what yoga is
here’s a yoga sutra for you, it’s arguably the most important sutra so memorize it!
‘Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind.’
based on the sutra above, and generally accepted yogic teachings, the purpose of yoga is to prepare the body and still the mind for meditation and eventual union with the self. according to yoga divinity is our true nature and we are distanced from ourselves/our divinity by all the chitta vrittis (‘mind fluctuations’, see Sanskrit above). that’s the short, simple version of it. we’re seeking union. with ourselves. it’s really that simple. cool, huh?!
what yoga isn’t
stretching before a run or do any other physical exercise is not yoga. neither is pilates, yogalates, monkeynastics (or any ‘yoga for kids’), aerobics, any activity with the word ‘power’ in the description, and also sitting on a zafu or beach somewhere looking like this:
which is why when i see websites like the one below i want to grab the nearest zafu and un-yogically shred it to stuffing while i scream epithets in made-up languages. (note to self: look up some Sanskrit swear words!)
Women’s Health has created an entire section of their website devoted to yoga. WH seems pretty serious about fitness, and i consider myself pretty serious about my fitness, and i’m a yoga practitioner, and a yoga teacher. so i was pretty shocked to find what qualified as ‘yoga’ on their website. which is, frankly, complete and utter tripe and insulting to me as a woman, interested in health, and a yogini. maybe i’m taking it a little too seriously but, i think WH should take themselves a bit more seriously and not deceive their readership into thinking they’re doing yoga by following some of the postures and sequences they’ve posted on their site.
for example, here are some of the articles listed: Yoga To Get Rid of Cellulite, Yoga for Better Sex, and What to Wear to Yoga. i understand the need to appeal to a current trend and fill space (and advertising space) on a website, but honestly, these articles are worthless, and they don’t have anything to do with yoga (see definition above)! in addition, the content hasn’t changed in months (looks like stock text and photos), and the area is unmoderated by anyone with any knowledge of yoga, leaving anyone perusing the section without qualified guidance.
for example: the Yoga Pose Finder offers a range of postures (not many mind you, it is said that the number of yoga postures is as many as the stars in the sky) that you can click on, read about, and then, i suppose actually perform. the poses are categorized by beginner, intermediate and advanced. i picked one at random, something called ‘square’ pose (agnistambhasana, agni means fire, not square). but when i looked at it… hey, i know this pose- it’s ‘fire log pose’ or ‘ankle to knee’ pose. WH is making up posture names? don’t we have enough of that already (example: fire-hydrant dog)?! benefits of the postures are given and a brief explanation of how to execute the pose is provided. however, they don’t list contraindications or how to sequence postures, which is critical, and why we yoga teachers actually have to take at least a 200-hour teacher training in order to become qualified yoga teachers.
there’s also a section: Fix It With Yoga. as if all your problems (high cholesterol, insomnia, your arms, your ass, road rage, weight loss) will just go away the minute you sit down on your mat with the WH article. yoga certainly can be a tool-kit, but shouldn’t be sold as a quick fix.
at this stage in my yoga practice i’ve come to accept that yoga is far deeper than i imagined when i started out and i have barely scratched the surface. playing with some of these yoga postures, and also the breathing and cleansing practices, is like playing with fire, literally! asanas are not only practiced on a physical level, but on an energetic level too and allow the practitioner to access forces within the body that we aren’t even truly aware of (yes, your body and mind are totally that awesome!). some yoga practices really do require the guidance of a guru or a teacher and take time and awareness to be accepted by the body and the mind.
to be fair, WH does have a few sequences (Yoga for Rock Hard Abs) that one could use, with super-skinny models illustrating the postures. i found the comments after these postures and sequences completely insipid (‘i’m going to give this a try!’) and i suspect they’re not from readers, but WH staff commenting to make the page look busy.
so my request to Women’s Health, if they want to remain credible in this respect, is that they rename the section ‘Stretching’, which, i understand, is far less ‘sexy’ and ‘esoteric’ than ‘yoga’, but it is a lot more honest to their readership about what they are touting, and find a qualified moderator who knows something about yoga. they should also loudly proclaim that if one is serious about practicing yoga, or serious about using yoga to enhance their practice of something else, they should find an appropriately qualified teacher for guidance and instruction. i do believe that yoga can be extremely beneficial to hard-core fitness addicts everywhere, but yoga should be approached with the same discipline, commitment and respect that they give their running, cycling, paddling, etc. and cannot be practiced in the absence of the true nature of the discipline, which is to ground and prepare the mind and body for exploration of the spirit.
and, for the record, here are my versions of the articles listed above, from a real yoga teacher:
Yoga To Get Rid of Cellulite: first, get off your ass! second, get on an appropriate vegetarian diet and reduce your intake of preservatives and un-natural ‘foods’. drink lots of water. and exercise, do yoga if you want, but do something!
note: i did lose a lot of cellulite when i became a serious (ashtanga) yoga practitioner, but it was coupled with the advice i give above. so, from one who’s been there…
Yoga for Better Sex: to get better at anything requires practice (hint, hint). love yourself, love the person you’re having sex with. and if you’re doing yoga, explore tantric philosophy, in essence it’s about being in the present moment and knowing and loving yourself as you are- which, speaking from personal experience, is also great for sex. ‘tantra’ is not the yogic word for ‘sex’! but the philosophy provides a framework in which to deepen your practice of it (or any practice!).
What to Wear to Yoga: OMG! srsly?! do people worry about this? is this really a mystery? [sigh] just wear comfortable clothing that doesn’t show your bits. see my thong article for further elaboration. eish!
Yoga for Rock Hard Abs: as R. Sharath told me: Don’t Cheat! use your bandhas, if you don’t know what those are, consult a qualified yoga teacher.