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To the Editor
by Our Readers and Editorial Staff
Imbolc 2003, Vol 2-2
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Letter to the Editor:

Thank you very much for publishing an article on Yoga (Mind/Body/Spirit, Lammas 2002). It was quite refreshing. I'd like to take the opportunity, however, to clarify a few points that the author omitted or misrepresented.

Yoga is not a simple regimen of stretching even though it does indeed involve some postures that require stretching. This characterization is an oversimplification that belies the history and tradition of this ancient Hindu spiritual practice. Traditional yoga requires discipline, coordination, balance, stamina, and mindfulness. It can make you sweat in buckets (if you do Ashtanga). Yoga teaches the practitioner to coordinate breath (ujjayi pranayama) and the holding of postures (asanas) for certain lengths of time in a static manner (not necessarily a stretch depending on your flexibility). Moreover, recent articles in Yoga Journal have described tests done on athletes and yoga practitioners that show similar levels of cardiovascular fitness so it can be used to raise overall fitness.

More importantly, Yoga is a spiritual discipline regardless of how much people both within and outside the South Asian context ignore that aspect or change it to suit their needs. If you read the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, this becomes quite apparent...the very first verse says this is a discipline that seeks to harness the mind (Verse 1.2: yoga citta vritti nirodhah). It is a physical meditation that seeks to quiet the mind and bring on samadhi (enlightenment/union of shiva and shakti energy). Therefore, those who do yoga without the meditative focus will only attain a partial benefit.

I appreciate the thoughtful comments about the benefits and all these are true, yet, the writer doesn't touch on the real purpose and benefit of yoga which is the body-mind union. Moreover, in terms of resources, beginning practitioners should understand that all postural yoga is Hatha Yoga -- there are a number of postures that can be found in the Yoga sutras. The different schools emerged later and are a reflection of the commercialization of yoga that has occurred to some extent and also to the desire of teachers to put their imprimatur on their own interpretive styles.

Another frequent misconception is that Kundalini Yoga is a distinct stream that can be separated out of the other yogic schools. In some sense, all yoga (Bhakti/Devotional, Jnana/Intellectual, Hatha/Physical) are kundalini yoga (Yoga of raising Shakti energy).

If people want to start in earnest, they should go to a reputable teacher (try out a few and see who you get on with -- I would start with Iyengar style to get a solid base and then move to more vigorous schools like Ashtanga) and if you buy tapes beware of the fact that the asanas are almost never held for any length of time and many of them teach you less than nothing about breathing. If you are interested in stretching your muscles, these are good tapes but not ideal for a seriously aspiring yogini. I encourage people to try the Flow Series by Tracy Rich and Ganga White (Earth, Water and Fire) which is in the Vinyasa/Ashtanga school. Also one can use the tapes to get the postures down and then do them without following the tapes' timing.

And as for mudras, this an even more subtle science that is beyond the scope of this response.


Kila

Dear Reader:

We so appreciated having Kila's cultural perspective brought to us through her response to Turtledragon's Yoga article that we asked her to join our tribe.

Kila will be sharing her thoughts and experiences on a variety of topics regularly in her "Conceiving the Goddess: Thealogy for a New Millenium" feature, beginning with this issue.

 


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