Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Yoga American Style

The dangers of yoga poses are discussed in last Sunday's NYTimes Magazine. Not surprising! I began doing yoga at age 29 because I read a small bit about it and began gathering what few books were available at the time -- over 45 years ago. Throughout "fly over" land yoga was unknown although some people on both coasts had begun practicing yoga. I understood it to be a meditative practice meant to make the body flexible and ultimately to allow one to meditate for long periods without physical strain or harm. I understood from the few books I read, that asanas were to be done with attention to both breath and what the body was capable of doing, never stretching to the point of pain, never holding a pose beyond your comfort level. I practiced that way, alone, at times I did not expect to be interrupted by my small children. I became flexible and I gained both patience with myself -- because daily repetition was necessary for gaining both flexibility and strength -- and also the ability to concentrate most deeply on whatever I was doing.

Then yoga exploded on the scene. Today millions of people carry their rolled up yoga mats around, attend class with all kinds of variation, teachers study in various schools. People do yoga in large classes or at home watching videos. Some do only the physical positions, some meditate before or after sessions. I have gone to less than half a dozen classes. In a class one follows the teacher's pace and instruction, in a class you are always aware that the person next to you is better [or you feel proud you are better] Competition, more reps, longer poses -- the American way -- endless ways to sell classes, clothes, books, videos, accessories.

I find it distasteful. No wonder the author of the article has seen, and also experienced, serious physical injury. As he points out, in India, the home of yoga, people traditionally sat on the floor, not on chairs. From childhood their bodies were used differently than we use our bodies today. Yoga was originally a practice for those seeking true discipline, not beautiful bodies, not bragging rights about how many difficult poses had been accomplished. I believe my many years of yoga discipline, eventually honed to only a fifteen minute routine nowadays and that modified due to a hip replacement [not the result of a yoga injury] have contributed to my ongoing good health and stamina. Yoga is not the culprit the author of the article claims, the American way of mutating practices into fads is at fault.

2 comments:

FOLKWAYS NOTEBOOK said...

June -- Your feelings about yoga being a cultural fad in our country is undoubtably true. I have not been a practitioner of yoga but I do appreciate the practice. As an example, my daughter recently went to a yoga class where the thermostat in the room was set at 110 degrees. The instructor told the class that allowed the muscles to be supple. Everyone in the class thought this was "cool." My daughter being one of the older students in the class thought it was disgusting. When I was told about this class I thought the whole idea of yoga is missing. I had always thought it was a mind-body connection. Good to hear your words confirming my understanding of yoga. Thanks -- barbara

June Calender said...

I am horrified by that fad for hot rooms. I used to take hot baths before I did yoga before going to bed at night. I slept beautifully. The heat did help my muscles be relaxed but I never pushed beyond a comfort level, and NEVER did it with a bunch of sweaty people. Yuck!