Indian gymnast practices "pole yoga" at Mallakhamb World Championships, a traditional Indian discipline, on 16 February 2019 in Mumbai / AFP / Archives
Dressed in a simple black boxer shorts, Pavel Kalina wraps his muscular body around a wooden pole erected in a Bombay room, chaining the postures to applause during the first world championships in Mallakhamb, a very old Indian sports discipline.
Born in western India, this traditional sport, whose written traces date back to the 12th century, is similar to both gymnastics and yoga. Hence his nickname "yoga on pole".
"I practice it because I'm crazy," says Pavel Kalina, a 55-year-old Czech who struggles to catch his breath after two very intense minutes of his program on the pole, which is coated with oil. castor to limit friction with the skin.
A gymnast performs a figure at the Mallakham World Championships, a former Indian sports discipline, on February 16, 2019 in Mumbai, India / AFP
"To be honest, it's torture, but I have a lot of energy to spend," says the former gymnast, who has been practicing Mallakhamb for 10 years.
A hundred athletes from 15 countries, including France, Germany or Vietnam, participated this weekend in the first world championships of this discipline little known outside of India.
"Malla means wrestler and khamb means pole," says Uday Deshpande, 65, the organizer of the event, and practicing the most renowned of the discipline.
"The post is eight and one-half feet (2.6 meters) tall, smooth, very polished and flat at the top," he says. Practitioners from Mallakhamb perform acrobatic exercises and breaks that evoke various yoga postures.
"In the absence of an opponent, it is against him [le poteau] that you are fighting ".
Men, mostly in swimsuits, and women, in leotards, perform acrobatic feats on this cylinder of 35 cm in circumference, under the astonished eyes of the spectators.
Athlete stands on top of pole at Mallakhamb World Championships in Mumbai, February 16, 2019 / AFP / Archives
But it's not just about physical strength, says Deshpande.
"Doing ground yoga has a lot of virtues when it comes to meditation, breathing and concentration," he told AFP. "Doing yoga eight feet off the ground also builds self-confidence, courage."
It is to promote this discipline worldwide that he has organized these championships. His dream is that the Mallakhamb will one day be at the Asian Games and, why not, at the Olympics.
"We want to spread this aspect of traditional Indian culture abroad," he says.
Gymnast Performs Rope Figure at Mallakham World Championships, Former Indian Sports Event, February 16, 2019 in Mumbai, India / AFP
A variant of the mallakhamb is played on a rope, evoking the smooth rope numbers at the circus.
"You have a sense of accomplishment and you develop your strength and flexibility," says Iranian Faezeh Jalali, 39.
"It's crazy what the human body is capable of."