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  • Ayurveda and Yoga in Russia and Response from the People

    Published on July 17, 2018


    By  Aleksei Illiuviev

    The Indian spiritual, physical and mental practice – Yoga – is growing in popularity across Russia. Over the last two decades, the number of Yoga practitioners has increased ten-fold to more than a million. Nearly each provincial town has at least one Yoga studio. The Russian capital alone has about 300 Yoga studios now. Practitioners, most of them aged between 16 and 34 usually say that Yoga helps them disengage from the daily routine, become a healthier and calmer person and live a more balanced lifestyle. Many Yoga coaches believe that Yoga lifestyle will dramatically improve public health.

    Russian universities start to offer the Indian discipline as a sport in their academic and extra-curricular programs. The best-known Yoga program at an educational institution is one conducted by the People’s Friendship University of Moscow.

    In 2014 Russia co-sponsored the India-initiated United Nations Resolution to mark June 21 as the International Day of Yoga.

    Since then the Yoga Federation of Russia together with regional authorities, Indian diplomatic missions in Russia, socio-cultural organisations and Yoga centres mark the International Day of Yoga across Russia.

    The biggest event is organized in Moscow’s historic Sokolniki Park, where over 3000 people gather each year for a Yoga demonstration. The easternmost Russian city of Vladivostok has more than a thousand participants in its program on June 21. The special zones are planned to open in parks to hold Yoga trainings in a Siberian city of Novosibirsk.

    Yoga put down its roots in Russia over a hundred years ago. Recorded history indicates that Yoga was practiced in our country in different forms by the artistic and intellectual elite since the late 19th century. Legendary theatre director Konstantin Stanislavsky famously incorporated several Yogic asanas into his Stanislavsky System as the means for developing attention and concentration. It was compulsory for artists in his studio to master these asanas before they could start playing.

    After almost a century, in 1971, Viktor Boyko, a construction engineer in the Crimean city of Sevastopol and follower of B.K.S.Iyengar since he was 16, translated a book written by his Yoga guru. Later, in the 1980s Soviet Government started exploring non-traditional healing methods.  The Ministry of Health sent PhD student Elena Fedotova to India to study Yoga and visit various ashrams.  She met B.K.S.Iyengar, whom she managed to invite to Russia.

    B.K.S.Iyengar visited the country twice, first in 1989 and then twenty years later. In 2009, he conducted special workshops on all Yogic asanas followed by classes on breathing exercise under the auspices of Yoga Journal Russia.

    The Yoga guru’s visit to Moscow in 2009 was one of the major events in the European Yoga calendar and attracted practitioners from across the continent. In many ways, it set the trend for the growth of yoga in the country.

    Over the last decade, Yoga’s popularity among the fitness conscious and those seeking spiritual solace has grown by leaps. A large number of young Russians visit Goa or spend their winter holidays in Yoga ashrams in towns like Rishikesh and Hardwar.

    Russians are increasingly turning to Ayurvedic practitioners and their methods for treatment of chronic diseases and rehabilitation after serious illnesses. While the number of those who turned to Ayurvedic methods and techniques in 1995 was some 2000 people, today this number has reached several thousand.

    Numerous medical centers using Ayurvedic methods of diagnosis and treatment keep opening in Russia. Russian medical doctors are eager to use some of the Ayurvedic preventive, therapeutic and rehabilitation methods and medicines in their medical practice. Russian patients, adults and children, have a positive attitude and a good response to Ayurvedic methods and techniques that have proven to be successful both as complementary and as alternative treatment.

    Courses are being held on Ayurvedic medicine and disease prevention methods. The most famous academic and research institution is Ayurveda Department of Oriental Medicine Institute, a part of the prestigious Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia.

    Articles on various aspects of Ayurvedic medicine are regularly published in Russian magazines. The theory and practice of Ayurvedic medicine are widely discussed at all Russian and international congresses and conferences (St. Petersburg, 2004; Krasnoyarsk, 2009; Novosibirsk, 2011 – 2013; Moscow, 2013, 2015; Volgograd, 2013 etc).

    Roughly five thousand Spa-centres in Russia offer services based on Ayurvedic techniques (different types of Ayurvedic massage, herbal steam baths etc.).

    Every year, up to 10000 Russian citizens travel to India for treatment and improving their general health – and that statictics is of the state of Kerala alone.

     (The  author is Second Secretary, Russian Embassy in India)