Can you practice Yoga & Stay True to Your Spiritual Beliefs?

      Yoga is a practice that generates much curiosity and interest in the Western world.  In fact, a survey published in the Huffington Post says that in 2012 there was estimated to be over 20.5 million people practicing yoga in the U.S. alone.  A more recent survey says that over 15% of Americans have done yoga in the last 6 months.  Still, there remains a large sector of people who are hesitant to try yoga.  There are several reasons for this; among them are: misconception of required (high) fitness level, the idea that yoga is only for the young, and also that yoga is meant for those who follow an Eastern religion.

    Certainly, there are certain populations who are devout in their religion to the point of preclusion for practicing yoga.  But, what exactly does yoga include that would possibly interfere with a person’s religious beliefs?  Let’s consider the practice of yoga to discern whether one can participate without being a Hindu, Buddhist, or the like, and without somehow being untrue to a religion.  First, is Yoga a religion?  If it is, then it might possibly clash with a different religious belief.  Most people think of religion as being a belief in and worship of a superhuman power, especially a personal God. The definition of yoga found on Google is:

a Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline, a part of which, including breath control, simple meditation, and the adoption of specific bodily postures, is widely practiced for health and relaxation.

This is a broad definition that seems to focus on the practical benefits of yoga as optimizing health and managing stress, and it categorizes yoga as a discipline.  Most people who have had no specific education on Yoga would probably agree with this definition.

     Coming from a traditional, Western perspective, it is doubtful that Yoga would be considered a true religion.  However, once one delves into the history and practices of Yoga, many ancient individuals and writings emerge, having had great influence in the practices of Yoga as it is  known today.  Here are a couple of terms the typical American who takes a yoga class may not know.  

Bhakti Yoga: Generally called the yoga of devotion. From the Sanskrit bhaj, which means “to partake of,” bhakti yoga is one of several yogic paths said to lead to enlightenment. Bhakti emphasizes practices like chanting, devotional meditation, and prayer as a path toward union with the Divine.

Classical Yoga: Also known as eight (ashta)-limbed (anga) practice. Classical yoga typically refers to the yogic path that was set forth by Patanjali. The eight limbs are restraint, observance, posture, breath control, sense withdrawal, concentration, meditative absorption, and samadhi.

    Some Yoga practitioners may be familiar with these terms and even some of the yogic text (of Patanjali) that can be used to give yogis an “intention” or focus during their yoga practice.  They may also use Sanskrit words during yoga instruction such as pranayama (extended breath), drishti (gaze), savasana (corpse pose), and uddiyana bandha (abdominal lock).  An uninformed person could hear these terms and think the instructor is guiding their students into an undesired, spiritual context, and depending on the focus of a yogic text; it could happen. This topic seems to be one which could be discussed and examined without end. However, in short ; what emerges most vividly is : Whether Yoga as a religion or not is most decidedly dependent on the intention of the one practicing.  

     Materially, to a Yoga newcomer, observing the practice of Classical Yoga could lead them to believe there is significant religious devotion occurring.  Nonetheless, the observer’s initial assessment could dramatically change after conversing with the yogi about their intentions throughout the yoga practice.  One could focus on the beliefs present in Hinduism while in standing bow pose.  Alternately, another could just as easily breathe through that same challenging pose, while thanking God (the God of Christianity, Judaism, or Islam) for the ability to do so.  In both cases, the individuals are engaging belief, power, discipline, and pursuit of their own specific spirituality.  

     They are using Yoga as a tool within their own religions, and it seems that most Yoga philosophers would applaud such situations.  They would assert that Yoga is meant to serve the yogi; rather than the yogi serving Yoga. Alternately, there are yoga philosophers who maintain that separating Yoga from the ancient Vedic philosophies renders the practice of its true worth and identity as null.  This thought would  find resistance in the testimonies of thousands of people who have practiced Yoga without chanting or delving into Yogic tradition, and yet have found greater peace, physical health, and self-awareness.  Sometimes, as they say, “the proof is in the pudding.”

We at TheBigGreenGym.com encourage you to  participate in a yoga offering, without fear of spiritual conflict, found on our website today.  Take advantage of the free membership and of the many offerings we feature on thebiggreengym.com!

 

 

Other definitions of interest:

Dharma: Has many different meanings depending on how it is used. Dharma is often referred to as “righteousness” or “virtue.” In this article, dharma is used to describe the belief that the universe contains one consciousness, which is different from a specific God.

  1. Krishnamacharya: Often called the father of modern yoga. Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya attended the Royal College of Mysore before devoting himself to esoteric yoga studies. He later became the yoga teacher to a royal family in Mysore, where he taught a unique blend of asana, pranayama, meditation, devotional practices, and philosophy. His students included Iyengar Yoga founder B. K. S. Iyengar; Ashtanga Yoga founder K. Pattabhi Jois; and his son T. K. V. Desikachar, renowned in his own right as a teacher of therapeutic yoga and yogic scriptures and philosophy.

Patanjali: The man credited with compiling, systematizing, and putting into written form the yoga philosophy now known as classical yoga. While virtually nothing is known about him (or if he was, indeed, even a single individual), Patanjali is thought to have created the Yoga Sutra, an important yogic text, about 2,500 years ago.

Sanatana Dharma: The original name of what is now popularly called Hinduism. The word sanatana means “perpetual” or “continuous,” and dharma is often interpreted as “virtue” or “righteousness.”

Vedas/Vedic/Vedantic: The Vedas are the oldest scriptures of the sacred canon of Hinduism. Veda means “knowledge.” Vedic means “pertaining to the Vedas.” Vedantic refers to a system of philosophy that is based on the Vedas.

works cited:

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-25006926https://www.yogajournal.com/yoga-101/beyond-beliefhttps://www.doyouyoga.com/the-language-of-yoga-5-sanskrit-yoga-terms-explained/http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/yogasutr.htmwww.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/06/american-yoga_n_2251360.htmlhttps://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/new-survey-reveals-the-rapid-rise-of-yoga-and-why-some-people-still-havent-tried-it-201603079179

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Yoga + Sports = Wins

yoga-for-athletes2

In most fitness circles of the West, Yoga has been thought of as a purely Eastern activity mostly about stretching and moaning and getting tied up in strange “body knots”.  Would it surprise you to learn that 73% of respondents to a recent poll at runnersworld.com said they do not practice yoga?  It may not be surprising, but we think it should be.  We believe that yoga has great benefits for the Western as well as the Eastern athlete.

 

“Why?” you ask.  Studies have shown that yoga dispels stress, helps with weight loss, comforts pain, helps consistency with an exercise routine, and even improves a runner’s time. The strength and flexibility you develop in Yoga–namely in the core, quads, hamstrings, and hip flexors–can help you run more efficiently and stay injury-free, says Adam St. Pierre, a coach, biomechanist, and exercise physiologist for the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine. Additionally, holding challenging yoga poses builds strength and determination that will come back to you on the running track. Lauren Fleshman, a two-time national outdoor 5000-meter champion, began practicing yoga after breaking her foot in 2008. But the poses strengthened more than just her foot: “Yoga helps me control my emotions while I’m in discomfort on the road,” she says. “Enduring an intense pose is a lot like enduring a long run or tempo run.”

 

Yoga is not only a boon to runners, but to gymnasts as well.  You would think that  gymnasts acquire all the stretching they need on their own, but not so.  Certain yoga stances demand a level of flexibility and as they are practiced; loosening occurs.  Poses such as Monkey, Plow, and Full Wheel complement the motions and movements of a gymnast.  Holding these positions in combination with deep breathing brings great benefit. Also, since  yoga emphasizes correct spinal alignment, it can help one work towards better posture. Several poses stretch the muscles in the back and shoulders, and help lengthen the spine. A few poses that may be particularly helpful for gymnasts are Twists such as Sage pose and Half-Lord of the Fishes pose, which helps bring balance to the spine. Backbends like Cobra and Bridge pose open the back and encourage strength that lifts the shoulders. The traditional Lotus pose builds up the spine to keep proper posture. Lotus pose begins on the floor in a comfortable cross-legged position. If your body allows, pull both feet up onto the thighs. Allow the chin to lower slightly, keeping your gaze in front of you. With relaxed shoulders, rest your hands on your lap.

 

Make balance a priority. When your workouts in running or in your chosen sport are most demanding, stick with yoga that is more relaxing and more focused on breath and meditation.  Conversely, in the off-season of your sport, you can attempt more challenging yoga flows that will work towards greater strength, thus optimizing and supporting your body’s needs.

    There are as many yoga offerings out there as there are people practicing.  What is important is that you find an atmosphere and an instructor that allows you to feel most at ease so that you will be consistent in your practice.  It can take years to become an expert at yoga poses, so don’t expect that at your first class no matter how great of an athlete you are. So often, people who excel in a given sport become hyper-focused on achieving greater accomplishments than “the next guy”.  In Yoga, you are encouraged to pay attention to your own body and respond lovingly to it.  Taking small steps to greater strength and flexibility over time is more important that “striking that pose” and holding it to eternity. Initially, the goal for competitive athletes in practicing yoga may just be to avoid injury. In 2011, the ultrarunner, St. Pierre,  got too aggressive in pigeon pose, trying to stretch his glutes and piriformis, and missed three months of running as a result.  Yoga instructors should be able to offer advice on targeting overly tight muscles with pose modifications.

Hopefully, the Western world as a whole is beginning to abandon outdated ideas about Yoga and is actively allowing Yoga to come alongside other forms of fitness to receive greater health.  

 

http://www.runnersworld.com/stretching/how-yoga-can-help-your-running

http://healthyliving.azcentral.com/can-yoga-gymnast-9364.html

Tips for Outdoor Yoga Practice

 

“Indoor yoga is a pretty recent phenomenon,” says Eoin Finn, an internationally renowned yoga instructor who spends up to 15 hours a day outdoors. “Yogis originally did yoga outside in beautiful places.”

Practicing yoga in the outdoors can be revitalizing—and brings you a little closer to the original purpose of yoga: achieving unity. “A yoga studio is such a controlled environment,” says Finn. “But when you do yoga outside, you’re forced to interact with all these other forces—you’re honoring your interconnection with all life.” Here are some helpful things to remember as you head outside to practice yoga.

Pack a Sweatshirt

No, not to wear—but for  savasana—the final resting phase of your session—Finn suggests placing part of a sweatshirt over your eyes to block out sunlight and help you relax. “Relaxation is tricky when there are people’s dogs around or you feel self-conscious about lying in the middle of a park,” he says. Covering your eyes is simple way to tune out the world.

Bring a Book

The initial moments after any yoga class—especially indoor ones—can be disappointing: You’ve been lying  still in lovely rest after the challenge of your practice, only to be jarred by bright lights and the rush of life. What happened to the relaxation you worked so hard to achieve? But in the park, you can stay—and relish the hard-won, relaxed state, says Finn. “Fight that habit—that you’re done so you have to pack up and go,” he says. “Allow yourself to stay and read a book or have a smoothie.”

Leave your yoga mat at home

Yoga mats, especially thick mats, are meant to provide some cushion and friction when placed on solid surfaces. When your yoga mat meets  the sand or grass, though, you will find it bunches, folds, and makes a softer surface even harder to navigate.

Mexican yoga blankets or  beach towels are better options for practicing outdoors. They will cling to the Earth, forming to the natural surface without making it softer. As an added benefit, any dirt that clings to your towel can be dealt with by simply tossing it in the washing machine after practice.

Be conscious of your wrists

The wrists are more vulnerable to pain and injury when practicing on a soft surface. The heels of the hands  tend to sink into the ground, collapsing the wrist and putting pressure on the ulna bone where it connects to the outer hand.

To relieve the wrists, avoid too many down dog holds or vinyasa flows. Choose  salutations to warm the body if desired, and after your initial warm up, simply  step back into postures from tadasana (mountain pose).
Forego the Music

Music can definitely enhance a yoga practice and even encourage you to persist in a challenging pose. But, studies show human happiness is greater when we connect with nature. Without music, we can appreciate more fully the aesthetics of nature when we’re outside. Listen for the waves on the beach, the call of birds, breeze in the trees and even  “disturbances” like people talking or planes above you. Turning your senses outward during practice- tuning into nature, you exhaust the senses and are prepared to turn them inward at savasana.

Practice Balance Poses

Practicing yoga on an uneven surface does make your wrists more vulnerable, but it can also offer beneficial challenges for muscles in the ankles and feet.  A greater level of balance can be achieved through the tree, eagle, or dancer pose when practiced outside.
Try Inversions

One exception that can be made  to standing on the wrists too much while on soft surfaces is the handstand. Main benefits of handstanding outside:

  1. Falling on sand or grass is more forgiving than a hardwood floor. This fact alone makes many people who normally rely on the wall when hand-standing much bolder outside.
  2. The soft surface of the ground  forces you to activate  your fingers and grip into the Earth. This is great practice for when you return to the studio, as active fingers enhance balance.

Stay hydrated

Sweating isn’t the only way to get dehydrated. Our bodies lose water when we exhale, and in particularly dry summer air, your body loses water even faster. Remember to stay extra-hydrated in the summer, even if you haven’t been sweating.

Drink a glass of water upon waking. Your body loses water while exhaling throughout the night. Make sure to replenish that water before you partake of any morning caffeine, which will further dehydrate you.

Keep a water bottle with you during the day.  We are accustomed to being careful not to eat certain things for our own health.  Water is something you can always say “yes” to. In fact, make it a point to drink water before and after your yoga practice.
Being mindful of your hydration, testing your inversion boundaries, embracing nature’s sounds, protecting your body’s vulnerabilities, and preparing for savasana are key points worth thinking through as you move your practice outdoors.  As you consider this, what emerges is that changing the atmosphere of your practice, and thus adjusting to the change;  can produce depth and strength for your Yoga journey.  Life is a series of changes and our response to them, this particular change, can be of your choosing.

 

Sources:
https://www.doyouyoga.com/7-things- to-remember- when-doing- yoga-outdoors/
http://www.womenshealthmag.com/fitness/outdoor-yoga
https://breakingmuscle.com/learn/5-tips- for-practicing- yoga-outside

 

Yoga in the Park : flowing with Parks and Rec.

Considering offering a yoga class this summer?  Consider the great outdoors!  In Michigan, the weather is permitting only for a few months of the year, and an outdoor Yoga class is one of the most invigorating experiences a person can have.  Not only is there a physical challenge and stimulation in terms of exercise, but the aesthetics of deep-breathing in a dynamic, sunlit atmosphere are unique facets to consider.

There are a few steps of preparation necessary before leading an outdoor yoga session.  One of those steps is establishing your location.  Some individuals may have access to private property that is ideal.  However, depending on your client base, it may be more preferable to hold class in a public place, such as a park.  

Our staff at The Big Green Gym, an online marketplace promoting outdoor yoga, available at www.thebiggreengym.com, investigated and spoke with a number of city park authorities in Southeast Michigan regarding their rules around outdoor yoga classes. We found that there are a myriad of different attitudes and policies in regard to allowing a yoga session to take place.  Some cities have no rules whatsoever.  Others will require you to work through their Parks and Recreation Program, offering your class as their consultant.  Some cities will ask that you obtain liability insurance as an instructor and others will require you to get a permit only for a group of over 20 people.  There are Park Programs that will not require a permit unless your class is consistently recurring.  While others, will ask that you secure a permit even if the class is free.  For a complete list of our research results, see the table below.

In any case, it is wise to communicate with the Parks director in order to avoid holding your class in a park that is hosting a special community event, or to avoid planning your class time when the lawn is being treated or cut. It is also important to consider whether the park has sports fields, which could mean you would not have quite as serene an atmosphere as you would hope.  There is also the question of the amount of available parking where large gatherings are present.

There are things to avoid or contend with when planning a yoga class in the park, but in reality, they are easily managed.  Once forethought and communication are combined and executed, you are free to take advantage of the beautiful and abundant green spaces in public parks which, in many cities, are underutilized. Hosting your yoga session at a public park is a wonderful privilege.  One that unites yogis with nature and their community.  To that end, the key to harmonious, outdoor, public yoga is communication with your Parks and Recreation department and then ‘seize the day’ to enjoy all that awaits in nature.

click here for link to Park Policies spreadsheet

Park Hours Main Contact Park suggestion Permit needed? Reference
Park hours 5am to 7pm Brian Riverside, Riverwoods Park Permits not necessary. Be mindful of the parks that have pavilions and may be rented for large gatherings. Parking could become an issue. http://auburnhills.org/departments/parks_and_recreation/parks_and_facilities/index.php
Park locations- http://www.bhamgov.org/government/departments/dps/city_parks.php Parks and Rec. Dir. Shane Park – prior permission needed Groups under 25 do not need a permit http://www.bhamgov.org/DPS/2016finalparkrulesandregulations%20(1)%20090716.pdf
Park hours- http://www.cityofclawson.com/your_government/parks_and_recreation/city_parks.php Gina Clawson City park- busiest- best to avoid because of sports events occurring there No need for a permit http://www.cityofclawson.com/your_government/parks_and_recreation/city_park.php
Park hours- (Rochester Municipal) 7:00 am to 8:00 pm Steve Shetenhelm Rochester Municipal If a small group meeting once or twice; no permit needed, but for a consistently meeting class, permit needed for rules, see first link
Park hours- 8:00 am to dusk Ken Elwert Park locations-http://www.ci.rochester.mi.us/191/Rochester- Permit necessary if class meets regularly www.rochesterhills.org/index.aspx?NID=804
http://www.oaklandtownship.org/boards_and_commissions/parks_and_recreation/parks.php Mindy Bear Creek Nature Park Permit needed www.oaklandtownship.org/boards_and_commissions/parks_and_recreation/introduction_and_park_rules.php
Park Hours- 8:00 am to dusk Jennifer Park locations- http://oriontownship.org/ParksPrograms/Parksamp;Trails.aspx Permits necessary for 20+ people, even if gathering is free. Permits necessary for reserving space and if you are charging a fee for the class; you must coordinate with a Program director to offer your class through the township. http://oriontownship.org/Portals/33/ordinance/ord132.pdf
Park hours- see next link l Pontiac Lake Recreation Area Park rules- Amplified sound at the park must be moderate and controlled http://www.pontiac.mi.us/departments/public_works/docs/facility_and_park_use_policy_city_of_pontiac_2015.pdf Park locations- http://www.pontiac.mi.us/departments/public_works/parks_and_recreation.php
closed between 11:00 pm and 6:am Tod Gazetti Quickstad Park No permit needed for groups under 20 people…”Outdoors Special Events
Use permits are required for all outdoor events including but not limited to running events, fundraisers, festivals, tournaments, weddings and any other event that may take place on public park and/or city facilities.”
http://ecode360.com/14733060
https://www.romi.gov/Facilities?clear=False
https://www.sterling-heights.net/Facilities?clear=False Kyle Langlois Dodge Park is a good park to use. To conduct a regular class at a Sterling Hts. park, the instructor should have liability insurance and a permit/permission. The director would also want to discuss the possibility of cooperating with Parks and Rec. to offer your classes through them. https://www.sterling-heights.net/384/Rentals
Park hours-Firefighters Park 6:00am to 9:00 pm- others vary Firefighters Park Permit not necessary. https://troymi.gov/PlayHere/Outdoor/Parks
www.rwbparksrec.org/parks_and_amp_facilities/parks/index.php Sandy Orchard Hills Park Romeo Village Market-( Farmer’s market) It is advisable to let the Parks and Rec. know ahead of time where and when you will hold class so that you an avoid mowers and grass treatments, and special park events so they can be aware of your presence and activity. If it is a consistently recurring class, there may be a permit requirement. http://www.rwbparksrec.org/about/_us/policies/index.php
Park hours- 8:00 am to sunset unless otherwise posted Kelly Higher Groups of 20+ require a permit and/or would need to be set up through the parks offerings http://www.wbparks.org/parks–facilities.html
Open 24 hrs. MI DNR Little Point Sable Lighthouse You and your class participants will need a park pass. http://www.michigandnr.com/parksandtrails/Details.aspx?type=SPRK&id=493#map-tab
7 am to dusk City Officials Timbertown Park Timbertown is the City’s largest park at 19.02 acres. The park offers a pavilion with picnic seating, volleyball courts and hiking trails, and is home to the Community Garden. http://city-chelsea.org/Portals/0/Website%20Content/Parks%20and%20Rec/Pavilion%20Rental%20Master%20Form_Final.pdf
8:00 am to 8:00pm Jennifer Wright Quirk Park The park features a Senior Garden. Permission would need to be granted for private use of this space. http://vanburen-mi.org/parks-and-recreation/
Open 24 hrs. MI DNR The Beach P.J. Hoffmaster State Park features over three miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, a 297-site modern campground, towering Lake Michigan dunes and the Gillette Visitor Center. Miles of hiking and skiing trails offer stunning views of Lake Michigan and subtle beauty at every turn. http://www.michigandnr.com/parksandtrails/Details.aspx?type=SPRK&id=457
7 am to dusk Andy Kenyon Kollen Park http://www.keepmichiganbeautiful.org/holland.html http://www.cityofholland.com/parksandcemeteries/parks
Open 24 hrs. MI DNR The Beach on Lake Huron Harrisville State Park features a campground and day-use area nestled in a stand of pine and cedar trees along the sandy shores of Lake Huron. The park is within walking distance of the resort town of Harrisville, which hosts many events. The park is also close to Sturgeon Point Lighthouse. http://www.michigandnr.com/parksandtrails/Details.aspx?type=SPRK&id=451