FROM as young as 10, Manoj Kaimal sort of knew his calling. Growing up in his hometown of Kerala in India, he was surrounded by yoga teachers and literature of this ancient discipline whose roots go back about 5,000 years. Furthermore, members of his family had been involved in yoga for generations.
When he was at that age, his parents hid books on yoga from him because they felt it was too early for him to be exposed to them.
But, recalled Manoj, he would nonetheless take the books and read them behind his parents' back. “I guess from young, I was naturally attracted to yoga. It was always there.”
Manoj, 32, nevertheless went on to get a professional qualification in cost and works accountancy, which is equivalent to the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (Cima) here, before he ventured into yoga.
Between 1992 and 1997, he taught yoga to more than 800 students. From 1995, he was holding a fulltime job as well as teaching yoga.
He came to Malaysia in 1997, and how he arrived here was quite by chance. He said a prominent Malaysian businessman walked into his house in Kerala by accident to look for someone else. They started talking and then Manoj handed him his CV (curriculum vitae). Later, the man asked him if he was interested to work in Malaysia.
He worked as a project manager with a corporation for a year, and the money was good. Despite this, he said, he could not derive much personal satisfaction from the job.
“I was recording how people made money. My interaction with people and improving them were all frozen and a great part of me was unfulfilled.”
So he incorporated a company called White Lotus Sdn Bhd with his wife Sandhya, 26, and then started Yoga Life Centre in SS2, Petaling Jaya in 2001 to promote alternative health, yoga, ayurveda and other Indian sciences.
“I felt that yoga was my real calling and it satisfied my urge to share,” he said.
Through yoga, Manoj added, he actively connects and interacts with people and helps them live better and healthier lives.
“It gives me satisfaction to know that I can bring positive change. When people say that their back ache has reduced or that they are calmer, that is more satisfaction than getting a fixed payment.”
Initially, only people who knew them came for classes. Manoj, who also taught at the Temple of Fine Arts in Kuala Lumpur then, did not even put up signboards. Then he invested in some fitness equipment to pull in the crowd.
“Back then, people did not know much about yoga. We wanted people to come to the centre, and then tell them about yoga,” said Manoj, who attended the Sivananda School of Yoga in Kerala.
“But then people came back consistently for yoga more than for the fitness classes,” added Sandhya, an English literature graduate who was a classical Indian dancer with the Temple of Fine Arts.
Every month, the centre records about 250 to 300 students, 80% of whom are Chinese. Since they started the centre, close to 1,000 people have walked through their door.
Students go through either the basic, intermediate or advanced levels in yoga. There are also a carefully selected few who go through a teachers’ training course.
“This course is not for those who want to make money but for those who really want to help other people through yoga,” said Manoj, who is qualified in yoga Shiromani and yoga Acharya.
The Kaimals had initially thought of venturing to Dubai to promote their love of yoga.
“Malaysians are very open and have no problems learning another country’s culture. That is a great encouragement to us. The enthusiasm of people here made us stay back,” said Manoj, adding that the Health Ministry is also supportive of alternative health practices.
Initially, there was a stigma of religion attached to yoga, but that perception has since changed, he said. “Yoga is about harmony between the body, mind and soul; it does not say, Hindu body, or Hindu mind and soul.”
When asked, Manoj said the yoga classes that he taught here and in India were very similar.
In Malaysia, he has added on elements such as soft (new age) music and aromatherapy. In India, light incense and sometimes mantras are more common.
“Some of my students who are into aromatherapy also advise me on what oils to use,” he said with a smile.
According to Manoj, Ashtanga yoga or “power yoga” is the style that is most sought after in Malaysia now.
Power yoga is the most intense yogic practice in terms of using the body. Together with breathing exercises, it improves body tone.
Manoj stressed that although there are many different styles of yoga, these are only different approaches. There are five approaches of yoga – meditation, devotional, selfless services, intellectual and body and breath.
Manoj also introduced a new form of yoga in his classes called Manasa yoga. (Manasa means “mind”).
“This approach tries to continuously bring students’ attention to the mind and thought pattern, and to weed out mental block like hatred, anger and irritability,” said Manoj, adding proudly that Sandhya is his first manasa yoga teacher.
With yoga gaining popularity and more centres being set up, how has that affected Yoga Life?
“Yes, there are plenty of centres popping up but we don’t feel any competition because most of the teachers are our friends. Being yoga teachers, we are united in our common interest to promote yoga in its true sense,” Manoj emphasised.
He said that a person can only teach yoga after he or she has gone through five to six years of active practice and learning of its wisdom, philosophy, science, and concept of energy and matter.
“The real qualification of a teacher is also how the student feels and connects with him,” said Manoj, who also learnt different approaches to yoga under masters B.K.S. Iyenga and Sri Pattabhi Jois.
Stressing the point that he does not mean to sound conceited, Manoj said that authentic teachers who really understand yoga were still a rarity and that there were maybe only six or seven in Malaysia.
Last December, Manoj also set up an ayurvedic centre at Jalan Gasing called Sampurna and brought in an Ayurvedic physician from India. There are also two therapists based at the centre.
Since it started, the centre has recorded around 900 patients. Manoj is also in the process of opening another Ayurvedic centre in Johor Baru next year.
Currently, he is also training a few students to be yoga teachers.
“In future, we dream of having a sort of academy to provide residential yoga programmes, offering stress management, teachers training as well as other intensive yoga courses,” he shared.
Monthly fees for basic and intermediate yoga classes range from RM60 to RM190. For advanced classes, it is RM20 per class. Registration fee is RM35. Students can also pay per class without registration, which is RM20 per class for basic and intermediate and RM25 for advanced.
o For more information, call Yoga Life at 03-7806 4630 or 016-286 9544 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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