Yoga in America
What is this movement that has swept its way across the United States over the last couple of decades or so in such an epic fashion. It originated some 5000 years ago in India and since then this mighty tree of yoga has birthed many branches. Raja, karma, bhakti, jana, and hatha just to name a few. Hatha yoga is the one that has been popularized particularly the western world.
Hatha means “forceful” and employs the physical body as its main instrument for attaining liberation, enlightenment, or shall we just say freedom from suffering, a state of ongoing inner peace.
Hatha yoga has become the most popular form of yoga in the US, and by popular I mean today upwards of 40 million plus Americans are regularly participating in some form or another of a hatha yogic practice. Some of these have names like Hot yoga, Vinyasa flow yoga, Iyengar yoga, Bickram yoga, and Anusara yoga. There are many many more.
They all have one thing in common. They all use physical poses combined with breath as their main practice. Some are more vigorous and athletic while others are more passive and restorative by nature. The idea being more or less the same in that they all use poses, otherwise known as asanas, to achieve a balanced mind-body connection and at the same time severing the bonds of psychological suffering.
Does it work? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. It is a system and like any system it is not perfect and doesn’t maintain a 1000% batting average. It has been my personal experience as both teacher and student over the past 20 years that it can be an extremely potent self healing system that does nothing less than help oneself and other folks who choose to partake. It is not necessarily based on achievement but more on cooperation with one’s body and mind as it is rather than on where we think it should be.
We as Americans have a tendency to bring a materialistic attitude to yoga and make it like a workout program for achievement and self improvement and that is fine by all means. That can be enjoyable and necessary in some cases. As an instructor I encourage individuals to let go of a goal oriented approach to their yoga practice and replace it with one of presence, an attitude of being. In other words you just show up and do what you can that day to experience the richness of the moment and not worry about the rest. An attitude that involves acceptance, surrender, pushing and working all at the same time with an intention of being in the here and now as fully as possible. Obviously easier said than done.
Back to the yoga story in America.
So here in America if you ask someone on the street to explain yoga they would probably describe it as an activity involving physical poses or postures. Sure that is yoga, well at least, that’s what the less yogically educated would think. In India if you asked the same question you would most likely get a very different response like “Of course I pray to Shiva everyday or yes I pay homage to my Guru daily.”
Okay so what about the poses being at the forefront of yoga in America. Well I suppose as Americans we tend to focus on the appearance of things, pair that up with a modern day body/exercise obsession and viola myriad forms of hatha yoga for everyone’s satisfaction. And by golly it is supplying that demand. Yoga as a form of exercise is still growing by the millions every year. It has become across the board a huge commercial enterprise and lots of companies, big ones to boot, have eagerly jumped on the yoga band wagon to prosper from its spectacular growth spurt.
Beyond the blatant commercialization of yoga in America, its original intention was to help purify the body and calm the mind so that one could then at least drop so called “normal body awareness” for a period of clock time and sit and enjoy the experience of peace and serenity otherwise known as Samadhi ,our natural uninhibited state of being, according to the yogic texts.
In essence yoga, particularly hatha yoga, is reminding us we have a body, that we exist within it for better or for worse, for a period of time, and by using it as a vehicle towards consciousness we can experience peace more often than not, as a real and practical possibility. Ultimately you and I have to be the ones to cultivate and develop a relationship with yoga to find this out. And you might just be pleasantly surprised by the outcome as I have been. (Tom Morley)
You can learn a lot of and about yoga from videos. Here are two links to YouTube yoga workouts:
Have fun and feel good.
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