Nanammal, the 98-year-old yoga teacher, on her the secret of her energy


Nanammal crosses his hands and sings matha, pitha, guru, deivam… I repeat after her. We are on the terrace of his house in Ganapathy, near Coimbatore, enjoying the warm rays of the morning sun.

“Stand up straight. Raise your hands above your head, lean forward and touch your toes; don’t bend your knees,” the instructions are thick and quick from Nanammal, 98, possibly the oldest yoga teacher in India, she teaches padahastasana (hand-foot posture).

Next comes paschimottanasana (seated forward folding). I sit down, stretch my legs forward, tilt my head, and struggle to hold my toes with my thumb, index, and middle fingers, without bending my knees. She effortlessly switches to sarvangasana (shoulder support). As she lifts her legs high and balances her whole body on her shoulders, I am stunned. I try, a little awkwardly, and receive an encouraging slap from the tying patati.

There is no sign of fatigue when talking to her students. Every morning she teaches them how to bend, stretch and master some of the more difficult yoga poses like kandharasana (bridge) or sirshasana (poiring).

“She has good eyesight, hearing, and memory from her regular sirshasana practice. It protects from an attack of paralysis. She has taught more than 10 lakh students, 10,000 of whom are currently teaching yoga, ”adds V Balakrishnan, son of Nanammal. He runs the Ozone Yoga Center, where she also teaches. Some of its students have won gold medals in international yoga competitions in China, Australia, UK, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

Recently, she was honored with the Nari Shakti Puraskar Prize, which she received from the President on the occasion of International Women’s Day, and also attended the lunch hosted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the winners. “In Delhi, she also gave a demonstration for Maneka Gandhi, Union Minister for the Development of Women and Children. Soon there was an audience of 300 people, ”Balakrishnan explains.

Nanammal also received the Yoga Ratna Prize from the Government of Karnataka. On receiving it, she performed in front of an audience of 20,000 people. She wakes up at 5 a.m., a routine she’s been following since she was 10 years old. After brushing her teeth with a neem stick, she does yoga and then has breakfast, which is always a bowl of sathu maavu kanji (porridge) made from a mixture of millets such as ragi, kambu, kudiraivaali, saamai and wheat. And, a help from poryal made with vaazhaithandu (banana stem) or peerkangai (crest squash). “Every day we change vegetables. During the summer months, these are always vegetables with a high water content. Everyone in my family, young and old, has this kanji for breakfast. Some days, to add variety, we add grated coconut, elaichi powder and jaggery to the mixture. Kids love it, ”says the yoga expert.

Lunch is always keerai (greens) and rice. “Moringa leaves are very good. Previously, the elders would bring a bag full of vegetables from the farm for lunch. We always try to have keerai every day, ”says Balakrishnan, as he serves us thaen thanni, a drink made with honey and lukewarm water.

While the grandmother takes a sip, I ask her questions about her association with yoga. “My grandparents introduced me to this,” she said, enjoying her drink. “They worked all day on a farm in a village near Coimbatore. When they came back in the evening, they would bathe and start doing the asanas on a mat. As a child, I would join them, ”she recalls. Nanammal says she has never suffered from serious health issues and credits her daily yoga ritual and healthy diet for it. “I have never visited a hospital in my life. I don’t know what the coffee or tea tastes like. The hot drink I drink is soukku coffee made with a mixture of powdered dry roasted coriander seeds, jeera, soukku (dry ginger) and panang kalkandu (palmyre jaggery).

It is with visible pride that the lady says that her family – a total of 36 members, including her daughters, sons, grandchildren and great-grandchildren – teach yoga. Balakrishnan says there is no end to learning yoga. “It is believed that there are over 84 lakh yoga postures, of which there are around 1,000 asanas left,” he explains.

Nanammal performs over 50 asanas, some of them difficult, but life is simple. “We eat three meals a day; we brush our teeth and bathe every day. Likewise, yoga.

Teach yoga

At the Ozone Yoga Center, Balakrishnan offers a two-year teacher training, Yoga and Naturopathic Diploma, certified by Bharat Sevak Samaj of the Indian government. Housewife Chitra Prabhakar says, “I signed up to recover from joint pain, back pain and health issues. Now I practice regularly. I want to share the benefits with others, ”she says. Another student, N Ashok Kumar, who suffered from issues like varicose veins, blood pressure and diabetes, took up yoga and is happy with the results. “I even managed to do a padayaatra to Palani, covering more than 100 km. I want to be a yoga teacher, ”he says. For more details call: 9344704251