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Meditations on the global economic crisis

You know the economy is getting bad when even yogis are worried.

RISIKESH, India — In between daily meditations and watching dramatic reenactments of
Hindu myths on the spiritual TV channel Star Utsar, yogic monk Joyantananda Saraswati tends to his students.

An enthusiastically yelled “Almost good!” is his reward for visitors who push their bodies further into an elaborate pose, or asana.

But that phrase could also describe business in this northern Indian town of Rishikesh, as the global financial crisis extends even to this remote area in the Himalayan foothills.

Last year, 250 visitors studied at Saraswati’s teeny ashram perched over a bend of the fast flowing Ganges River. In the first two months of 2009, only 10 have come.

The decline is even more noticeable at the 8th International Yoga Festival. This year, 325 students have paid the $400 for a week's tuition and board, a 35 percent drop from last year.

Mostly Americans canceled,  festival volunteer workers said. Apart from the financial crisis, a few e-mail cancellations specifically mentioned November’s terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

Festival participant Xi Zhuang is certain that deadly siege, which killed more than 170 people, affected tourists from China. “The flight here was so empty I could lie down and sleep,” she says of the Beijing-Delhi route she'd been warned would be packed.

Yet for those who have arrived in Rishikesh — 40 years after the Beatles penned large parts of the White Album in an ashram hidden in the nearby jungle — the focus is on the spiritual.