Raj Shah is a chemical engineer by training, though he works in IT now. Growing up in Mumbai, India, he was a hard-nosed atheist. It was his unshakable belief that “religion was the opium of the masses.” He viewed religion merely as an instrument of exploitation and looked upon with disdain all the bearded sadhus and fakirs roaming the countryside in India.
However before he reached the age of 20, Raj had some experiences that forced him to confront his atheistic dogma. He now became a believer in the invisible hand of God, though he continued to view all religions with the same suspicion as before. Growing up in India, Raj had heard of yoga but paid no special attention to it. He regarded the practice, along with the many other esoteric practices of the east, as something to be regarded with extreme suspicion.
In his late thirties, Raj immigrated to the United States along with his family. It was upon this transition that he took to exercising, proving soon to be a seven-day-a-week regular at the gym. He arranged his routine, which consisted of a 20-minute cardio warm-up on the treadmill followed by an hour of weights, so that he went to the gym directly from work. With loud music as the background in an atmosphere redolent of perspiration and motivation, the gym countered the daily stresses and relaxed and revitalized Raj.
At the same time as he took to the gym, his wife, Ketna, became immersed in yoga and encouraged him to take it up as well. After much resistance, he finally gave in to his wife’s entreaties. He did a few classes and soon his knee popped in one of the class while doing the warrior pose. “This is it,” he said to himself, “I am never going to another yoga class in my life again!”
In the meantime, Ketna was not deterred by Raj calling yoga “bogus mumbo-jumbo.” In fact, she gave up her career and became a yoga teacher! Soon she was off to India for a three-month intensive yoga training course with a mysterious guru in Chennai. After her training was over, Raj also went to India to attend a wedding. “I remember that day vividly when I first saw her at Bangalore airport, after a three month gap,” he reminisces. “It was as if she had suddenly become 10 years younger! The dark circles around her eyes were gone, she had lost 20 pounds, and she looked radiantly beautiful!”
“It was there and then that I decided to take up yoga in earnest,” Raj says. “Look, I am a scientist at heart and when confronted with hard evidence, I have to respect that,” he continues, trying to justify his 180-degree change in perspective. Upon his arrival back to the States, Raj altered his exercise routine; he dedicated himself to yoga with Ketna’s guidance for three days a week in the comfort of his home as a supplement to his workouts at the local gym four days a week.
Although Raj did not see any noticeable changes initially, he was determined to commit himself to yoga for at least a year before deciding whether or not it was worth pursuing. One day at the gym about six months later, Raj suddenly felt as if a weight off his shoulder had been lifted. “I remember the day clearly when my stress levels suddenly dropped!” Raj says. Soon he began to lose weight, ultimately shedding about 20 pounds in all without any significant changes to his diet. “I found that my portion size has been reduced and I automatically began to eat slowly and had less of an appetite,” he says.
In considering his fitness routine, Raj now felt that his visits to the gym were interfering with his yoga practice. The calm he felt after yoga was much deeper than the relaxation he felt after his workout at the gym. The loud music that he had loved before now became unbearably loud and disturbing to him. His wife insisted that he should continue with his workouts, so he reluctantly went to the gym on the weekends and did his yoga routine at home during the weekdays. After a few months, he quietly dropped the gym altogether and practiced yoga seven days a week.
Yoga has changed Raj for the better, improving his health and overall attitude towards life. “Yoga has helped me reduce my weight, it has helped bring my cholesterol levels down, it has improved my sleep, and it has helped me improve my posture. Although I was somewhat prepared for the health benefits as I had seen similar results in my wife, I was not prepared for the underlying changes that took place within me. It is as if a spiritual earthquake has taken place within and I have suddenly awakened to the deeper symphony of life!” Raj proclaims.
In retrospect, Raj considers his metamorphosis and its implications. “My journey into yoga, which began with the task of practicing physical postures, has evolved into a deeper, spiritual, and mystical transformation. Going forward, my wife and I will try to make this deeper level of yoga accessible to as many people as we can,” Raj explains.