2010-04-29

The Yoga Visa


Just a few days ago, I received an e-mail from my teacher in Mysore explaining the "new" developments in Mysore regarding visa regulations. These are a rather lengthy procedure that will ensure that any one who plans on studying yoga in Mysore will have a Yoga Visa.

My teacher sent out a four-part list indicating all the areas that need to be satisfied. These include:

1) A study letter should be sent to a student clearly mentioning the date of study and the duration;
2) A yoga visa cannot be issued for more than one year;
3) Any student who visits us once cannot return to India within 2 months of departure (maximum stay is 180 days). We must take a copy of confimed travel arrangements of the student and file it;
4) The name of the yoga center where the student wishes to study will be stamped on the visa and the students cannot study elsewhere, and
5) A copy of all student visa should be filed by the institution and submitted to the commissioner's office periodically for verification.

So let's talk about making the entire process more complicated not only for people travelling to India to study but also for the schools themselves. But rather than it being the Indian Government issuing this demand it's the local police of Mysore. Hence, the term yoga visa. To my knowledge, the Toronto Consulate of India does not issue such a thing. The standard visas are Tourist, Business and Student.

Having been to Mysore for the past 11 years, I know that the police were slowly cracking down on the number of people driving scooters. I was told by the General Manager of a popular hotel located in central Mysore that they were looking for Westerners. Being a Westerner in India comes often (if not all the time) with the assumption that you are rich or at least have 'extra' cash to burn. And in Mysore there might be up to 1000 foreigners (notwithstanding the fact that many yoga people usually travel in, and around, the same areas). I suppose with such a steady increase of Westerners this was a strange phenomenon to the local police giving them the grounds to seize control over the situation.

To date, the police have charged schools and yoga students in Mysore who violated these standards. There have also been schools (shalas) shut down, which is certainly not nice for those making an honest living and offering a valuable service.

The trouble is how does this work if a person wants to study yoga for 3 weeks and tour India for another month? Is there a yoga/tourist visa? Or what about the case if someone wants to study meditation? Is there a meditation visa available? And finally, what if someone wants to study in the North and then later in the South? The point is this procedure is somewhat absurd.

All of this confirms the fact that today Yoga is a business; a fashionable trend that allows everyone to become a part of it both directly and indirectly. What a vast change from how things used to be in India. Many years ago (like over 10) even charging money for classes was a bit of an 'uncomfortable' gesture. Ashrams and retreats did not have fixed fees but rather requested that you leave a donation. As a student conducting research on yoga, I still remember being laughed at by locals who could not understand why I would come to study Yoga in India. As one father put it, "We are concerned with putting food on the table, not relaxing." But within the tourist market of India, there are posters and advertisements that speak quite differently. Both in Delhi and Bangalore airports there are large billboards sporting the postures of yoga to promote tourism.

Ah, someone should begin the demand for meditation visas.

4 comments:

birgit said...

Hello, I am writing from London and just by chance read your Yoga Visa post. Not so much by chance, I spent the last 3 hours googling the subject.

I am really concerned about this. Will it not mean that a huge number of yoga students will refrain from traveling to Mysore? Will that not have a big impact on local business? I had looked forward to coming back after 3 years, spending some time with one and a couple of months later maybe a second teacher. Then moving on to Chennai or Rishikesh..

It doesn't make much sense. And now I don't know, perhaps I better look for another place to study? It would be really hard for me to find enough money to study with Sharath even for one month, the extra hurdles make the choice even harder.

Here is what the plan was: my boyfriend and I have visa problems which threaten to keep us apart (he: American & I: German living in the UK), so we thought: we'll go to India, have a 6 month break from worrying, study a teacher training course in one place, attend one or two shalas in the remainder of our time there. This no longer looks like an option. Our money is very limited and whatever we do will have to happen largely on my credit card... Perhaps it's best we just come for a teacher training course and simply travel somewhere else and have an easier time practicing yoga without a teacher. Yet how does this benefit those who just tightened restrictions? It simply means: we spend less money within the local economy.

Do you think it may 'blow over'? I imagine what will happen now is that really only those with space money will be able to come.

I am intrigued.. what about the few tourists there on a business visa or other entry visa.. Are they allowed to study?

It would be great if occasionally (when you hear more) you could update us, it is so hard to find anyone with reliable information and clear writing style.

heather said...

Hi Birgit:

I noticed on your profile you wrote you like coffee (me too!). Hope your google search also involved doing it over coffee! But isn't google great...makes all of us less stupid about many issues.

Well, we are all confused. Because you simply can't GET a "yoga" visa as I mentioned in my blog. My teacher suggested that you obtain a student visa, which is rather silly too since that's actually twice as much money in Canada (re: $123 for student and $62 for tourist).

Apparently on the student visa there is a space in which you can write the school you are studying with, etc.

If you really want to study in Mysore I think this is going to be the way it goes. However, this news may not spread up North. It sort of reminds me of the time that everyone in the North had gone home (expats, etc.) after the threat of Pakistan sending off bombs in India. Everyone was scared and there were travel warnings. I think this was in 2003-04.

However, way down in the sleepy South no one was concerned with that. They acted as if the news of bomb attacks and a possible World War III was in another plant far far away.

That said, there may be information about this on the Ashtanga website (offical one for PJ) in Mysore.

But definitely things will be tightened up. The police will not let this go.

As for spending less money in India, which is never good for any economy...it would be obvious that the police did not consider this.

I will update things as we go along and as I learn more too.

birgit said...

what a lovely reply,
today I do have coffee with my google search.
The only Yoga teacher outside Mysore that I have seen the mention of 'Yoga Visa' so far is this one" http://www.schoolofsanthi.com/teachers1_sep_2010.php ..

But since I wrote yesterday I have worked out that I can study with different yoga teachers, just I can not do it in Mysore. I may spend a short time in Mysore if I can get this student visa. Yet I conclude that there may be a chance that the 'student visa' will be restricted to the length of time that I'd pay to spend with a teacher in Mysore.. This in effect would shackle me to Mysore and restrict heading to Rishikesh or Chennai for example.

Oh they really targeted the wrong people.. In some effort to restrict terrorism they again used this veil of 'security' to restrict innocent activities.. ('again' = I am referring to this accelerated global tendency since 9/11)

Perhaps I will have to miss Mysore. Oh what a shame that would be. This could cause such problems for local businesses that rely on yoga students.

Perhaps someone as eloquent as you could write to the Mysore Newspaper...???
At least to clear up some misconceptions: Yoga students are creaming off while in Mysore, paying little to go home and roll in their riches earned from teaching Yoga.. Not many yoga teachers I know live in any kind of luxury back here but instead lead simple lives and generally have to be very mindful of thwir finances. And so many people studying in Mysore don't teach yoga. The local press misrepresented the situation somewhat in a recent article.

sigh

namaste. x
Birgit.

heather said...

Hello Birgit

Well, while in Mysore I did pull some strings and get an editor to come to the hotel to talk to me. At that time, I was doing thesis research on yoga for children in school.

My idea was to highlight the 'good' things of yoga for kids since many Indians are not interested in yoga. Many locals even laughed at me.

Funny thing was nothing ever became of the article; the editor disappeared! Strange.

So, I suspect the same thing may happen if I was to write to the Star of Mysore!

But for sure, locals in Mysore as well as Westerners have the wrong idea about yoga teachers (re: their expense account in order to return to India).

And yet, we are better off than the local kids in India. And it is true that you must have a bit of money otherwise you'd never travel to India at all.

In the end, all is relative.

As for impressions and the way it 'actually' is - well, this is why we have the famous saying, "Nothing is ever as it appears to be."

Cheers!
Heather

The Journey So Far

Life is an adventure and yoga is the greatest one of all. Here I share my love of Yoga, travel, practice and becoming a part-time cook. My life adventures have taken me from growing up in Toronto to living and working in South Korea to studying in India, marriage and finally closing my Yoga school of 15 years.

What I can say so far is that I truly believe that it is necessary in life to let go of one dream in order for another to be born. This might be painful to do so but it is the only way to move forward. We often believe that if our original plan does not succeed it is the recipe for failure. But what if it is the door to something new and great? The horizon is wide and life is not a straight line. This is the way I see it and my journey so far. Having also recently given birth to my first child and at 43, it is another new beginning.


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Heather Morton
is a perennial teacher and devoted student of yoga. Having made 18 extended trips to India she studies with her teachers annually. In 1997 she founded and directed The Yoga Way (TYW), Toronto's only school for 6-week yoga programs and not drop-in classes. For 15 years, TYW was a part of the growing Toronto yoga community and supported many charities by offering karma classes. As a teacher she holds many academic degrees including a BFA (Fine Arts in Theatre) and a Masters of Education. With a published thesis on Yoga for Children in School, her post-graduate work was a 2-year ethnographic project in the Indian school system. Heather has produced 2 dvds, meditation cds, a backbending manual and podcasts. Freedom of the Body DVD is the first of its kind as an instructional practice to the backbends of yoga. Heather has been featured in the Toronto Life magazine, The Globe & Mail, Yoga4Everybody and other on-line sources. She contributes to MindBodyGreen, Hello Yoga in Japan and Elephant Journal. She writes to inspire and share her experiences with others on yoga as a life's practice.
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