V Nanammal is 98 years old and has been teaching and practicing yoga in her village of Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, India for almost her entire life. Although she is one of the oldest women yoga teachers in the world and has won many medals in Yoga Competitions and her classes attract hundreds of yoga practitioners, she says that yoga is not about pushing to yourself or working up a sweat.
While many yoga festivals promote commemorating your practice with the auspicious number of 108 Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutations), traditionalists like Nanammal and her family maintain that the sequence should never be performed more than 12 times in a row.
In a feature in Quartz India, Nanammal said that yoga began as an in-family practice. Her own mother, Ponammal, also practiced yoga and reportedly lived to be 107 years old.
Before the entire family became full time yoga teachers (Nanammal’s children, grand-children, and even great grand-children have taken up the vocation), her son said that they owened a cashew and coconut farm, like many others in Kerala. They also practiced traditional Siddha medicine.
Nanammal’s first yoga student was her mother-in-law who had sprained her ankle. She offered to teach her some yoga asana and she got better. By 1972, the family established Ozone Yoga school where the family teaches yoga according to strict traditional rules.
“I am just focused on teaching what I have done for years now, so the next generation can learn and hold on to our traditions,” Nanammal said.
V Nanammal Sticks to Yoga Tradition
Nanammal herself only wears traditional cotton clothes and practices on a simple rug. No shoes or rubber soled socks are worn at her classes either, and she asks her students to avoid eating meat, smoking cigarettes, or drinking alcohol. Should anyone break the rules, she does not hesitate to ask a student to leave the school.
Although Nanammal would prefer to keep her school and classes keeping to tradition, her son, V Balakrishnan said that they are slowly adapting to the changing times.
While the school used to only be open to Hindus, they now welcome yoga practitioners from all over the world and of different religions to practice and learn at Ozone Yoga. Nanammal has also become more lenient about allowing students to wear non-traditional outfits at her classes, and the school has opened lessons outside of the brahma muhurtam (auspicious time) of 3-5am.
But what will never change is Nanammal’s adherence to traditional yoga which focuses more on peace and relaxation rather than being a stretching routine or fitness regimen. You won’t see any trendy yoga classes like goat yoga, beer yoga, or hot room yoga at Ozone Yoga school either.
Since they opened in 1972, Ozone Yoga school has trained over 100,000 people. With a partnership with Bharat Sevak Samaj, and Indian government initiative, they have trained about 1,000 people in naturopathy yogic science to yoga teachers all over the world.