In the year 1985, Hui Lan Zhang, an internationally recognized yoga teacher, aired in popular television series “Yoga” on CCTV- the national television of China. The program became one of the longest-running television series in China’s history, airing nationwide uninterrupted from 1985 to 2000, earning her the moniker “Mother of Yoga” to modern China. Her Yoga DVDs and VCDs were also available in the markets for people to purchase and practice.
The early 2000s saw gyms offering yoga sessions. However, as popularity for yoga rose, there was a higher demand for professional practice. This led to yoga studios sprouting up offering more classification, more scientific and humanistic courses for different levels of practitioners. Many in China also started taking teacher training courses from Rishikesh, India.
Rishikesh believed to be the Yoga capital of India has also been the biggest exporter of Yoga. Thousands of Chinese throng Rishikesh to learn pranayama, kriya, yoga therapy, meditation, spiritual, and not only asanas. They return to China to teach students Yoga combined with Chinese concepts. Mysore, Pune, Bihar have also become hot spots for yoga. Several classical traditional Yoga texts have been translated into Chinese – “Patanjali Yoga Sutra”, “Hatha Yoga Pradipika”，”Bhagavad Gita”. The practitioners also know about Indian Yogis — Swami Vivekananda, Sivananda, Yogananda, Sri Aurobindo….etc, and have started to celebrate the international yoga day on 21 June in China since the last few years. They have also been practicing different kinds of yoga such as hot yoga, fly yoga, Ashtanga yoga, Iyengar yoga, dancing yoga, ball yoga, yin yoga, etc
In the last 34 years, there has been a surge in yoga practitioners in China. Yoga studios are distributed everywhere, in commercial streets, residential areas, school premises, etc. Even while walking on the streets, one can easily spot yoga advertisement and yoga enthusiasts. Yoga practitioners can easily find yoga course suited for them, from beginning levels to higher levels in gyms, studios, universities, or online. They are of different ages, occupations, and education background. Most of these practitioners are female, whether yoga teachers or students.
As yoga gained popularity, teaching yoga became an enviable occupation. They have more free time compared to white-collar professionals. They have a good salary, look fashionable and younger. Thousands of Indian yoga teachers are also teaching in China. They have practiced yoga from Childhood, have a good education background and teaching experience, and some of them can speak good Chinese. Several have already settled down in China with family. Most of these Indian yoga teachers are male.
In India, Yoga is a science of life from more than 5000 years ago. It is one of the ancient philosophies which include asana (physical practice), pranayama (breathing exercise), meditation, and spiritual knowledge. In the beginning, Chinese people looked at Yoga just as a sport to reduce weight, maintain good health, fashionable, etc. Yoga has the quality for all of these. Some of the yoga studios have combined yoga with Chinese therapy, or Chinese health beliefs.
China and India are closely connected and share a natural bond of affinity. Yet, people in both countries still don’t know each other enough. Yoga promoted a lot of cultural cooperation between China and India; it’s like a belt to connect the two countries. Chinese students coming to India every year to learn yoga has been increasing. Similarly, several Indians have been visiting China to study Chinese medicine, Chinese philosophy, Kong Fu, and Taiji.
On 2015, after the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to China, Yunnan Minzu University started Yoga degree course for Bachelor and Master students. Till now more than ten universities have yoga degree course.
Researchers have tried to find similarities between Yoga and Taiji, Yoga and Chinese Kong Fu, Yoga therapy, and Traditional Chinese Medical therapy. Yoga and those Chinese philosophies are invaluable assets of human civilization, which create a new platform to engage on an equal footing and facilitate mutual learning. We are looking forward as to how Yoga will change our life, and connect China and India relationship in the years to come.
*** The author is currently a doctoral student from China in Swami Vivekananda Yoga University ***
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