Yogi bent on healing ways

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 July, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 July, 2004, 12:00am

Thirumoolar's Ashtanga Yoga: A Therapeutic Approach to Good Health

by Dr Asana Andiappan

Endeavour Press $199


His eyes leap out at you, as he sits on the lime-green cover of his first yoga book in English: ankle behind the ears and hands clasped in the prayer position. His gaze is magnetic. The remarkable-looking 76-year-old is Asana Andiappan, or Doctor AA as he is known to his followers in the 155 countries where his daily yoga television shows are screened, and in the various yoga centres stretched across southern India where this yoga guru holds court.

As the vice-president of the Indian Yoga Federation, Andiappan is a big name in the yoga world at home, yet he's relatively unknown outside his country. And the language barrier hasn't helped.

In more than 50 years of teaching yoga, Andiappan has written 25 books in the Tamil language that dominates southern India. As yoga is being taken up increasingly in the west, he's decided to switch to English with this, his first translated work courtesy of the small Hong Kong publisher, Endeavour Press.

Andiappan's style of yoga is inspired by the ancient Indian sage, Thirumoolar, who was more concerned with the therapeutic benefits of yoga than its spiritual essence. Yoga is used as a powerful medicine, as can be seen in the various healing and research centres that Andiappan has established throughout southern India (check out www.andiappanyoga.com). It appears to be a theme that westerners are increasingly turning to as they look for alternatives to conventional medicine.

With the help of Hong Kong-based editor Banu Suresh, one of his key works has been translated into a 200-page book, with large photos of Andiappan's 22-year-old son, Yogananth Andiappan, adopting 38 primary postures. The young yoga teacher has been holding court at Planet Yoga in Central, until he recently left to embark on his own projects.

'He's a slave driver,' says editor Suresh with a smile. 'He'll really make you work hard but you'll come out floating.'

Accompanying Andiappan's staggering poses, there are drawings of the animals and insects that each asana derives its inspiration from. There are also some details of the therapeutic advantages of each pose.

Sandwiching this series of asanas, the book leaps seemingly without a logical order through an intriguing range of themes. There is everything from the medicinal benefits of asanas to satvic diets for diseases as varying as constipation, leprosy, asthma and tonsillitis; to postures for women, breathing techniques and tratak meditation.

There are also extracts from sage Thirumoolar's famed text, Thirumandiram, and nuggets of wisdom scattered through the explanations.

However, some sections may be hard for western readers to comprehend: Sivambu, or urine therapy, for example. The thought of curing one's eye ailments with urine is bizarre and the final chapter on 'Medical Validation of Yogic Research' could have been more convincingly written.

Yet, overall, this is a charming book that would benefit beginners and established yogis alike, offering an interesting new slant to any yoga practice.