Young Indian weaves yoga magic in China

By M.R. Narayan Swamy, IANS

Beijing : He is popularly known as “Kabbi Laoshi”, or Kapil the Teacher. At just 27 years, Kapil Gautam is spreading yoga in China where many people believe it is the best way to stay slim.

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Having mastered Japanese and Spanish in Delhi University, Gautam came to China two years ago to study a new language. He ended up in Shenyang town, about 700 km northeast of Beijing where temperatures dip in winter to a bone chilling -37 degrees.

Even as he learnt Putong Hua, the dominant Chinese language, Gautam started teaching yoga to a people hungry to know the ancient Indian science. In the process he became a celebrity of sorts as the town’s magazines and television channels vied with one another to interview him.

Gautam is only one of an estimated 400 yoga teachers from India who have made China their home and are making a mark. But his success came the hard way.

When he flew into Beijing in March 2006, Gautam spoke no Chinese and the only person he knew in China was a woman teacher from Shenyang who had persuaded his brother to send Gautam over to learn Putong Hua.

He had no idea how to take a flight to Shenyang. A crisis hit him when his plane got diverted to another city due to bad weather and the battery in his mobile phone – the only link to the world — went dead.

“How I reached Shenyang and how I managed the initial months without understanding a word of what was taught, I can’t forget,” Gautam told IANS. “One or two (South) Korean students knew a little English and tried to help me.

“I thought I had reached a different planet. It was a different society, a different culture, different customs and different cuisine. I became desperate to get back to Delhi.”

But he was urged by people to stay on. His determination to prove himself also helped. Gautam slowly gained confidence. He was soon teaching English to a professor’s son, and learning Putong Hua from the young lad too.

In just four months, the Indian surprised everyone by becoming a better language student than even most South Koreans who flock to Shenyang.

Yoga he had learnt in New Delhi and Haridwar came to Gautam’s rescue when someone opened a yoga class. He was taken as a teacher, and quickly became a hit.

Soon a bigger school hired him at 5,000 yuan a month. His students were all women, from 20 to 50 years in age, eager to be in good shape.

“I teach Hatha yoga, Power yoga and Hot yoga,” he explained. “The last two are American varieties which I learnt in China. I am now a familiar face on the streets of Shenyang.

“The Chinese are crazy about yoga. Many feel that it is the best way to stay slim all through life.”

His popularity means that residents of Shenyang pester him constantly about India. “Many think that India is a Buddhist country. When I say I am a Hindu, they are surprised.”

Gautam quickly added: “But I never talk about religion while teaching yoga. I draw no connection between yoga and Hindu culture. Religion is a sensitive issue here, and I respect that.”

The humble Gautam, who said it took time for him to make peace with Chinese food, admits there are many better-qualified Indian teachers of yoga in China.

Yoga, he insists, has a great future in this country.

How long will he live in China?
“I am not sure,” said Gautam, who now speaks with the locals effortlessly. “If I get better opportunities, I would like to stay on. Otherwise, I am not sure. I have not planned.”