Those who assumed yoga is for peaceniks should prepare to have the notion shot down. The Indian Army is poised to adopt the ancient practice after trials showed that giving meditation precedence over conventional physical drills at boot camp makes for a deadlier fighting force.
Chants of “Om” and elastically athletic poses may seem out of place in a training barracks, but after three months new soldiers of the Bengal Engineering Group, who did 50 minutes of yoga a day combined with 40 minutes of traditional exercise, had steadier hands, stronger grips and leaner muscles than peers who underwent a grueling 90-minute military work-out instead, according to a study.
The researchers suggest that their findings shatter preconceptions of yoga as a pacifistic pursuit.
"The yoga group showed an improvement in skilled activities requiring coordination and concentration, as well as muscular strength and endurance," Dr. Shirley Telles, the principal investigator on the project, said. "This would be especially useful for activities such as shooting at a target."
The interest of the Indian Army (the second largest in the world after China's) coincides with a broader yoga revival. The military's routine is based on the teachings of Baba Ramdev, a superstar guru who has popularized yoga across the subcontinent through a combination of plain speaking, fierce diatribes against western lifestyles, and a cable television channel.
The army's study, which will continue for a year, is being carried out at Patanjali Yogpeeth, a yoga-focused research centre in Haridwar in northern India that is led by Ramdev.