Indian military uses yoga to counter stress, suicide risk

Indian military uses yoga to counter stress, suicide risk

Mandeep Singh

The Indian military is turning to yoga to counter Soldiers’ stress, fatigue and monotony as well as a worrying pattern of suicide among its ranks.

In a message to lawmakers in January 2019 concerning the alarming number of suicides in the military, Minister of State for Defence Subhash Bhamre cited yoga and meditation among the measures to be taken “to ensure that members of the Armed Forces are given a healthy and appropriate environment.”

The Isha Foundation, a nonprofit spiritual organization, trained 64 officers and noncommissioned officers of the Indian Army in Angamardana yoga in the southern city of Coimbatore, India, in November 2018. The 14-day training consisted of yoga sessions and classroom instruction. Participants from the Army Physical Training Corps (APTC) will now be tasked with teaching yoga to other Soldiers and eventually to the entire Army.

The yoga students discussed their experiences in a short documentary released by Isha.

“As practitioners of structured physical training, we get this apprehension in our minds that there is no space to walk, as we might have to sit in a bunker for four days at a stretch,” said APTC Maj. Vishal Hooda. “The thought that comes to our minds is that we cannot even flex our muscles. But we can try this [Angamardana yoga] in a very structured way in a 6-by-6 area.”

In addition to needing just 3.34 square meters of exercise space, Angamardana, according to Isha founder Jaggi Vasudev, requires no equipment and uses one’s own body weight and momentum to increase muscle flexibility. The intense, 25-minute session form of yoga was taught to ATPC personnel specifically with the needs and constraints of Soldiers in mind.

“While living away from the family, and as time passes,” Hooda said, “a certain monotony sets into our routine. I won’t call it stress. I would say a monotony starts to set in our routine and somewhere it affects us unconsciously.”

Through the training, Hooda discovered that yoga can break the monotony. “Angamardana makes you strong, not only physically but mentally, too,” he said.

The decision to add yoga to the military’s physical training reflects recognition of its benefits by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Indian Vice President Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu called the traditional Indian exercise “India’s greatest legacy, its most glorious gift to the world,” in a January 21, 2019, speech.

Soldiers have much to gain from yoga, said Dr. Rita Khanna, director of the Yogashaashtra yoga school in Hyderabad, India, in her essay, “Importance of Yoga in the Armed Forces.”

“Yoga is a holistic science of life,” Khanna said, “which deals with physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. Yoga practices increase physical fitness, discipline the mind, make you more focused and confident, cure health disorders and give you a calmed and relaxed mind, which are equally, if not more relevant, to Army personnel.”

After two weeks in Coimbatore, APTC Maj. Nitin Joshi agreed.

“I have benefited from it extremely,” he said. “And as we will teach this at multiple levels within the Army in the future, I have a strong belief that everyone who will learn under this program will benefit from it.”

Mandeep Singh is a FORUM contributor reporting from New Delhi, India.