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Yoga has evolved
You hear or see the word yoga. What image drops into your mind?
One might be an Indian man wearing a cotton diaper around his loins, placing his limbs at angles and directions that should not be possible.
Another might be a room of young beautiful yogis who effortlessly move from standing on two feet to balancing on two hands, or moving from a sitting position with both legs in front to both legs behind their shoulders.
A third might even be a class of slowly moving arms and legs that stay in positions so long, it makes your hamstrings hurt just thinking about it.
Binding your image together are smells — patchouli, citrus, sage, basil and eucalyptus; music — new age, chimes, chanting or drums; and deities that include a monkey faced man and a god with a third eye on his forehead, a snake around his neck that wears a crescent moon on his head.
After 5,000 years, yes, those experiences can still be yours — if that’s what you’re looking for.
But yoga has come a long way since becoming popularized in the Western world within the past 100 years and there’s many myths that should be debunked if they’re keep you away from this practice.
In the Shreveport area there are six studios that offer a variety of styles of yoga. There’s also many fitness clubs, gyms and churches in the area offering forms of Hatha yoga (the physical style of yoga).
“Evolve or die,” said local yoga instructor Bryan Sullivan. “Do you think even the (Hindus) in India are practicing yoga the exact same way? I mean Pattabhi Jois (known as the founder of Ashtanga Yoga) put his spin on it; everyone has put their spin on it.”
Myth 1: Yoga is a religion
Yoga is not a religion. Yoga grew and prospered in the Hindu culture so it gets associated with the Hindu way of life, and Hindu also is not a religion. Instead, yoga is a tool — like massage, healthy eating or meditation — that can be used by anyone.
“I’m quite passionate about this (myth) as a practicing Episcopalian who prays to Jesus Christ,” said Ally Neal Ford, a master yoga teacher and instructor from Tampa, Florida. “Anyone, regardless of religion, race, station in life, or background can practice yoga.”
Ford’s teacher program is registered with Yoga Alliance, and has successfully graduated close to 200 teachers, including 60 from northwest Louisiana. Several of those students now own or teach in studios in the Shreveport area.
For some, yoga can simply be a physical practice, but for many who use the philosophical guidebook (The Sutras) as well as the breath (prana), asanas (postures) and meditation; it can become transformative.
“People develop an immense awareness of their actions, words, desires, emotions and the thoughts behind all of those things,” Ford said. “It’s with this awareness that we can make real changes that aid wellness and healing.”
It’s only natural it becomes a spiritual journey says Ford.
“People find themselves affirming their religious beliefs or praying, but to the God of their own understanding, not to some strange yoga God,” Ford said. “So in this way, yoga can be a spiritual practice that supports any religion.”
Myth 2: Yoga requires a complete lifestyle change
Of course it doesn’t, says Ford.
If all you do is participate in the physical aspect it will be a gift, and who knows may lead to other changes, Ford says.
Walter Hood, a Vietnam veteran found that to be true for him, after joining a Yin yoga class at the Overton Brooks VA Medical Center in Shreveport, he’s made the physical part of his practice part of his morning routine.
“It works the kinks out,” said Hood, who intends to never live without it. “I didn’t think it would be for me because I was exercising way more than I thought I would be in (yoga) class. But it’s not about the exercise here, it’s about learning to breathe properly and holding the poses.”
Hood suspects the word “yoga” might carry expectations with it that make people stay away.
“If the word yoga scares you, call it something else,” he said. “Say I’m going to stretching class. But do it.”
Myth 3: Yoga is about impossible poses
Although amazing photos of the anatomy rocking in Cirque du Soleil fashion can be inspiring, it’s not what all students should try to attain in their practice, says every yoga instructor. The real mantra, they say, is you are coming to reclaim balance within your own body and mind.
“Yoga meets you where you are,” said Ford, “helping to develop a relative level of flexibility that is appropriate and safe for your body.”
Yoga teachers often hear the same excuse: I’m not flexible enough.
And the answer is very apparent: That’s exactly why you should come.
Who among us hasn’t had the experience of reaching back or bending over abruptly and then feeling a sharp pain?
Keeping your joints lubed, strong and healthy with movement can often prevent a minor injury from becoming major injury.
“So if you step off a curb the wrong way, a little flexibility can make the difference between an ankle sprain or break,” Ford said.
Myth 4: Yoga is not a workout/Yoga is a workout
Depending on the style of yoga you may find either one to be a myth. The aid in stress relief is all the buzz with yoga, but some new practitioners find they are getting a lot more than they bargained for.
All styles of yoga use the breath to help maintain focus, create change and bring intention into the practice, but the more intense or faster moving styles of yoga also require a great deal of core and body strength. For example, there are about 60 chaturanga dandasanas — basically a tricep push up — in the Ashtanga primary series.
“If you find the right style, you can sweat more than you do running 6 miles in the heat,” Ford said. “And I’m from Texas, I know.”
However, many other styles can have zero stressful poses, but that’s not to say the stretching won’t make you sore if it’s new to your body.
LaShawanda Walters, a U.S. Navy veteran also has joined the Yin yoga class at the Overton Brooks VA.
Yin yoga opens connective tissues through a slow practice that typically holds poses for 3-5 minutes, says Monica Carlson, her teacher.
Carlson also guides her class through Yoga nidra, a practice in yoga known as yoga sleep, a systematic method for complete relaxation.
“I was looking for something to keep me calm and keep my anxiety down,” said Walters, who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn. “I feel refreshed after class.”
Myth 5: Yoga is for women
It does seem that way. Walk into any yoga class and there can be a room full of women and at best a handful of men. In fact a 2012 study by Yoga Journal found that of the 20.4 million people who practice yoga in the United States, only 18 percent of them were men.
“You’d think that would bring more men to class,” jokes Ford, who finds it kind of ironic considering the history of yoga. “As early as the 1930s, and 40s the bulk of practitioners were men!”
The tides may be turning. Sullivan, who teaches with Yoga Jai, a donation based yoga-in-the-park organization, sees more men coming to yoga class and has a theory.
“I think the P90X has changed the perception,” he said. “P90X incorporates really intense yoga into it and it’s introduced a whole new generation of men to another side of yoga.”
Also helping turn the tide is the use of yoga by many pro sports. A 2014 article in Sports Illustrated — Beyond Downward Dog: The Rise of Yoga in the NBA and Other Pro Sports highlights this trend.
Myth 6: Yoga is risk free
Nothing is risk free, all forms of physical activity should be approached thoughtfully say experts.
“Listen to your body and take it slowly,” Ford says.
And find a good teacher. Yoga Alliance is a well respected standard setting association that has a registry of over 62,300 teachers and more than 3,900 schools. You can search on their website to find experienced teachers in your area.
Myth 7: There is only one type
Paddleboard yoga — yes it’s a thing. YogaTrail.com lists 63 different styles of yoga and there are probably many more variations that vary in intensity, poses, guidelines, music (none to a lot), philosophy and location.
Yoga Jai of Shreveport provides donation based yoga in the park every Sunday weather permitting. James Osborne, one of the founders, and Bryan Sullivan and are two of the instructors.
“I do find that people come and really do get more into their internal space,” Osborne said. “They are more present with their practice. A studio can sometimes create competition.”
On the Americanization of yoga — which many dogmatic practitioners would snub — both Sullivan and Osborne, are just fine with it.
It’s really change itself that some people find uncomfortable, according to Sullivan.
“We always cling to what was ever before us, like it was always there … but it wasn’t (always there),” he said.
Ford, who taught both Osborne and Sullivan, makes it a point not to judge.
She quoted a great teacher of yoga, Sri T. Krishnamacharya who said that “in order for yoga to survive it would have to evolve to meet the changing needs of practitioners.”
“I’m sure he never imagined there might be Aerial Yoga,” Ford said. “Yoga has always been an experiential and experimental practice for each individual. If anything inspires someone to try yoga then I’m all for it. Ultimately, as people practice they’ll find the practice that is right for them and helps them to feel healthier and live more fully.”
Yogacharaya Shri K. c (Guruji) was born in 1915, and is recognized as the father of Ashtanga Yoga, a powerful practice of which many other styles are based upon.
This is a very brief history of yoga practiced in today. For more information visit: http://www.yogajournal.com/category/yoga-101/history-of-yoga/.
The word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit root yuj, which means “to join” or “to yoke”.
The Indian sage Patanjali is believed to have collated the practice of yoga into the Yoga Sutra an estimated 2,000 years ago. The Sutra is a collection of 195 statements that serves as a philosophical guidebook for most of the yoga that is practiced today.
It also outlines eight limbs of yoga: the yamas (restraints), niyamas (observances), asana (postures), pranayama (breathing), pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), dharana (concentration), dhyani (meditation), and samadhi (absorption).
As we explore these eight limbs, we begin by refining our behavior in the outer world, and then we focus inwardly until we reach samadhi (liberation, enlightenment).
The many styles of yoga
There are 63 styles of yoga featured on the website YogaTrail.com, and growing. These are some of the more well-known practices.
Hatha is a general term that encompasses many physical styles of yoga. Hatha classes are generally gentle and slow-paced, and provide a good introduction to the basic postures and principles of yoga. In the area at all the studios mentioned.
Often, you’ll do only a few poses while exploring the subtle actions required to master proper alignment. Poses can be modified with props, making the practice accessible to all. The primary objective is to understand the alignment and basic structure of the poses, and to gain greater physical awareness, strength, and flexibility. B.K.S. Iyengar (a student of T. Krishnamacharya) founded the style. Find out more at bksiyengar.com and iynaus.org. In the area at Breathe Yoga.
Ashtanga yoga, (Sanskrit for “eight-limbed”)
Ashtanga is a style of yoga codified and popularized by K. Pattabhi Jois and is often promoted as a modern-day form of classical Indian yoga. Usually an Ashtanga practice begins with 5 Surya Namaskar A and 5 B, followed by a standing sequence. Following this the practitioner begins one of 6 series, followed by what is called the closing sequence. Ashtanga Yoga is named after the eight limbs of yoga mentioned in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
“Power yoga” and “vinyasa yoga” are generic terms that may refer to any type of vigorous yoga exercise derived from Ashtanga yoga. In the area at Explore yoga and wellness.
Most westerners tend to be most familiar with vinyasa flow (breath with movement). The instructor leads the class through a repetitive flow of poses, which provides a more intense workout than styles like Iyengar. Yogis may want to try a slower style, in which they can become comfortable with and perfect poses, before jumping into a vinyasa flow. In the area at all the studios.
Bikram is the best style for yogis who are looking to sweat bullets. Practiced in a heated room of about 105 degrees, an instructor guides students through a series of 26 poses that are designed to strengthen and compress the muscles. This style is designed to stretch and rinse the internal organs and increase blood circulation throughout the body. This style is great if you’re looking to see concrete progress. Because you are repeating the same 26 poses every time, it is easy to take notice when you’re flexibility and strength are improving. However, beginners should start in a more basic class before plunging into bikram. Currently no studios in Shreveport/Bossier City.
Westerners often assume that bikram and “hot yoga” are the same style of yoga. However, hot yoga classes often consist moving through a vinyasa flow in a heated room. This is an intense style of yoga that provides a lot of movement, and is best for yogis with experience and strength. In the area at Explore Yoga and Wellness.
This style of yoga targets the deep connective tissues of the body (vs. the superficial tissues) and the fascia that covers the body. In yin yoga you come into a pose at your edge, remain still and hold for a period of 3-5 minutes. Yin yoga is also thought to benefit the organs by removing blockages in the energy pathways of the body that flow through the connective tissues. In the area at Explore Yoga and Wellness.
Classes that are described as gentle generally guide practitioners through a slower and more passive sequence of postures. They often focus on connecting the breath with mindful movements that reduce tension and increase energy. Gentle yoga classes are particularly suited for beginners and people working with injuries. In the area at Breathe Yoga, Explore Yoga, Lotus Studio.
A few yoga styles just pop out at you, these are just a few! The only one below offered in Shreveport/Bossier is Aerial Yoga. You can find out more about the many styles of yoga by visiting YogaJournal.com or YogaTrail.com and searching for styles.
Aerial yoga (anti-gravity yoga) offers authentic yoga, with the support of a soft aerial fabric hammock.
Harmonica yoga. A form of Raja Yoga (yoga for the mind and body). The best, most effective, most entertaining way to teach a group of any size to focus on their breathing...is to teach them, mindfully, to play the harmonica, says founder David Harp on Harmonica yoga’s website, http://www.harmonicayoga.com
Karaoke yoga. Yes, you sing while doing yoga. Jennifer Pastiloff explains what it’s all about her website. “It’s singing your heart out and laughing and dancing and balancing and sweating and letting go of all your fears. http://jenniferpastiloff.com/Yoga-Karaoke.html
Laughter yoga (Hasyayoga) is a practice involving prolonged voluntary laughter. Laughter yoga is based on the belief that voluntary laughter provides the same physiological and psychological benefits as spontaneous laughter. http://www.laughteryoga.org/english
Tantrum yoga. The temper tantrum serves to release steam and emotion, and is usually followed by a blissfully quiet calm. Tantrum yoga gives adults an ability to experience this release.
Wheelchair or chair yoga. Traditional poses adapted for those who are in a wheelchair.
Yoga raves. According to the not-for-profit movement’s website http://www.yogarave.org/us
“Yoga Rave is a party like none other in world, a new concept in fun where the body responds only to the stimulation of music, yoga and meditation.”