Shilpa Shetty on the benefits of yoga, her soon-to-be book, and next yoga DVD

Bollywood actress explains how practice can align your body, mind and soul, and confirms the release of her book, The Great Indian Diet, in the UAE.

Shilpa Shetty at the XYoga Dubai Festival. The Bollywood actress is to release The Great Indian Diet book in the UAE. Pawan Singh / The National
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When Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty demonstrated the surya namaskar yoga sequence at the XYoga Dubai Festival recently, she was watched on big screens by thousands in Burj Park.

When she began the “Om” chant, they followed suit. “This chant has nothing to do with religion,” she told the crowd. “Chanting this activates the stomach, spinal cord, throat and brain. It has several benefits.”

Shetty has become one of the most familiar faces in yoga in recent years. She has managed to engage with the celebrity-influenced youth of India and made the activity “cool”.

The actress has built a business around her fitness journey. She released her first yoga DVD in 2008 and has led yoga camps with Indian guru Baba Ramdev.

Last year, she co-authored her first book, The Great Indian Diet, with nutritionist Luke Coutinho, in an attempt to underscore the health benefits of the country's food.

When we spoke to her at the festival, Shetty confirmed she will be releasing the book in the UAE soon and is already working on her next yoga DVD.

Have you ever led such a big crowd in yoga before?

I have done one in Bangalore before this, but this is the first time I’m practising with so many people outside of India. It’s wonderful to see so many people come out for this.

More people are taking up yoga than ever. What is the appeal?

It is the single most holistic form of exercise that works on your body, mind and soul. I think people have understood the worth of that. We lead such fast-paced lives and we need some grounding, and need something to align our energies together. That’s what yoga does.

There are so many contemporary styles of yoga – do they still hold the same essence of traditional yoga?

The traditional form is the Ashtanga and then there is Iyengar yoga, power yoga and Vinyasa. Yoga of any sort should work on your body parts and internal organs.

The beauty of yoga is that it doesn’t just work on you externally, in terms of stretching you a bit, but it also works on your internal organs. So when you are doing the lying-down poses it works on your pancreas, lungs, opens out your chest and intestines. So it really has a complete holistic effect on you.

I really think we need to focus on that. The fact that you don’t need anything other than a yoga mat and your own body weight is wonderful. No membership.

What style are you most comfortable doing?

I started off with Ashtanga and it was what I based my first yoga DVD on. I plan on shooting my next yoga DVD on Vinyasa, which is yoga with breathing techniques. It actually increases your metabolism. I’m still trying to master the art form.

Some people consider yoga to be non-strenuous. Is this true?

Yoga can definitely be used to lose weight – but losing weight is secondary. What yoga does is it tones you and stretches you. A lot of people lose a lot of weight with cardio but they aren’t strong.

My husband lifts a lot of weights but he can’t do two surya namaskars. It’s a very strenuous form of exercise and is underestimated. You have to do it to understand it.

What inspired you to write The Great Indian Diet?

We wanted to debunk a lot of myths around the Indian diet. Indian food, like yoga, is misconstrued. It has a lot of benefits.

The United States wanted to patent curcumin, a compound that is derived from turmeric, which comes from India and is used in cancer treatment as well. Then you have zeera, asafoetida and all these spices that are filled with health benefits.

Indian people are very healthy and there is a reason. It’s because we use coconut oil and ghee [clarified butter]. When we see Holland & Barrett and Madonna having clarified butter on gluten-free toast, it’s cool, but we’ve been doing it since time immemorial.

We wanted to bring attention to that. We’ve already sold 60,000 copies in three months, so it is very encouraging. I’m even going to release it in the UAE very soon.

What’s the best way to manage stress?

Sit out in the open and breathe. Inhale and exhale 10 times, focusing on your breath and see how your stress melts away.