of stress on not only the practice of asanas, or postural yoga, but also on pranayama. In my classes, we do pranayama with asanas. What distinguishes Iyengar Yoga from others is the very high degree of attention paid to alignment. Props are used to increase awareness and make the poses accessible. His approach is therapeutic in nature, which is a huge aspect of this kind of yoga practice.
Team Optimist: Being closely associated with yoga therapy for over 20 years, what’s your take on the impact of yoga in treating such chronic ailments as spine and knee problems?
Jai Kumar Pillay: Iyengar Yoga is known worldwide for its ability to cure chronic health problems. I have a number of students who come to my class with knee problems, shifted spines, scoliosis and so on. They see the benefits of regular practice within a month. Only recently, a student came to my class with complaints of severe back pain. His spine had shifted. Within a week of practice, there was considerable improvement.
Guruji personally started practising yoga in his young days to recover from ill health. Later, he started teaching yoga and his fame grew because of his ability to help people suffering from incurable and chronic diseases and Iyengar Yoga became renowned for its therapeutic application. There’ve been many reports published in medical journals about the benefits of Iyengar Yoga. These reports are the result of well-planned research studies quantifying the influence of Iyengar Yoga practice for various disorders.
Team Optimist: Do you think such therapies can be useful for patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease (PD) or psychological disorders? What should the correct approach be?
Jai Kumar Pillay: There’ve been studies to show how PD patients practising Iyengar Yoga have made improvements compared to those who were simply on medication.
There was an old man who joined my therapy classes. He was suffering from Parkinson’s disease. When he joined the class, he used to have tremors. He used to walk slowly and lacked confidence. After a few months, he was able to do rope sirsasana. His wife said people were able to see a lot of difference in his behaviour after the yoga sessions. A lot of other students in the class, too, were impressed with his newfound abilities to do various asanas and started bringing in people they knew with severe disorders. So, yes, Iyengar Yoga is immensely helpful in treating such diseases as Parkinson’s.
The unique advantage of Iyengar Yoga is the precise set of instructions on how a patient can perform the asanas, as well as the use of such props as chairs, bolsters and blankets. These props give the patients confidence to perform the asanas and to hold an asana position for a long time to get its benefits.
According to Guruji, PD is a disease where communication is lost between the motor nerves and the sensory nerves. That’s why people with PD, or paralysis have no idea how to connect their motor nerves to their sensory nerves and how the sensory nerves should function to create power in the motor nerves. The practice of Iyengar Yoga brings back this communication between the sensory nerves and the motor nerves. Hope, faith, peace and love are important in bringing confidence to the lives of those suffering from PD.
Team Optimist: Over the years, yoga has become popular in the West as a mode of spiritualism. How can yoga be spread to every corner of the world?
Jai Kumar Pillay: The innumerable benefits of yoga have made it immensely popular all over the globe. I have people coming to my classes from the US, too.
Team Optimist: Fighting depression is considered a major goal in the urban areas of most developed countries. Can yoga be the answer?
Jai Kumar Pillay: Medical practitioners accept that yoga uplifts our moods and spirit. Neuroscience institutes in the US, Russia, Italy and so forth have scientifically proven the benefits of Iyengar Yoga for people fighting depression, anger, anxiety and other neurotic symptoms.
Team Optimist: How do you want to take forward your journey with yoga? Fitness and spiritualism — how do you approach these subjects with participants?
Jai Kumar Pillay: Simply performing the asanas won’t help. Awareness is the key.
Team Optimist: On International Yoga Day, what’s your advice to all those who consistently take part in yoga sessions?
Jai Kumar Pillay: Yoga se hi hoga!