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The Evolution of Yoga: From East to West

As a graduate student of Intercultural Relations who has traveled the world extensively, I wanted to look deeper into the emergence, evolution, and diffusion of yoga from a cultural standpoint. The following is a result of research from a variety of sources that touches on the sheer divergence of opinion, experience, and beliefs about yoga.

“Nearly 20 million people in the United States gather together routinely, fold their hands and utter the Hindu greeting of Namaste — the Divine in me bows to the same Divine in you” at the end of their yoga practice. These words linked to the popularity of yoga in America and it’s disconnect with its Hindu origins sparked a debate with the Indian-American guru and holistic health practitioner, Deepak Chopra. But why?

Yoga in the western world is a far cry from the yogic roots established thousands of years ago in India. Matter of fact, an agreed upon definition of the practice of yoga is not likely something you will find based on yoga’s diffusion across and within cultures. The shift in meanings over the last several thousand years has only aided in complicating matters and stirring up debate. The popularization of yoga in the United States is actually a very recent thing, and has turned what some call a traditional meditative practice into a commercialized business--the yoga industry generates more than $27 billion a year! However, from Buddhism to Christianity, Hinduism to Islam, and Jainism, cultures have practiced elements of yoga (breathwork, meditation, or guided movement) for centuries.

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Misconceptions

According to social issues commentator S.E. Smith:

“For a lot of people in the US, ‘yoga’ is a series of pretzel-like physical exertions done to get fit, usually with some token Sanskrit thrown in here and there to keep things exotic and spicy...The problem is, that’s not yoga. What people in the US are referring to as ‘yoga’ is actually one aspect of a larger spiritual practice...The romanticization of both ‘yoga’--by which people generally mean asanas sprinkled with a bit of breathwork and meditation--and India has created a heady mixture of appropriation and imperialism.”

However, the popularity of yoga in the West has also been credited to the physiological, psychological and biochemical healing qualities of the practice. Yoga isn’t just stretching, but rather a forging together of mind and body to work towards spiritual enlightenment. Practicing yoga consistently can lead to increased strength and flexibility, improved posture, coordination, and balance, as well as a reduction in stress. While not all western yogis take their practice beyond the physical stretching and fitness trend, there are many who do.

The Debate

The debate about yoga as an inherently religious practice has been put on trial, literally. In fact, San Diego Superior Court Judge John Meyer recently ruled that yoga does have religious roots, but that they are as far diluted in American culture much like Christmas. This type of cultural appropriation has generated heated debates and discussions about the emergence of yoga as a purely physical practice.

In fact, about 4 years ago the Hindu American Foundation started a campaign called “Take Yoga Back,” which aimed to address these issues of cultural appropriation. They focused on helping people understand and consider the roots of the practice. This video about taking back yoga will give you a look further inside some of their concerns.

The Evolution of Yoga

Yoga in the United States and yoga in India are very different things. The reasons for practicing, along with the actual practice, can many times stand at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Based on everything I’ve read (which is a ton!), here’s one very basic and abbreviated history of modern yoga:

While yoga is very old, it almost died (so sad!). Luckily, in the early 1900’s an Indian man named Krishnamacharya came along and saved it. He is known by many as the father of modern yoga. He started his yoga practice as a child with his father and eventually traveled all over India studying yoga philosophy. He went on to teach others, including some of the most well known practitioners: B.K.S. Iyengar, T.K.V. Desikachar, Pattabi Jois, and Indra Devi. He revived many of the lost teachings of yoga and also set a precedent by accepting women as his students. He lived to be a 100…(I’m attributing his long life to yoga, naturally!)

Around the time India gained its independence from Great Britain (1947), Indians weren’t taking classes at institutes. Instead they preferred small classes and private tutorials geared to meet their individual needs. Practicing yoga in studios was a western fad, and many Indians didn’t appreciate the way Americans popularized group yoga classes. In fact, “The concept of yoga as a large social trend is foreign to most Indians, as is the American fixation on a particular school or lineage.”

Yoga continued to gain even greater momentum in the U.S. in the 60’s, along with the flower children and The Beatles, who made a trip to an ashram in India for meditation. This contributed to the surge of foreigners traveling to India to practice at ashrams and bring teachings back to the United States. Today, millions of people all over the world practice yoga.

So, what IS yoga?

Yoga isn’t religion. Yoga isn’t flexibility. Yoga isn’t poses.

Yoga is body, mind, and spirit.

Depending on who you ask, the word yoga itself stems from the Sanskrit word, yuj, meaning “union,” “to join,” “bind” or “yoke” (as in oxen). Yoga is said to embody a combination (or yoking together) of the physical, mental, and spiritual practices directed at attaining peace, with the ultimate goal being moksha, or liberation from suffering and ignorance.

A part of this union of practices is outlined in the 8 limbs of yoga (ashtanga) organized in India by Pantanjali over 2,000 years ago: the yamas, niyamas, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyani, and samadhi. Each of these limbs contains a unique part of yoga--from ethical standards to self discipline, postures to breath control, sensory transcendance to concentration, and meditation to ecstasy. When one is able to reach the 8th limb of samadhi, they are in a state of liberation and have reached the end of their yogic path, peace. In The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (an ancient yoga guidebook), yoga is defined as "the stilling of the changing states of the mind"

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What do we think?

Yoga is for everyone.

We agree with the folks over at MindBodyGreen, you don’t have to be flexible, slim, or decked out in full lululemon to practice yoga! Even respected gurus and long time yogis understand that yoga is a path (whether it’s an eightfold path or four paths). There are different stages on that path, and incorporating the physical asana practice may be a start on that path for some.

 Yoga is whatever is right for you.

While the origins of its practice in India might be interwoven with Hindu and Buddhist tradition, a yogi doesn’t need to study or practice those religions to make yoga a part of their life.

Yoga can be used with a variety of goals in mind: fitness, increased flexibility, greater spiritual connection, cultivation of peace & calm, meditation/focus, or whatever you find it providing you.

Here’s our thing: we know the history, but we also like to travel and experience different aspects of the yoga practice as they are made ready to us. We understand the drive of yogis to travel overseas to find their yoga in its birthplace, or at least a beautiful location that offers no distractions. We hope practitioners are mindful and seek to educate themselves about the history of yoga, whatever they believe.

Yoga will continue to evolve. It is, and will always be, a different practice for everyone. And that goes for each time you practice.

When you practice yoga regularly you start to see the world differently. You start to see yourself differently...and more clearly. And sometimes that is the greatest version of peace there is. Namaste.

5 Amazingly Easy Yoga Poses For Teenagers

The adolescent years are the most challenging years of one’s life, both emotionally and physically, for teenagers. Yoga has several benefits for youngsters that can help restore inner peace as well as confidence; and encourage physical fitness among them. It can prove very beneficial during the hormonal boost that is related to adolescence. Doing as little as fifteen minutes of practice each day can help teenagers improve their overall level of physical as well as mental fitness.

Yogasansas are all about the unification of body, mind and soul. Here are five asanas which youngsters can easily practice:

The Warrior Pose

This is a sort of warm-up, standing pose that will give a start to your body. This pose is also known as Virabhadrasana. This will help out the teenagers in focusing their thoughts and will give instant energy. It is very easy to do; stand with both feet together then take your right foot one step back, in 90 degree angle , slowly stretch your hands up over your head and deepen the stretch slightly with each exhalation.

The Triangle Pose

This is also known as Trikonasana. If you take the help of a block or a chair it will become easy to practice. Regular practice of this posture can give a perfect shape to the body of the growing adolcent. Stand straight on rightleg and bend at the hip in such a way that your right hand reaches your shin or the floor. Rotate your shoulders slowly and repeat the process again on the other side. This posture will make you strong to do more difficult asanas easily.

The Tree Pose

 This pose is proving to be very good in releasing frustration and in building your mental power. Place your feet together and make sure that you keep them fixed to the surface of the floor. Then slowly take your one leg in upward direction and hands in prayer position, above your shoulders. Repeat the entire cycle for the other leg too. If you are not able to do these postures at home, then you should go for yoga retreats which also teach the same postures in their classes. Make sure you book a yoga retreat two to three weeks before going.

The Cat Pose

It is also known as Marjariasanaor child pose. This asan reduces back and neck pain through stretching. This position simply requires to rest on your hands and knees, with your belly facing the floor.and slowly take in a deep breath andexhale. Pull in your abdominal muscles, tailbone and butt.. Now curl your back up high this will make you look like a cat

The Back Bends

This asana is best done if you have an exercise ball, as it will provide extra grip and support. Lie on the ball facing up and try to touch the ground with your outstretched palms. This posture will refresh the mind and increase the blood flow, thereby reducing stress. If you are not comfortable in practicing at home, then you must go for a Yoga vacation. If you are planning to travel countries like Italy or Germany, Yoga retreats will be a good option for you.

Marc Feber is a writer and a yoga practitioner. He has discovered the beauty of developing his own style through various practices and writings. From his own experience at a Yoga retreat in Italy, he has come to believe that the human body must always be connected with yoga to live a healthy life. Check out his website for more information!

Infographic: 10 Yoga Poses to Make You a Better Runner

Runners are notoriously inflexible human beings, forever ever envious of other rubber-jointed athletes. Flexibility and running may seem unlikely partners, but adding in a short yoga routine to after your daily miles can help prevent injury and hurtle you over training plateaus. The following infographic outlines one such routine that should take about 15 minutes and can vastly improve a your health and wellbeing.

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Infographic courtesy of Life Yoga Center

Feature image via: Daniel Chandranayagam

Shalom Bikram Yoga: Finding Home Away from Home

A couple of weeks ago, I bid a temporary farewell to my regular Vinyasa practice. It was a bittersweet departure as I reminisced over the growth, sweat, ups, downs, and upside-downs of my practice in the last six years. For the first time I thought about the actual time I clocked in various studios. I figured I practiced an average of five classes a week for six years… That’s 1,560 hours spent on my mat, the equivalent of 65 days spent doing yoga around the clock.

“We are what we repeatedly do.” – Aristotle

When we practice at a studio, we form innocent attachments without realizing it: to teachers, the space, the energy, the rituals. Without knowing it, we begin to long for a particular fragrance of incense; we find comfort in the sounds of the heater kicking on; we take delight in the quiet serenity of a studio away from the chaos of home.

When I taught my Vinyasa classes, I often closed class reminding students that their practice is something they create; it’s something that is always inside of them, waiting for them, always there with unconditional support. They say you teach what you most need to learn.

I moved to Tel Aviv, Israel with no specific direction or plan and I was okay with that. But in the absence of a studio or a yoga community, I was feeling a little naked. The practice that once kept me planted and warm felt lost and rootless. Of course I had done the research and I knew where the studios were in Tel Aviv, but there were not any studios offering the type of Vinyasa I was habituated to.

But when people are uncomfortable they find quick ways to adapt, and my discomfort slowly evolved into excitement at the brand new direction my yoga would take; I felt at once the exhilaration of untapped potential. I was a curious and anxious beginner again.

Which is exactly how I found myself in the oven of a Bikram studio one evening, melting on my mat, trying to decipher cues spoken in Hebrew (which I do not speak), watching my face grower pinker with every asana, and absolutely loving it.

I had done Bikram-style classes before, but they were few and far in between and I was typically seeking them out just to detoxify in the heat. The discipline of the sequence was alien to me, and the lengthy time holding the asanas was genuinely challenging in its novelty. Yet, it still felt like yoga – it was still the same breath. It was beautifully exotic and innate at the same time.

At the end of my first Bikram class in Tel Aviv, I closed my practice the way I always do: thumbs at third-eye, bowed forward, eyes closed. And I couldn’t help but smile at the sensations whirling through my body and mind, as they were identical to those I felt closing my practice at home.

It didn’t matter that the studio smelled different or that the teaching style felt foreign in multiple ways. It was unimportant that I didn’t know anyone in the studio and that they didn’t know me back. I had everything I needed: body, breath, and mat.

As humans we will face the urge to attach to our environments time and time again in the search for grounding, but yoga teaches us that the real stability resides in the Self. Wherever we go, the Self will follow. That is dependable and unchanging.

Now my practice is trekking an unpaved road, constantly reminding me that yoga is an inward journey. But so long as I do my practice, I know that all is coming.

 

Feature image via: Robert Brauneis

Using Yoga and Meditation to Cope with Addiction

Addiction is a brain disease, but the repercussions of addiction affect much more than just the brain. Biologically it affects your brain, it affects your body physically, and it affects your soul emotionally. For those who are recovering from addiction and working to remain sober, it’s important to be hyper-aware of your body and mind in order to get healthy. Overcoming substance abuse is a marathon, not a sprint, and requires constant inventory of emotions, feelings, and your body. Utilizing yoga and meditation can be a great tool in this endeavor since these activities also affect the mind, body, and soul and keep a full body and mind inventory in the process.  

For the Mind

Ultimately, addiction starts in the mind. There are many factors that come into play when dealing with addiction such as environment, biology, and brain development. A person’s environment and social surroundings has a lot to do with the beginning of substance abuse. Living in a home with substance abuse or in an area where substance abuse is common increases the chances of addictive behaviors. Some addicts are also predisposed to addiction due to having a history of addiction in their family or if they were young when they began using. Not only does substance abuse become a natural behavior if they start using early, but since the brain isn’t quite developed yet, the chemical compounds of the drugs being used and their role in the brain alter its development.

Yoga increases both serotonin and dopamine, which is also what happens while using drugs. They affect the reward centers and mood, which is why using substances make you feel good and are difficult to quit using. When dealing with addiction recovery, yoga can be used in place of this craving. Once the brain connects serotonin and dopamine release with yoga instead of drug use, it’ll really help the brain to recover more effectively.

Using Yoga and Meditation to Cope with Addiction - Yoga Travel Tree
Using Yoga and Meditation to Cope with Addiction - Yoga Travel Tree

For the Body

Addiction is also a very physical disease and it can have a negative effect on almost every system in the body. Addiction can have an effect on body weight, muscle mass, strength, and stamina. Tooth loss, gum disease, lung disease, heart disease, liver damage, kidney damage, stroke, convulsions, and infection are all physical risks that can stem from substance abuse.

In recovery, it’s important to focus on both physical and mental health. Yoga might not be able to help many of the more serious ailments caused by addiction, but it can help with overall health and wellness. In terms of obtaining a healthy body weight, regaining muscle mass, and increasing strength, and stamina, yoga improves these aspects of health that may have been negatively affected by substance use.

Whereas a more intense cardio or strength workout might be more difficult for those recovering from addiction, yoga is a great low impact exercise that focuses on strengthening the body as well as the mind. You’ll build muscle mass and flexibility while increasing heart rate and lung capacity. The physical damage done by substance abuse may not be able to be repaired, but focusing on relaxing and adaptable exercise like yoga can help to work towards a healthier lifestyle that doesn’t involve substance abuse at all.

For the Soul

Addiction affects the soul. There are many aspects to addiction that involve emotions and self-worth that are incredibly difficult to heal from. Not only is the brain recovering from addiction, but so is the body, and the soul. The brain recovers biologically and learns to rewire its communication and reward centers. The body recovers by detoxing and flushing out toxins and rebuilding physical health. The soul recovers by being held accountable for actions, asking for forgiveness, and forgiving yourself.

Many things happen in the brain when recovering from addiction, and some of the things that can be the most difficult to recover from are the shameful aspects of addiction. Recovering addicts tend to suffer from anxiety and depression stemming from guilt associated with using. Coping skills are extremely important to obtain in addiction recovery and yoga and meditation can be a vital aspect to this part of recovery.

Yoga offers so much more than just the physical perks of exercise. Unlike many workouts, it offers a mental piece of mind as well. Meditation can be a major aspect to yoga and many classes focus on clearing the mind and focusing on positivity. Those practicing yoga will focus on understanding the things their body can do and watch the progress being made, which can be incredibly empowering to those battling addiction. Seeing positive change that you’ve created is really rewarding for those working hard to change the mistakes they may have made while using or questioned their ability to stay clean.

Yoga is an exercise for both the body and the mind which are two things that are in a sensitive state during recovery for many addicts. Yoga and meditation keeps you healthy while focusing on living a healthy and positive life. While maintaining sobriety, it’s essential to focus on these positive aspects of recovery that may help the negative side of recovery. Utilizing yoga as a coping mechanism during this time will offer another tool towards recovery for the mind, the body, and the soul.

Author Bio
Author Bio

Author bio: Chelsy Ranard is a writer from Montana who is now living in Boise, Idaho. She graduated with her journalism degree in 2012 from the University of Montana. She enjoys yoga, talk radio, and cold coffee. Follow her on Twitter!

Yoga for Every Body: Inspiring Yogis Come in All Shapes and Sizes

Maintaining positive body image in a sea of slim women can be a astronomically difficult task. Not all “clubs” and “cliques” are as accepting as others. However I have found growing support, acceptance, and inspiration in the yoga community regarding more bodascious girls participating. I first became interested in yoga and Pilates after my first daughter was born. I wanted to tone my midsection and lose weight and so I joined a local gym. While I was one of the larger women in the class I never felt out of place or “less than” anyone else. In yoga, I have found that many serious practitioners are more impressed by what you can physically do and what personality changes you accomplish than your general physical appearance. When I first joined my first yoga class I definitely looked different than many of the other bodies in the group. There were also people who were thinner, but far less flexible than I. This gave me the courage and strength to keep working on improving myself – regardless of my size and fitness level.

As I matured in my practice I found many other inspirational women on my journey. Women like Jessamyn Stanley, practicing and teaching yoga in South Carolina, around the US, and even internationally. Not only is she not afraid to do yoga, she accomplishes some of the more difficult poses with a bit of “junk in the trunk”. It’s even more impressive to me, as a big girl, to know that she is contorting herself into positions that few beginners can even dream of mastering –all while getting suffocated by her boobs in the process – just like the rest of us – and she doesn’t let that hold her back, or become an excuse to quit.

Anna Guest-Jelley of curvy yoga in Nashville, Tennessee is another inspiring example. She’s a woman who offers the kinds of classes and trainings that many of us normal-sized people crave, but are still learning how to seek out. We usually end up creating new niches and making our own spaces – which is what Anna is doing with her teacher trainings for Curvy Yoga. Yoga should be accessible to all physical and mental abilities – not just the most agile and fit amongst us. It’s humbling and inspiring to have role models speaking out for our right and responsibility to follow our heart and engage in our passions – regardless of what others may think of us. Inspirational role models also help break down stereotypes and show us that whatever perceptions we hold of what our bodies can do is often the result of our own self-limiting beliefs.

Role models like Anna and Jessamyn are narrowing the gap between what classes should look like, and how they actually are – aiming to make more of us feel comfortable to go out and practice in public and learning to love our bodies for what they can do in the process. Whether we’re wearing a baggy t-shirt and sweatpants, or a tight tops and workout leggings, these women give us confidence to just be ourselves, and work on being the best version of ourselves we can be each and every day.

 

Image Via: Yelp Inc.

Stay Loose: 4 Stretches to do During a Long Flight

We all know that sitting still for too long is terrible for our bodies and when we add air pressure and different time zones, it’s no wonder we start our holiday or business trip foggy headed, tight and sore backs, and fatigued. We want to arrive refreshed and limber. The only way to do this is to always remember to keep hydrated and to keep the blood flowing through the body. Even if you are not prone to Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), it’s always a good idea to move your body during a long haul flight. With Qantas and Singapore Airlines offering 19 hour flights, you could do with some help!

I’m going to give you some airplane exercises to help prevent DVT and to keep the blood flowing to your body and your mind, allowing you to arrive alert, loose-limbed and ready to roll. Please listen to your own body and only do an exercise that feels good.

 

1. Reach forward and place your hands on the chair in front of you. Inhale and bring your chest forward, exhale and curl your belly in. Repeat for 5 slow breaths.

2. Place your hands either side of your chair. Inhale, lift your shoulders slowly, exhale and lower slowly. Repeat 10 times. Add in some shoulder rolls if you're still tight.

3. Balance your body on the chair with a straight spine. Raise one knee and place your hands underneath. Roll your ankle both ways x 10. Swap sides.

4. Sit straight in your chair. Cross your left ankle over the right knee. Gently press just above the left knee. Hold and breathe for 5 slow breaths. Swap sides.

 

I hope you have a wonderful flight and arrive safe and refreshed.


 

 

Victoria is a Yoga/Mindfulness and Meditation Teacher. She is passionate about bringing Yoga to every body, every where, no matter their circumstances. Victoria is an Author and designer of the Yoga Card Deck series, including a plane yoga card deck.

 

 

Image via: Sara Adkins

 

 

 

 

 

How Yoga Helps Heal the Whole Body

Your mind and body are intricately connected, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that they influence one another. Even the daily stressors you experience as a regular part of life have an impact on your mind, body and soul. In some cases, it simply can’t be helped that you get sick, such as with influenza, but the state of your mind can certainly have an impact on your recovery. One of the best ways to strengthen your body and mind is through yoga. Yoga has been proven to help with a variety of conditions, including:

Aches and Pains

You’ve probably heard that stress gives you gray hairs or wrinkles, and basically ages you before your time. That may be true, but the more surprising thing is that meditation and moving meditation like yoga has the opposite effect. It signals to your genes to stress less and age more slowly.

Yoga also reduces inflammation, which is a major factor for different kinds of pain. The effects may help diminish things like tension headaches, backaches and even arthritis. It may not be the Fountain of Youth, but it might keep the hair on your head its natural color for a few more years.

Parkinson’s

There are many different kinds of yoga. Aerial yoga is challenging, hot yoga is intense and smells, and aquatic yoga is a smooth, relaxing experience. A person that suffers from Parkinson’s disease will benefit greatly from aquatic therapy, which should include some yoga.

Parkinson’s sufferers have several symptoms, including things like difficultly balancing, tremors, rigidity or stiffness, a weak voice and small movements, among others. Aquatic yoga has several benefits. It helps increase strength and balance, both of which are affected by Parkinson’s. It’s usually held in a heated pool, which relaxes muscles and, even if you do fall, you’re cushioned by the water.

Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disease that creates widespread pain and tenderness all over the body. It also contributes to a large amount of fatigue, which can be disabling in its own right. It’s thought that part of the reason fibromyalgia flares up and sticks around is because the body has trouble regulating stress. As a result, the muscles stay tense and the nervous system remains in the stress response mode.

Yoga, however, switches that off and gets the nervous system to calm down. It’s referred to as a relaxation response and is measured by a lower heart rate, calmer brain waves and ease of breathing. It lengthens and stretches the muscles, working out cramps and alleviating some of the pain. Since there is no known cause of fibromyalgia, we can’t say yoga will cure it. It will, however, help to alleviate the symptoms, and for sufferers of a chronic illness, that can be worth its weight in gold.

Cancer

In a really amazing study, researchers found only benefits from having cancer patients practice yoga as part of their cancer treatment. The yoga didn’t make the cancer go away, of course – that was a job for medication. However, it did help to reduce their stress and cut down on many other symptoms that go along with cancer treatment.

Plus, yoga in a group setting is a social event. People who are suffering with cancer often feel very isolated, and this can help contribute to depression. The yoga classes helped to prevent that, and keep them in a better frame of mind.

Cardiovascular Disease

Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in America. According to the CDC, approximately 25 percent of all deaths are due to heart disease. When you consider what can happen due to heart disease, like heart attacks and stroke, you have some pretty significant reasons to try and reduce your risk. Even though yoga isn’t usually considered aerobic exercise, in a large study, it was found to have the same effects on cardiovascular disease as classic exercise, like jogging or cycling.

One of the reasons people fall in love with yoga is because it helps to attune your body to your mind, making you more aware of yourself. Making an effort to check in with yourself is an important part of maintaining both a healthy state of mind and a healthy body.


 

JenPic (1)Jennifer Landis is an avid yogi who loves ginger tea, any and every nut butter, but mostly being a mom. She writes about her adventures in parenting, yoga, and clean eating at her blog, Mindfulness Mama.  You can follow her on Twitter @JenniferELandis.

 

Feature Image via: We Are Social