Easy visa rules, seekers of mindfulness have brought stability to Karnataka’s youth. Manjunath Somaraddi tells us how…
From being a way of life, yoga has become a source of livelihood for a group of young men in the twin cities of Hubballi and Dharwad. Around 50 of them have travelled to Vietnam in the recent past and mentored over 15,000 people on yoga asanas. Their movement has also been assisted by Vietnam’s easy visa rules and the country turning into a top mindfulness retreat in Asia.
For many, this journey to becoming yoga trainers has been remarkable. As students of the Sivananda Ashram in Kundgol town of Dharwad, yoga was a part of their daily school curriculum until it opened avenues for lucrative employment abroad. While many are appointed at the ashram’s centres in Vietnam, others have found jobs in private yoga retreats that have mushroomed across the nation. ManjunathKalmath, SantoshUmachagi, RajeevkumarRaddi, ShivarajAnnigeri, VenkateshNadakarni, DoddanagoudaParangi, DevarajDevadiga and Vishwa are now among reputed yoga instructors in the country, with earnings ranging around Rs. 1 lakh (approximately 34 million Vietnamese Dong) a month. They conduct classes and fitness camps in Ho Chi Minh City, Bien Hoa, Binh Duong, Da Nang, Nam Dinh and Da Lat cities.
A surge in demand for Indian trainers was especially noted after the first-ever International Yoga Day celebration in over 10 provinces in the Communist country in 2016. The ancient Indian practice began competing with aerobic training facilities.
Lack of livelihood at home
“Vishwa, a Dharwad native, has been working as a trainer in the most sought-after California Fitness & Yoga centre in Vietnam. It was he who had contacted ManjunathKalmath in Kundgol and informed the latter about employment opportunities there. Several others from the ashram also followed suit,” said MuttuUmachagi, also a trainer based out of Vietnam.
Kalmath, who has a B.Ed. degree from Bengaluru University, was a social studies teacher at Sivananda Ashram prior to becoming a yoga trainer in Vietnam. “There is a huge demand for Indian yoga trainers abroad. We also prepare students to take part in international events,” he said. “Our international facility currently offers lessons to nearly 280 students from poor financial backgrounds. Yoga is not only a set of asanas for students here but also a way of life,” said Basaveshwar Swami of the Sivananda Ashram.
It wasn’t, however, just the lure of an overseas job that saw these men travel to Vietnam. “I have a master of physical education degree and a diploma in yoga training but had failed to find a suitable job in India. Things turned around for many of us in Vietnam. With global centres making lucrative offers, there is also stiff competition among instructors now,” said RamanagoudaPatil, who teaches at the Vu Le Fitness and Yoga in Bien Hoa city. Some of the popular studios in Vietnam are Shubha Yoga, Tapo Yoga, and Vu Le Fitness.
RajeevkumarRaddi, who has been teaching yoga for the past three years in Vietnam, said, “I work at a sports and fitness company which has close to 1,000 members, who come in batches of 10 each. The good thing about being a trainer here is that almost everyone cares for her or his health and makes sure they practice asanas for at least an hour daily.”
Language no barrier
“Doctors, engineers, professors and students come to learn yoga here. The retreats are especially popular among the Russians, Americans, South Koreans, Taiwanese, New Zealanders and Australians who visit Vietnam to explore its dramatic mountains, the lush countryside and scrumptious food,” said Rajeev Kumar, a mentor at Shubha Yoga in Ho Chi Minh City. He had earlier also taught at a fitness facility in Singapore.
For many again, who did not have an English education, communication was a major hurdle that they faced on landing in the Southeast Asian country.
“We faced difficulties in giving instructions to students and had to take special classes. But now, we not only speak English but some Vietnamese too,” quipped Kumar. He plans to open a centre for yoga and meditation in his native village in Dharwad.
“The centre where I work had offered me a translator initially for better communication with students. But now, I can say that I am 70% fluent in the country’s native language,” added Raddi.
“The students here are like our family members. They invite us to their birthday and anniversary celebrations,” said MuttuUmachagi, who teaches at the Micom Fitness and Yoga Centre in Nam Dinh city.
SanthoshUmachagi, another trainer, was quick to add, “The Vietnamese give special respect and honour to Indian yoga trainers.”
With inputs from Prabhu Mallikarjunan. Manjunath Somaraddi is a Hubbali-based freelance writer. Contributors are members of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.