"Savitri's Way to Perfect Fitness Through Hatha Yoga." [Simon and Schuster, $12.95, 177 pgs.]
Tension is the main reason busy people -- including Mary Hoyt, Jane Muskie and the Reverent Ed Bauman -- flock to Savitri Ahuja's yoga studio in the basement of her Northwest Washington home.
"Americans want to be beautiful and healthy," says Savitri, a small steel-muscled woman, who for 15 years has been teaching yoga to stress-prone Washingtonians. "But their tension creates a lot of problems -- overweight, back trouble, headaches and insomnia.
"First, they must learn how to treat their bodies. Then comes beauty and health."
Born into a wealthy family in Bombay, India, Savitri began studying classical dance at age 6. Two years later she took up yoga with a private guru. She wanted to "learn discipline" in order to combat her family's resistance to her dancing professionally.
Savitri married at 13, bore a son, danced all over India and began teaching yoga to American diplomats. She modified traditional postures to suit untrained and ailing bodies, checking new positions with the five doctors in her family. When her husband was transferred to Washington's Indian Embassy in 1959, she continued teaching and adapting yoga to Western needs.
Although her class boasts Beautiful People, she seems unimpressed by status and calls out "you with the fat popo" or addresses a prominent student by the color he or she is wearing. Her main interest is in their bodies and the mind within.
Americans have two common misconceptions abo!t yoga, says Savitri, which she is called by her students. One it is a religion, the other, that it is just for young people.
"Yoga is an ancient science that enables those who practice it to achieve good health, spirtual well-being and mental self-discipline," writes Savitri in her new book, "Savitri's Way to Perfect teaches physical [hatha] yoga to students ages 9 to 90.
"The older you are and the less exercise you've been doing, the more urgently you need uoga. Women in their 70s and even 80s become increasingly supply in my hour-long class."
A basic goal of yoga is learning to coordinate the mind and body and relax, she says.
"Your mind can prey on your body. Stress and tension, anxiety and fear can be translated into ulcers and high blood pressure.With yoga breathing and discipline you learn to control your mind.
"The yoga I teach is a way of life that offers four freedoms," she writes. "Freedom from assorted aches and pains, freedom from the cravings of a false appetite, freedom from needless strain and tension and, espcially, freedom from growing old before your time."
Savitri's book outlines three yoga programs, a first-month program that takes 20 minutes per day, a second-month that takes 30 to 45 minutes and third-month or lifetime program of 30 to 50 minutues.
"Yoga can be practiced anywhere -- at home, at work, while traveling," she says. "Your want to make yoga such an integral part of your life that your mind and body can meet the challenge for every day with renewed energy and confidence."
Here are some yoga exercises that can be performed in the office or on a bus, train or plane.
While sitting, take a deep breath through your nose, making sure your abdomen swells out as your lungs expand with air. As you breathe in, lift your shoulders up, pull them back breathe out and put them down.
Lubricate your neck by rolling it around. Slowly roll you head to the right, back, to the left, down, then reverse.
Lay the back of your hands on your thighs, open your fingers sharply, ad then close one finger at a time. When all are closed, take a deep breathe, make a tight fist and hold. Release. Do this six times.
Stare straight ahead at one spot without blinking. When your eyes start watering, close them. When you open them again try to roll your eyeballs from side to side and around while your eyes are still open. Close your eyes again and rest for a second. Do once a day. CAPTION: Picture 1, Savitri Ahuja and some of her students, by Harry Naltchayan - The Washington Post; Picture 2, Mary Hoyt; Picture 3, Rev. Ed Bauman; Picture 4, Jane Muskie.