As a self-proclaimed health freak and also dubbed as a hypochondriac by beloved friends and family, I dabbled in a variety of sports growing up: gymnastics, swimming, diving, soccer, cross country and field hockey. However, once the hey day of my athletic career ended in college I had to begin making the time to work out, time that was always carved out by “practice.” I tried to make time to run a few days a week and lift weights occasionally. But I didn’t feel satisfied. My body was still craving something more.
(Before I begin the rest of this entry, I beg forgiveness where I digress back into my Indian Life just a mere month ago. Let me reiterate that these digressions serve to transition to a greater point and are not intentionally cathartic in nature). While in India I hoped to explore the many facets of yoga–I was sure I’d come back a guru at the very least. However, the reality of working long days and in a city suffering from the pangs of modernity where everyone was in just as much of a rush as I was was that I did not have time to explore yoga until the end of my time. Interestingly, I tried the most new-age of yoga practices, Bikram Yoga. Founded by Bikram Choudhury in the 1970s, the purpose of bikram yoga is to rid the body of toxins and bring newly oxygenated blood to organs. The room is heated to a sweltering 105˚ F in order to achieve such claims as well as give practitioners optimal flexibility. I found that I really enjoyed Bikram Yoga. I felt cleansed, strong and slept restfully at night (not to mention that the pesky tricep area on my arms seemed to be transforming almost overnight!). This, coupled with running a few times a week was probably one of the few times in my life when I looked, but most importantly, felt my best.
Yoga practices are varied in nature, mostly because the art is incredibly ancient, dating back to 3000 BC according to one source. The purpose of yoga was to heal community members and the practitioners acted as religious mediators. The history of yoga can be classified into the Vedic, Pre-Classical, Classical and Post-Classical periods. During the Vedic period yoga was characterized by rituals and ceremonies, the purpose being to surpass the limitations of the mind. During the Pre-Classical period meditation began to become integral to yoga practice as influenced by Buddhism, while during the Classical period there was more of an emphasis on sutras, or defining the principles of the yogic tradition. Finally, Post-Classical yoga strives to teach one to accept and live in the moment.
Although yoga was popularized as “bohemian” when the Beatles camped out in Rishikesh, India during the 1960s, there are many interpretations which means that there is something for everyone, from my Division 1 soccer playing brother to our elderly grandparents and relatives that are beginning to feel the effects of age. It is important to remember that yoga is journey; what works for you now might not work a month or a year from now. Our current circumstances, phase of life and emotional needs dictate which yogic practices our mind, body and souls need. It can be daunting to begin researching all of the practices out there, but it simply takes time to sift through the material available to us and take chances as we try new practices. Take this quiz below to help figure out where it might be good for you to be started!
Want to do something incredibly radical? Go to an ashram for a little bit. An ashram is a community living area, usually nestled in a bucolic, peaceful area where people come together to practice yoga and eat organic food. Rooms are small and simple, and the ashram is usually free of distractions so that guests can focus on meditation, journaling and reflect. I had the good fortune to end my time in India at an ashram in Rishikesh and it was an incredible experience. I felt amazing practicing yoga in group sessions for four hours a day, eating healthy sattvic** food, and interacting with people from all corners of the world. My ashram, called Anand Prakash Yoga, focused on a holistic practice of yoga, from challenging body poses to pranayama, or breathing techniques, as well as incorporating meditations and chants. I came away feeling well-rested and happy which was immensely important as I ended my time in India and prepared myself for my journey home.
However, take caution that yoga is not always cheap! Bikram classes can go for $20-$30 a class. Many times membership fees to yoga studios are $100+, depending on the plan. However, look for deals where you can. In New York City there is an organization called Yoga for the People which relies on donations only for class. Many times yoga studios offer deals, and almost always the first class is free. For example, in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, one yoga studio is offering a summer deal of $30 for thirty days of yoga. If you already belong to a work-out center, such as the YMCA, many of them provide classes without an extra cost. Or, check out the free podcasts from Yoga Journal, grab your mat and work out in the comfort of home, reducing your carbon footprint.
**Sattvic food is a type of yoga diet that leads to clarity of mind, leaving out what are termed to be “stimulants,” such as caffeine and salt.**