A new craze is taking Russia by storm. Russians, at least wealthier Russians, are jumping for anything Indian. Yoga studios have been popping up like Starbucks and a few weeks ago world renowned spiritual leader, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, went on a tour of the largest country in the world, during what has been declared Неделя Йоги (National Yoga Week).
A yoga exhibition in Saint Petersburg.
This fixation started a few years ago, and even the government has gotten involved. The federally sponsored Федерациа Йога России (Russian Yoga Federation) was created in 2008 under President Dmitry Medvedev, a known practitioner of the South Asian discipline.
It is interesting that a country in which many are still fixated on material wealth, after the hyper-capitalist explosion of the 90s, should take so readily to a philosophy that emphasizes spiritual wealth. This seems especially contradictory, considering that it is the wealthy in Russia who are driving this trend. In fact, at a stop on his tour of Russia, Shankar was asked about being rated one of the five most influential people in India by Forbes magazine. He responded by saying, “Love is the greatest wealth.”
There are many contrasts, though, between the yoga craze in Russia and the yoga craze in the United States. Yoga first came to prominence the United States in the 1960s, as part of a counterculture youth movement that embraced eastern philosophies. ISKCON, whose followers were popularly known as “Hare Krishnas” was founded in the mid ’60s in the U.S. as well. At the same time, in Russia, yoga was strictly prohibited by the Soviet government, which saw it as nonsecular, and superstitious.
Now, Russian yuppies are making up for lost time. Being a member of a yoga club is as much a mark of wealth as wearing designer suits or owning a flashy car. Hopefully, though, the philosophy of yoga will catch on as well. The emphasis on spiritual wealth could do a lot to quell many Russians’ fixation on material wealth, and potentially even live more fulfilling lives.