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Stretching across cultures

Stretching across cultures

Author: William Porter
Publication: The Denver Post
Date: January 28, 2008
URL: http://www.denverpost.com/search/ci_8095889

I spent Sunday morning watching 90 yoga devotees bending themselves into shapes so feline that I pulled three muscles and jammed a knee just watching.

We were in the Jefferson High School gym in Edgewater, a space normally given over to the exploits of the Saints hoops and wrestling teams. On this morning, members of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, a social and cultural organization, were there to observe an ancient ritual called the Surya Namaskar - Sanskrit for "Sun Salutation."

The hour-long marathon, consisting of 10 yoga poses repeated 10 times in six-minute sequences, was part of a nationwide effort by 7,000 participants. Their goal: Reach 1 million Sun Salutations in two weeks.

That's a lot of bending, reaching, arching and stretching on a hard floor.

Which is why I was practically clutching my lower back when Vidya Tontalapur came up to where I sat in the bleachers and stuck out his hand.

His invite had arrived a few days earlier. I read it three times to make sure this was not a participatory exercise. At age 50 I am shaped like a brick and about as flexible.

Vidya, a software developer at Level 3 Communications in Broomfield, sat and surveyed the room. Like him, most of the people there hailed from India. They moved here as part of the tech boom. Many had brought their children.

"This is one way to stay connected to our culture," Vidya said. "And one way to make sure our next generation retains their heritage."

That can be a hard balancing act. Even as a laptop fed ancient Hindu music through a loudspeaker, a little boy went through his yoga drills wearing a Denver Nuggets T-shirt sporting "Iverson" on the back.

In the gym, men were arrayed on one side of the room, women - one wearing a traditional sari - on the other. Kids mingled in the middle.

I was amazed at the speed in which young and old swept through the poses. It took real stamina and coordination.

There was a vaguely martial air to it, what with the blaring music and the occasional blasts of the yoga leader's whistle.

I could appreciate the athleticism at work.

My lovely bride once tried to teach me a few yoga basics. She started with the "stretching cat." "It's easy," she said.

I was wallowing on the floor when our big tabby, Roscoe, shambled into the room. He took one look at me, then pinned my head to the carpet and began licking my scalp. I stood up and called it quits.

But this - this I could respect. Maybe it was time to revisit yoga.

Ramesh Kanekal, an electrical engineer, arrived from Colorado Springs with his wife and daughters. We talked before they took the floor.

"I've been doing this about two years," he said. "It's good for all parts of the body, from joints to breathing, and for all-around health."

His wife, Visa Tanikella, a software engineer, nodded toward their two girls. "They've been doing Sun Salutations with us every day," she said. "They've been having fun."

Against the gym's far end, just under a backboard, was a neat row of dozens of shoes - yoga is traditionally a barefoot practice. Out on the wooden floor were traditional rugs of rich paisleys.

"This is our home now," Vidya said. "But we take our inspiration from India."

William Porter's column appears twice a week. Reach him at 303-954-1977 or wporter@denverpost.com.


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