What happens when Ms Muffintop offers Hatha Yoga classes in her small town?
There are many questions and mysteries
I noticed on the last yoga receipt I received a paragraph of information regarding yoga. It started out with the sentence: “Yoga is not a religion.” I was in Bakersfield, California – which despite being in California is sort of conservative. There are some very nice studios in Bakersfield as well as dedicated practitioners. The note of the receipt got me thinking. I live in an even smaller community, 50 miles south of Bakersfield. What would people think of yoga there?
In my neighborhood there had been some flap about the word “om.” Some people in my town thought this represented a prayer, and they assumed it wasn’t a prayer to Jesus – so they got upset. You may be thinking, “so what?” Well, they were enough upset to close down the yoga teacher at the golf clubhouse for awhile, until a teacher could be found who would not say “om.” This had the unfortunate effect of convincing the upset people that “om” really is some kind of satanic call to Lucifer and his minions. Believe me, it’s not.
Once upon a time I would have slated “om” in the sacred word category, but to tell you the truth, I think it’s gotten kind of trite. People wear om on their tee-shirts (right across their breasts), wear om-girl yoga pants, name their dogs “om”. If it was a sacred word, it doesn’t feel like one anymore. I wonder what would happen if Hindus turned the tables and started naming their dogs “Jesus”? But I digress.
When I use a mantra for myself I tend to chose one that is less popular just so that I can wrap my brain around it being special. There is the mantra: Namyoho Renge Kyo – which some Buddhists believe to be the essence of the lotus sutra. There is the mantra “so hum” which means “I am that.” There are also mantras associated with the chakras. Chanting the mantra allegedly aids in opening the chakras. I did a survey on line once that showed me as having overly open chakras – and no instruction on how to shut them. It must be true, I read it on the internet!
All of the controversy detracts from the real goal of yoga. Yoga at its best is more than the postures (asanas) and physical practice. It encompasses breathing exercises that train one to control one’s breath as easily as the physical poses train the muscles. There is also a component of focus and meditation. There is a goal of self study as well as a goal to see the world free from misconception. What a nice goal! You actually can achieve said goal from a lot of sports. When I was a long distance runner I found pushing myself to the edge entailed a lot of self knowledge and I did have a much more clear eyed view toward the world.
The thing about long distance running is, it’s hard on the knees and not appropriate to every body. Yoga on the other hand, can be done by the young, the old, the stiff or bendy – really almost anyone. One of my friends teaches yoga at a nursing home. Most of the participants are in wheel chairs. Nonetheless, they still gain benefit from stretching and working out their arms, shoulders, and torsos.
So I wrote the following Frequently Asked Questions to post in the studio where I teach. No, I did NOT copy off of the receipt I received in Bakersfield.
Is yoga a religion? No. Yoga does not take a stand on the existence or non-existence of God, nor does yoga include rituals. In the West people tend to define “yoga” by the physical postures called “Asanas”. One can certainly gain benefit from doing only this segment of Yoga although there are other aspects.
So what’s the deal with “Om”? Ancient yogis determined that some sounds are more beneficial than others. I think you will agree the sound of falling water is more pleasant than a jackhammer. Om and other mantras are believed to assist in focusing the mind. As “stilling the mind” is the actual goal of yoga, many teachers like to begin and end classes with the pleasant sound of “Om”.
I’m old/injured/very stiff can I do yoga? Yes! Yoga works for Every Body! Boost your metabolism, burn calories, build strength, flexibility and confidence with a consistent practice.
What about pregnant ladies? As with any form of exercise if you have enjoyed a consistent practice pre-dating your pregnancy, feel free to participate for as long as it feels comfortable, or what your doctor recommends.
What about kids? Kids love yoga! It aids in concentration, builds confidence and its fun! If your child is mature enough to focus through an hour long class they may participate. Please be respectful of the other participants, do not enroll your child if they are too young to maintain focus. Children under the age of 18 must have a parent or guardian sign the waiver form.
What about injuries doing yoga, is it dangerous? You will not get injured if you listen to your body! A huge component of yoga is self-acceptance. Going beyond your capabilities in order to wow your teacher or yourself is completely contrary to yogic philosophy.
Do I need special equipment? The popularity of yoga has made inexpensive yoga equipment increasingly available. A “sticky” mat costs about $20. Most studios provide the additional equipment for beginners. For the more advanced practitioners: a strap is $10, a blanket $20. Yoga blocks are available in wood or foam.
What about Yoga Etiquette? If you must leave early, please leave before our final relaxation pose. (This peak pose, known as “Savasana” lasts about five minutes and requires quiet) Please come on time, appropriately dressed: wear clothes you can move around in.
Do I have to quit smoking? Become Vegan? Wear tie-dye to do yoga? No, No and No! Is it ok to wear tie-dye? If you must, lol. Peace through strength!