“Yoga” brings to mind different things to different people. To some, it is a blissful mind-body experience, to others it is an intense workout, to others it is physical therapy, and still to others it is “Hudu guru, Eastern mysticism."
Much of your concept of yoga depends on your experience of it. For the next couple weeks I am going to take a look at the various aspects of yoga, from its origins to the many types that are practiced today.
For those who have not tried yoga, consider this a primer. For those who have gone to classes, consider this information to expand your possible experience. With three locations in Manyunk-Roxborough to practice yoga, there is a practice to fit just about every personality and goal.
Yoga originated in India more than 5,000 years ago, and also shows up in ancient China. Until the 1400’s, it was predominantly a practice very intricately woven into the Indian religions of Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism.
The practice was meditation-focused and used only seated poses. Meditation was meant for spiritual growth, and an attempt to become ‘one’ with the universal energy, or God.
However, with the development of “Hatha Yoga” in the 1400's, many poses (asanas) began to be used. This was the beginning of yoga as we know it today. Each position has a specific physiological purpose and can be used for mind/body connection and spiritual growth. Because asanas are held for a period of time, and one needs to focus on breathing and form, it is an excellent tool to focus the mind - even a busy mind.
Today, Yoga can be used for a myriad of purposes. There are many yoga instructors who still use the practice as a platform for spiritual growth and awareness and tie it directly to Hindi and Buddhist teachings. There are others who open up the spiritual dialogue within the practice, but leave it open to interpretation so that each person can meditate on their own faith. Still other practices focus on the physical benefits of yoga as exercise, or physical mind-body benefits of yoga as therapy.
The Manyunk-Roxborough area have three locations (that I am aware of) which offer yoga: Yoga on the Ridge, Yoga on Main and the YMCA. The most spiritually based practice is Yoga on Main. Yoga on the Ridge is the most therapeutic, and the Y’s instructors offer a fitness and meditation combination that is spiritually open-ended.
I highly recommend yoga for so many reasons.
- From a physical standpoint, the yoga poses/stretches are fantastic for pain relief, flexibility, strength, and agility. When I go too long without engaging in yoga, I find that my daily aches and pains increase. Whether the pains are from weight lifting and aerobic exercise, or signs of aging like arthritis, yoga is extremely helpful in pain reduction. I would love to have a neuromuscular massage every week (which would also provide profound pain relief) but I can't afford it. However, I can go to the yoga classes offered at the Y!
- There is a wide range of class types that make yoga available for people of all ages and fitness levels. Elderly can participate in a gentle yoga class, and often find a great deal of improvement in their posture, agility and daily pain levels.
- The focus that it takes to engage in the poses helps the mind to settle – even an ADHD mind like my own, since it pairs meditation with a physical action. Many times, getting the mind to focus and settle is exactly what someone needs to have an “ah-ha” moment, or to de-stress. Clinical studies (even one from UPENN) have proven that meditation lowers blood pressure and has other health benefits as well.
- From a spiritual point of view, meditation is encouraged or even commanded in most, if not all, world religions. So when I engage in yoga, even if the instructor focuses on a religion other than your own, you can replace it with meditations on matters of your own faith, or simply meditations of the beach or a calming picture in your mind.
- The only group for whom I would not recommend yoga is the severely overweight, due to the time spent on the floor. However, one on one instruction is highly recommended for this group if you can afford it. There are positions you can engage in that will increase circulation, burn calories, decrease pain levels, decrease blood pressure and all sorts of other benefits. But the experience needs to be tailored for your size. I do not say this judgmentally, but rather from the feedback I have received from people in this group.
Over the next two to three weeks I’ll be looking at some very specific yoga practices available in the area including; Yoga for Parkinson’s Patients and Therapeutic Yoga at Yoga on The Ridge, and Inner Fire at Yoga on Main. The only option lacking is a Bikram Yoga which is practiced in a heated room for a rather intense experience. But overall, Manayunk and Roxborough have a wide spectrum of options, and something for everyone.