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Swami Ramdev Founds Scotland ‘Peace Island’, Challenges Bikram for Title of Yoga ‘Don’

in Business of Yoga, World News, YD News

swami_ramdev_1On the topic of yoga, and impassioned proselytizing of its inherent benefits, perhaps it’s not entirely fair for us to automatically think of the sweaty golden god known as Bikram Choudhury. Really. Step aside blingmaster stretch! There’s a new yoga ‘Don’ and he’s got the Scottish island to prove it! That’s Baba Ramdev, otherwise known as Swami Ji, otherwise known as the yogaevangelist extraordinaire. He’s HUGE in Asia with millions of followers via televised programs and live yoga camps, and proudly holds the title of yoga-resurrecter in his native India. With sights shifting West, we mentioned how Ramdev’s recent purchase of small Scottish island Little Cumbrae has made big headlines in the UK. Benefactors Sam and Sunita Poddar, originally from India and living in Scotland for 25 years, have been running the UK branch of the Patanjali Yog Peeth Trust, a sister charity org of the Swamster, and felt the £2 million price tag for the 700-acre island was well worth it. Thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Poddar, Ramdev made the news again just last week at the ground breaking ceremony on the newly christened ‘Peace Island’, setting the yoga doozers in motion to build what will be a massive ‘international base”destined for “great pilgrimage.”

While reportedly the center will offer its services (yoga, massages, diet plans) for free to those who can’t afford it, British officials and profiteers are already drooling on their open palms at the potential of a major tourist attraction. The official price list for the center has yet to be announced, but surely the helicopter tours will make a killing! This is all very exciting of course, but yankee yogs don’t book your tickets yet! Lest you forget the US is also in line to receive our very own Ramdev compound. In fact it’s already underway, in Houston, TX! A 94-acre plot in Rosenberg near Sugar Land, though we haven’t heard much about it since last year.

baba-ramdev-handstandOn one hand we’re all like ‘heyyy rock on, yoga’s reaching new heights in acceptance and wouldn’t this make the world a better, more peaceful place?’ And then we’re reminded that anything on this large a scale means politics are inevitably involved, not to mention the cultural impact. Sure there’s lots of YogaPop these days – even Ramdev accepted an offer to star on India’s version of Big Brother, Big Boss 3, though had to decline due to his strict conditions – but overall it’s kinda nice to have yoga more widely accepted, even if we encounter the occasional yogatart or are led to believe our butts will be enlightened by wearing expensive spandex. Are we so quick to forget that Ramdev is a spiritual, and religious figure whose anti-homosexuality stance, cure-all claims and parlay into politics have raised controversies and more than a few eyebrows? For now, all of that stays under his India robes.

Although he said he wanted to “heal everyone on the globe”, he declined to speculate on whether gays would be welcome there. “Homosexuality is not good, or bad, or legally right or wrong. It is not constitutionally right in India but I don’t want to say anything outside the country in the UK.” [TimesOnline]

We’re keeping an eye on this one. Curious if health drinks and vitamins will be all they’re serving up at Ramdev’s ranch, or at his ‘Natural Health’ shops like the one that just opened the other day in Leicester, England. Either way, the Yoga ship is cruising for the big time and cap’n Ramdev is at the wheel! With a crew of, oh, a few million. Pirates beware.


EarlierYogevangelist Swami Ramdev Protests Homosexuality, Claims it a ‘Defect’ ‘Cured’ with Yoga

Swami Ramdev: the Next Dr. Phil?

12 comments… add one
  • Hmmm…somehow next to homophobic yoga fundamentalism commercialized western yoga doesn’t look so bad…

  • Over at The Great Rainbeau Mars Debate on “It’s All Yoga, Baby” http://itsallyogababy.com/2009/09/28/adidas-yoga-class-offered-at-yj-conference/, I wrote the following:

    “I was a lot more uncomfortable with the gross distortion of Yoga’s public image in the late ’60s and early ‘70. Back then Yoga was deeply associated with:

    –Hare Krishnas bothering people at airports.
    –Swami Satchidananda incongruously opening Woodstock.
    –The Beatles hanging out with the Maharishi.
    –The Haight-Ashbury drug culture. (Teachers like Ram Dass were openly touting LSD as a path to enlightenment–a drug alternative to the Yoga Sutra.)
    –Transcendental Meditation.
    –Cultish Ashrams.

    So you can see why I don’t mind today’s relatively benign and positive association of Yoga with celebrity fitness, ecology issues, sports, and new age philosophy.”

    This Ramdev movement scares me in the same way. It’s a gross distortion of Yoga spirituality that truly does threaten to ruin the image of Yoga, in a way that workout yoga never could begin to do.

    Ramdev is the worst kind of charlatan faith healer in a ultra-traditional Yoga wrapper. This scares me because, unlike adidas yoga or filas yoga, Mass Cult Faith Healing Yoga really does have the potential to twist the public perception of Yoga so out of whack that it will be hard to even talk about what we hold dear without and instant negative image appearing in the listener’s head.

    Do you think I’m exagerating? Please convince me I am.

    Bob Weisenberg

  • laluna

    This Ramdev movement scares me in the same way. It’s a gross distortion of Yoga spirituality that truly does threaten to ruin the image of Yoga, in a way that workout yoga never could begin to do.

    I completely agree with this statement Bob, but do I think you’re exaggerating? Maybe only to the degree that we need to consider yoga’s current ubiquitousness in our (read Western) culture. So many more people are aware of and familiar with at least some of the tenets of yoga today, even if it’s “only” the health benefits of the physical practice, than they were back in the 60s-70s. I’d like to think that said people would see Ramdev for what he is and not necessarily make the jump to “well that must be how *all* yogis are.” (Am I wrong? I wasn’t born until ’69, so I don’t have any personal frame of reference to that time. 😉

  • Thanks, laluna.

    You’re probably right. Sometimes I write things in a passion that seem way overblown later. Traditional Yoga will be fine in any case. And maybe it doesn’t matter what the general public thinks anyway. There are small thriving centers of traditional Yoga all over the country, and as long as they can attract people to their programs, who cares?

    I do find myself trying to explain my love of Yoga to family and friends now and then. It’s a lot more attractive to me to say, “Yeah it’s a great workout routine and there this whole great spiritual side as well”, than to try to overcome a very false negative image created by a Ramdev type character.

    But that doesn’t mean traditional Yoga is really under any kind of threat from it. And it certainly can’t be any worse than equating Yoga with the hallucinogenic drug culture, as was true in the time of the Beatles dabbling in Yoga.

    So, thanks again. You did exactly what I meant when I wrote “Please convince me I’m wrong.”

    Of course, I’m also waiting for someone to write and say, “Wait a minute, you’ve got it all wrong about this Ramdev guy.”

    Bob Weisenberg

  • Honestly, I have to wonder… even “back in the day” when yoga first emerged (whenever that was), I’ll bet you anything there were charlatans, naysayers and disbelievers.

    Can you imagine the first time someone came home from spending time with some rishi? What did they say to their parents who clearly hadn’t ever heard of said rishi? How did they take in all that information?

    There’s no guarantee it went down any better in “those days” than it does now. Or that there weren’t fakers, promising enlightenment without the back up of rigorous personal practice.

    Sort of worries me that the fundamentalists tend to get all the attention and the Scottish Islands. But then, I think they put a lot more energy into it all, to make it happen.

  • You’re absolutely right, svasti. Every history of Yoga I’ve seen has made the same point–there has always been a whole range of characters in the pantheon of Yoga luminaries.

    Here’s just one, albeit speculative, example. You might recall there’s a whole long section in the Yoga Sutra about “extraordinary powers” that enlightened Yogis can attain, such as levitation, walking through walls, seeing the future, and seeing inside another’s mind.

    Chip Hartranft, one highly respected translator and commentator on the Yoga Sutra, writes that these supernatural powers are so out of whack with the rigorous rationality of the rest of Patanjali’s thinking , that it could only have been an attempt to curry favor with an audience being fed this stuff by other prominent Yogis of the day. Doesn’t speak very well for Patanjali’s intellectual fortitude, but it’s the only explanation that makes sense to Hartranft.

    Of course, these claims of supernatural powers did not end back then. Yogananda stormed America with similar claims in Autobiography of a Yogi. In the most ridiculous example, he claims to be in a photo in the book, but that you can’t see him because he made himself invisible! In all other cases he refused to demonstrate his supernatural Yoga powers because his enlightened ego would not allow him to show off .

    So Ramdev could be said, in on sense, to just be carrying on an ancient Yoga tradition.

    Bob Weisenberg

  • Gave a well deserved mention to this blog on Yoga Journal’s popular Yoga Buzz blog:


    Hopefully this will draw more people here to be informed about Ramdev. You’ve put together a valuable series of blogs on this important topic.

    Bob Weisenberg

  • admin

    Bob, thanks so much for sharing the link and opening up the conversation to an even broader group of yogadorks. Ramdev has been a topic on YD for a little while now and he’s finally picking up some attention.. guess buying a whole island and claiming to cure cancer and swine flu will do that 😉
    thanks again .. and to all, let’s keep the conversation going!

  • Irwin Friedman


    It has been 3 years since anyone responded to this article so I hope there is someone to read it!

    I just want to say that what Ram Dev offers comes with hard work. He claims that his program can cure any disease in 6 months. but the practitioner has to do 3 hours of pranayamas a day for 6 months. That is a lot of work. Bikram has the same kind of attitude. He claims his yoga can cure anything in a few months but one must do the one and one half hour of his hot yoga every day.

    Its not so much healing based on “hope” but on dedicated practice. I like the idea that it took me so many years to get myself sick and now it will take me some intense work to heal myself.

    What Ram Dev and Bikram offer is free. I do both practices at home and there is no fee. Of course an occasional class is good, but basically I learned it all from their books and internet resources.

    So let them throw their egos to the world and say the most ridiculous things, I am grateful that they have given us detailed programs that feel great and may keep us healthy.

    Irwin Friedman

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