Relax, breathe: Yoga gaining fans in Yunnan
In a room with closed curtains at the center of Green Lake Park in downtown Kunming, capital of Yunnan province, Rajesh Bhandari — in white robe and trousers — sits cross-legged on the floor in meditation. In front of the 25-year-old from Rishikesh, Uttarakhand state in India, are a dozen Chinese women sitting or lying motionless on mats.
Bhandari is one of three Indian yoga instructors teaching the traditional Indian physical, mental, and spiritual practice to Chinese at a yoga club in Kunming. Every day he teaches three classes at the club.
“I’m happy to be here, teaching yoga, Harta yoga, Ashtanga yoga (different styles of yoga),” he told China Daily at the park. “Many of my Chinese students are very good practitioners and very sincere.”
He doesn’t know any other Indian yoga instructors in the town except his colleagues, or that his country has helped a Yunnan university open a yoga college in Kunming, which could turn it into one of China’s centers for yoga education.
During Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China from May 14 to 16, the Yunnan Minzu (Nationalities) University and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations signed a cooperation memorandum to establish the country’s first yoga college at the university on May 15. The memorandum was listed in the China India Joint Statement.
The college in China was officially established at the university on June 12, though it will not start enrolling students until August, according to Fan Jing, director of the university’s international affairs office and international students school.
At her office on the outskirts of Kunming, Fan told China Daily why her school was chosen to be the Chinese partner of the joint project.
“First, we have a long history of cooperation and cultural exchange with India,” she said.
As one of eight institutions in China, the only one in Southwest China that offers a Hindi language major, Yunnan Minzu University has sent about 30 of its Hindi language students to study in India, every year since 2011. Initially, they studied at the Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India in Gujarat state. Narendra Modi, an avid yoga fan, was chief minister of Gujarat from 2001 to 2014.
“The coming of our students was covered by the local media, and Modi met our students then. So he knew our school,” Fan said. “The Chinese students President Xi Jinping met during his India visit last year were mainly from our school.”
Over the years, the university has established a good relationship with the Indian Consulate. Students and teachers from the university, which is a comprehensive institution of higher education for all Chinese ethnic groups, can get their Indian visa as quickly as in two days, Fan said.
Second, its College of Ethnic Minority Sports has offered students yoga courses for several years. Two yoga teachers, trained in the United States, have instructed about 6,000 students in the university. “Our experience of yoga education has also given us credit and confidence in the cooperation,” she said.
According to the professor, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations will send two teachers to design the curriculum and to offer short-term (as three to six months) and long-term (as one year) certificate and diploma courses.
Enrollment of three classes — elementary, intermediate and advanced — will be open to the public, Fan said. One class can accommodate 30-50 students. Those in the elementary, intermediate or advanced classes will need respectively 120, 240 or 360 class hours to earn a certificate. Besides yoga, there are also courses on Indian culture and philosophy.
All students who enroll at the college will have the chance to study at the Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga in India, and those who qualify will be granted with international yoga training certificates. “Students can also apply for scholarships from the ICCR,” Fan said.
China still lacks a commonly accepted yoga standard, Fan said. The Indian teachers will help standardize yoga techniques in the country. “When a standard curriculum is set up and our diploma is recognized by our education authorities, we will start enrolling fresh graduates from high schools,” she said.
Bhandari has practiced yoga for seven years. Between 2008 and 2013, he spent five years studying yoga and earning his master’s degree of yoga at an Indian university. Before coming to Kunming last year, he instructed yoga practitioners from all over the world in India.
He said that it will be good to have more Indians to promote yoga in China and he will not worry about any competition. “Yoga means unity. So yoga connects us with each other. Yoga balances our body, mind, thoughts,” he said. “Yoga makes you beautiful, makes you healthy. It’s for everyone.”