Home Feature Integrating Yoga into Army’s Physical Training System: A Historical Perspective

Integrating Yoga into Army’s Physical Training System: A Historical Perspective

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By Brig Sarvesh Dutt Dangwal (Retd)

In the mid-1980s, the Indian Army embarked on a comprehensive review of its physical training and evaluation system. This effort, initiated around 1986-87, aimed to overhaul and redesign the existing body-part focused exercise programme, known as the Table Card. The primary objective was to shift from a body-part specific regimen (arms, chest, dorsal, lateral, and legs) to a more holistic approach that emphasised the components of fitness and motor abilities.

The new approach prioritised cardiovascular endurance, strength, speed, agility, flexibility, balance and coordination. The exercises were carefully arranged to fit into the standard 40-minute training period. Consequently, the revised Table Card was structured into three main groups: Warm-Up & Endurance, Strength, and Cool-Down. Each group incorporated exercises designed to develop the essential components and motor abilities required for soldiers’ overall fitness.

A significant change introduced in the Cool-Down Group was the inclusion of Yoga asanas (postures) for stretching and flexibility exercises. The primary purpose of the Cool-Down Group was to allow the heart rate and blood pressure to gradually return to pre-exercise levels. Despite Yoga’s physical benefits for stretching, flexing, and exercising the spine, muscle groups, and internal organs, its introduction into the Army’s training programme was met with considerable resistance due to its perceived religious connotations.

At that time, the concept of secularism deeply ingrained in the Indian Army, didn’t allow anything associated with religious practices, particularly those linked to Hinduism, and was viewed with scepticism and often rejected. Yoga, traditionally seen as part of Hindu religious rituals, was no exception. To navigate this challenge and still incorporate the physical benefits of Yoga, the Study Group decided to rebrand the asanas using their English names. For instance, Hala Asana became the Plough Pose, Bhujang Asana was renamed Cobra Pose, and Padam Asana was referred to as the Lotus Pose, terms popular with the Western world.

During several presentations to senior Army leadership at the Army Headquarters (AHQ), the Study Group meticulously avoided any mention of Yoga. They emphasised the physical aspects of the exercises, ensuring that the secular fabric of the Army was not threatened and remained intact. This strategic rebranding allowed Yoga to be subtly integrated into the Army’s physical training regimen as “Stretching”.

In 1991, the revised physical training system, including Yoga disguised as stretching exercises, was officially introduced into the Army’s formal training programme. Over time, as the benefits of Yoga became more widely recognised and accepted, its perception within the Army began to change. Senior Army leadership started to appreciate Yoga more as an exercise form than a religious practice. This shift in understanding led to increased demand for Yoga to be formally included in the Army’s physical training curriculum.

Responding to this demand, the Army Physical Training Corps (APTC) took the initiative to incorporate Yoga into the training regimen. They began offering Yoga courses for soldiers at the Army Institute of Physical Training (AIPT) in Pune. Yoga has since become a staple in the Army’s training programme, particularly resonating with middle-aged soldiers and those deployed in challenging and inhospitable areas, helping them stay healthy, flexible, and fit.

It is important to note, however, that while Yoga offers significant benefits for flexibility and overall well-being, it cannot replace the core elements of physical training such as cardiovascular endurance, strength, and speed. Yoga complements physical training but does not substitute it entirely.

The APTC’s pioneering efforts in integrating formal Yoga training into the Army have been instrumental in promoting a balanced and comprehensive approach to physical fitness. As we celebrate Yoga Day on 21 June, it is worth acknowledging the journey of Yoga’s acceptance and integration into the Army’s physical training system.

Wishing everyone a Happy Yoga Day.