When Prime Minister Narendra Modi was disturbed to see Arvind Kejrawal coughing non-stop in New Delhi, he asked him to visit Dr H R Nagendra, Chancellor S-VYASA (Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana) for a cure for an allergy cough caused by high levels of pollution in New Delhi. Prime Minister Modi himself visits Dr Nagendra regularly.
Dr Nagendra’s journey from NASA to S-VYASA is part of yoga lore. When the AYUSH Ministry set up a committee of Yoga experts in the country to direct the course of Yoga, Dr Nagendra was made the Chairman.
After receiving his doctorate in 1968, Dr Nagendra served as faculty of IISc in Department of Mechanical Engineering. He then went to Canada as Post- Doctoral Research Fellow in the University of British Columbia, Canada in 1970. From there, he moved to NASA Marshall Space Flight Centre, USA as Post-Doctoral Research Associate in 1971 and moved to Engineering Science Laboratory, Harvard University, USA as a Consultant in 1972. He served as Visiting Staff at Imperial College of Science and Technology, London later.
Dr Nagendra brought his brilliant engineering credentials to Vivekananda Kendra, a service mission, as a whole-time worker in 1975. Today he heads India’s and perhaps the world’s largest Yoga University in Bangalore. He has published 30 Research Papers in Engineering and more than 60 papers on Yoga. He has authored and co-authored 35 books on Yoga.
S-VYASA has partnered with over 20 institutions abroad including East Tennessee State University, Central Michigan University, The Centre for International Mental Health and School of Population Health, The University of Melbourne, Japan Vivekananda Yoga Kendra, Yonago, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Health Synergies, Indianapolis, Indiana, The Perrott-Warrick Project, Alexander Group, Taipei, Republic Polytechnic, Singapore, The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Centre, KWA Kuratorium Wohnen im Alter Gag, Munich, and others.
The University attracts around 200 foreigners per year and the numbers are increasing. S-VYASA centers run by Alumni are spread in 30 countries.
If one were to look at the research undertaken by the University in the last 5 years, it covers a host of topics, relevant to health and well-being. The most complex includes Cerebral auto regulation and sympathetic nervous system activity (SNS) while performing cognitive tasks during yoga practices which have different effects on SNS and the simplest is Effect of Fresh Coconut in A Balanced Diet A Randomized Comparative Study.
Speaking to the Center for Soft Power, Dr Nagendra says his vision was to bring Yoga to higher education after it was introduced at Primary, Middle and High school levels in Arunachal Pradesh Vivekananda Kendra Vidyalayas, which had the wonderful result of “total personality development in children. We should bring teachings of Yoga right form the Primary school level, thereby attracting students to its fold by traditional yoga practices. We have done it through Krida Yoga.”
Asked if he expected Yoga to reach the heights it has today, Dr Nagendra says, “Ours was to do the efforts in all sincerity. Results, I believe was expected to come. But it is our PM who has made it possible to the extent it has grown now.”
In 2014, Dr H R Nagendra, Chancellor S-VYASA, the world’s largest university, put forth a new form of Yoga called ‘Vivekananda Yoga’ – modern, rooted and focussed on strengthening the mind. Dr Nagendra has been the Yoga guru for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Speaking about him, Dr Nagendra says, “He is a role model for yoga and for the country. It was incidental that he came to Prashanti Kutiram when Mananiya Sheshadri (my uncle, mentor and role model who introduced me to Yoga and Bhagavadgita at the age of 6) used to come and stay here for many days. For Modi ji and me Swami Vivekananda is the Aradhya devata. So we jelled well. He saw the combination of Traditional Yoga combined with modern scientific research here in VYASA which I think attracted him.”
Dr Nagendra says that scientific research as the specialty of S-VYASA with the largest contribution of research on Yoga to the world. “We have been able to unravel the secrets of Yoga from Yoga texts and bring them to benefit society by an evidence based approach.”
The aim and mission of S-VYASA, he says is to bring the benefits of Yoga and its applications to everyone in society by modern scientific research. “Combining the best of the East with that of the West, to bring peace on earth, create ideal social orders featured by Wealth and Health, Bliss and Peace, Efficiency and Harmony.” On a Nobel Prize for Yoga and Ayurveda, Dr Nagendra counters, “India should develop and institute a bigger prize than Nobel Prize.”
Thoughts on YOGA
“Most people think yoga means asanas. But now people are aware that Yoga is a way of life. The great master Patanjali said Yoga is to gain mastery over the mind – Yogaha chitta vritti nirodha. Yoga means the process of joining. We are small beings. We have to expand our personality and merge with the totality. Raising ourselves to become great human beings, super human beings, divine human beings, and reach perfection itself. That is the whole process of yoga and in that the mind is the most important.”
“Does concentration make you a Yogi? No. A marketing executive goes to work for 6 to 8 to 10 hours. He is full of concentration. When he returns home he is worried, he’s anxious about what is going to happen. In a few years he ends up in a cardiac ward. He is bright, intelligent, why does this happen to him. Patanjali says this is only one aspect of the mind. There is a second dimension to the mastery that is to calm down the mind. To silence the mind. You should be able to come out of the worrying or thinking loop. Come out of the enslaving loop and remain calm, quiet and silent. You are a giant on one side and a pygmy on the other. This brings an imbalance in the body. It causes and autonomous and endocrine imbalance. If not addressed it will lead to many diseases. Unfortunately, in our education system all over the world we are not taught techniques to calm down the mind.”
“Our children have become very brilliant, they can do things very fast, but when we ask them to calm down, no chewing gum in the mouth, no Walkman in the ear, no I-pad in the hand, it becomes a punishment. The objective of yoga is to develop the second wing through yogic postures, asanas. Use the body to gain mastery over the mind. Asanas are useful not only for burning calories but more important to gain mastery of the mind. Patanjali gives the answer – sthira sukham asanam. Sit still in a posture. Make the asnaa steady, start saying in the asana longer and longer, so Patanjali said imaginge a vast blue sky or ocean and keep your mind tuned to that. That is the third phase of asana, which is called sukha. Tuning your mind to ananthatha. In every position you must relax the body, relaxation of the effort.”
“Another tool is pranayama. The manifestation of pranayama is breathing. Gain mastery over breathing. You should be able to slow down the breathing. We all breathe 15-18 breathes per minute. We whoudl come down to 12, 10, 6, 2 per minute and then 1 breath in 2 minutes, 1 breathe in 3 minutes. When you slow down breathing, you slow down mind. In our university we call it the breath of the Brahmari time. It maybe 15 seconds or 20 seconds. Then you must elongate it. If you achieve 35-40 seconds you are in good shape. Anxiety, depression, dementia, everything will start vanishing.”