Is Yoga a complete Workout?

By Harsh Thakkar

The more I read about it the more evidence I find to support it. Well not sure if I can call it evidence yet, because neither have I seen the “evidence” from my own eyes, nor have I paid any medical labs or scientists to conduct the research on my behalf. Yes, I have spent a few hours googling about it, I will not deny it.

My first few findings were that Yoga has a lot of benefit for toning of your muscles, achieving muscular strength, flexibility, core strength, relaxation, endurance and reduce stress levels. There was also mention of it being good for cardiovascular health and increasing lung capacity. And I did come across a few articles explaining in detail how it really is proven by experiments conducted by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the largest exercise science association in the world, that Yoga can be at par if not better than any other aerobic exercise out there in the world like running, cycling or swimming. Now I still am going to take that with a pinch of salt.

The parameters one can use to define physical fitness is cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, lung capacity(VO2 Max), Flexibility and body composition( percentage of fat, muscles, bones, organs and other non-fat tissues). Yoga has been proven in one way or another to improve all of the above within a span of 8 weeks of practice (2-3 times per week) in all age groups irrespective of previous chronic health ailments, sex, smoking habits etc.

Now I don’t know how true this is and whether ASCM was paid by the Federation of Yoga Loonies to prove that Yoga is awesome. I don’t even think such a federation exists, because I just made that up!

What I can put on the table for you to consider are facts:

  1. I lost about 9 kilos in 4 months, since I started practicing Yoga
  2. I do feel positively less stressed
  3. My chronic Rhino sinusitis has been less active
  4. My stamina of exercising and endurance have both increased many fold. And I have eye witnesses in the form of my yoga batch-mates to vouch for that. Still long way to go though…
  5. Don’t even get me started on my flexibility
  6. I still have not achieved the zen state. I must mention this as I do fight with my wife every now and then and she will read this article at some point in time I would like to believe

So whether it’s a complete workout or not – I don’t know. As a wise man said once upon a time, Yoga is not about fitness but about wellness. I will add a bit of running, swimming and a game of tennis to my exercise regime, just because I love it and I don’t like to put all my eggs in the same basket. But will I continue to do Yoga? Heck yeah!

Yoga for beginners

by Harsh Thakkar

When we grow up, as humans we start taking things for granted. Small miracles which power our everyday life are still happening with the same frequency and un-mindfulness at which they used to happen when one is born. For instance, you still are involuntarily breathing – without really thinking about it or giving it a second thought. You still eat food, and in a few hours, it provides you with ample energy to engage in activities you love and strengthens your overall body, or simply put “it becomes your body”. Yes, there is a scientific explanation to all this, but nobody thinks about it while doing it. Nobody has the time.

Actions and milestones which used to be groundbreaking when you were 1 year old – the first eye contact, the first step, the first solid meal, the first word that comes out of your mouth, all these happen daily now in your adult life, but they have stopped being miraculous. When I convinced myself to sign up for a yoga teaching course, I didn’t know why I did it. The teacher asked everyone in one of the first few classes – do you want to become a teacher? My answer was maybe, at certain point in my life if I get good at it (still far from it).

I am now in that phase of my yoga journey when I’ve become physically capable of doing most asanas (I must add not perfect yet) but still wondering “What is Yoga really? ”

Recently I started teaching basic yoga to some of my friends and family – they were the only ones who were brave enough to take the risk. And during these sessions I found myself explaining to them – “Yoga is not an exercise regime, it’s about wellness. A way of life.” Essentially the word means “Union”, the union of mind, body and soul – some would say. Or the “Union of oneself with the nature”. Easier said than done, one of my friends chimed. I couldn’t find myself to deny that and just smiled in response.

I read somewhere on the Internet of all things that Yoga 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.” Well that sounds amazing, apart from the fact that the religion of Hinduism has nothing to do with it! Yes, it was written about and established by saints at the time when Hindu religion was going strong in India. But that would be the equivalent of saying that Pilates is a “Nazi system of exercises using special apparatus, designed to improve physical strength, flexibility, and posture, and enhance mental awareness.” Although Pilates was developed during the first world war, Nazism was not even coined at the time even though Hitler was serving in the German army, he had not yet taken control of Germany. Pilates has nothing to do with Nazism, just like Yoga has no religious link – plain and simple.

Living in the moment has become hip these days, but how many people are doing it? If you actively start doing it, that would mean just enjoying the present and not thinking about the future. You earn 3000$ a month, you spend it all, have a great time and live from month to month. Not sure if that’s a good idea. But does it have to be financial all the time?

Living in the moment could also mean, enjoying small mercies in life, that great cup of coffee; the sweet taste of fresh fruit in your mouth; spending time with your loved ones. And then the more basic stuff – you’re still alive and kicking; still able to breath and enjoy the sunrise and sunset, able to walk and get around.

If I were to quote Sadhguru, founder of Isha foundation his definition of Yoga is “that which brings you to reality. Literally, it means “union.” Union means it brings you to the ultimate reality, where individual manifestations of life are surface bubbles in the process of creation. Right now, a coconut tree and a mango tree have popped up from the same earth. From the same earth, the human body and so many creatures have popped up. It is all the same earth.”

When one is practicing Yoga, your mind is focusing on getting that asana right, getting the breathing right, that pain in your thighs during Utkatasana, the rhythm of movement during Suryanamaskara. You’re at that time living in the moment 🙂 So one could say that Yoga teaches you and trains your mind to live in the moment.

Elevator Pitch for Yoga

In the consulting world there’s a term called the “Elevator Pitch”.
Imagine you’re standing in an elevator. When the doors open, someone walks in. You glance at his face. Suddenly, you realise this is someone really important. For the next 30 to 60 seconds, it’s just you and him in that tight space. You now have the chance of a lifetime to sell him an idea, a product or a service. How would you summarize your thoughts? What’s the most interesting pitch you can make in that short ride?
When the doors open, is he keen to find out more? Have you won him over or lost him forever?
The Elevator Pitch came to mind a couple of weeks ago when we started lesson planning for beginners.
At that time Master Satya had a suggestion: “Tell the students your name, and give a quick introduction about Yoga.”  That “quick introduction” turned out to be surprisingly challenging.
A number of us stuttered and stumbled, as we got increasingly tangled in our thoughts and words.
How do you explain to students that what they normally equate with Yoga is actually just the Asanas, and Asanas are just one of the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga (some of them might even ask “what do you mean by ‘limb’)? Do you tell them about all the other limbs? Or is that too esoteric for a layman, especially if he’s just looking for some exercise? If Yoga is not a form of exercise, what is Yoga?
How do you compress the meaning of Yoga into a 60-second soundbyte that is:
–          Reasonably accurate
–          Accessible to the layman
–          And better yet, intriguing (so that students will be motivated to find out more)
I realised then how important it was to sort out my personal understanding of Yoga. Aside from students, there will surely be other instances in conversations with friends and even strangers, where I’ll find myself facing a casual question of “so, what’s this Yoga you’re doing?”. And they won’t be expecting a long answer, that’s for sure.
After some thought, here’s my attempt (tailored for a class intro):
“What you normally see in studios and exercise classes are actually known as ‘Asanas’, which means postures or poses held in a comfortable and steady manner. This is just one aspect of the practice of Yoga. But Yoga is not just about physical activity.
In Ashtanga Yoga, there are eight aspects in total. Aside from Asanas, there are breathing techniques to help regulate our prana or life energy. We call this Pranayama. There’s also mediation or Dhyana, philosophy and guidelines on ethical conduct. Practising Yoga will improve our self awareness and help us to confront our inner selves with honesty. It addresses our physical, mental and spiritual health as a whole [I won’t go into detail here, but for those interested in finding out more, we can discuss after class] Our focus today is on Asanas – the physical postures. Asanas improve our physical health and ability to concentrate.  As we go into each pose, we become more aware of our body, we recognise our individual abilities and limitations. With regular practice, we gain more strength, stamina and flexibility.  Asanas can also benefit blood circulation, internal organs, hormonal glands and the nervous system. When we have a healthy body, it forms a good foundation for mental and spiritual health.”
There’s no right or wrong answer. I’m sure every individual would have his or her own interpretation.
So what’s your Elevator Pitch for Yoga?
– Laurel

What is Yoga from the perspective of the 3 Gunas?

According to Vedic perspective, all of material nature (Prakriti) is thought to be made up of three primary qualities or “gunas.” These three gunas make up the essential aspects of all nature—energy, matter and consciousness.
These qualities of nature, or gunas, are:
Sattva – the power of harmony, balance, light and intelligence; higher spiritual potential.
Rajas – the power of energy, action, change and movement.
Tamas – the power of darkness, inertia, form and materiality
It can take a bit of contemplating to understand what these “qualities of nature” are and how they are relevant to our lives and our sadhana (yogic practice). Perhaps the simplest way for us to understand the gunas is that matter is tamas, energy is rajas and light is sattva. These qualities are described as the main components or elements of our physical universe.
The Earth Element is the realm of tamas or darkness, of physical matter.
The Fire Element is the realm rajas, of action and change, symbolized by storms with their process of lightning, thunder and rain. It indicates energy or subtle matter on all levels.
The Air Element is the realm of sattva, of harmony and light. It indicates light as a universal principle that is the origin of all matter and energy. The entire universe is thought to consist of light that moves in the form of energy and condenses into physical matter.
The universe and all of nature is inextricably linked to the gunas and are formed from them. We as people are influenced by these same qualities and processes which are at work within each of us. Both our bodies and our minds are subject to the ebb and flow of the gunas within us. Each of us is thought to have an intrinsic mix of these qualities (called doshas). It is the aim of yoga practice, in all its various forms, to bring into balance our individual mix or the three qualities of sattva, rajas and tamas. Yoga of course favors the cultivation of sattva, the guna of higher consciousness, yet all three gunas must be considered and brought into balance in both the mind and body. However, the ultimate goal of yoga is union with the absolute. This would imply that sattva is not the end goal but it is the ultimate union with the divine that we are seeking.
Hence, a Yogi could be seen as a clear, running stream. When we practice asana, meditation and pranayama (breath techniques) regularly, all the systems and functions of the body line up in an optimal flow of energy. In other words, the gunas are in balance and everything begins to work well and we start to feel the radiant, vibrant health that is our birthright. Our usual aches and pains disappear, we begin to feel naturally more flexible and strong, our sleep and digestion improve and we may sense a serene calmness or peacefulness of heart and mind. The over all “tone” of our being feels more exuberant and at the same time grounded and steady. The aging process becomes one of continual growth and discovery rather than a falling apart. A feeling of being more connected to ourselves and to others may develop, and we may begin to see the world and how we live in it in a kinder, gentler way. Yoga, in all of it’s forms, is about bringing the various aspects of our self into balanced harmony. The result is that we tap into a higher, clearer energy positively affecting all aspects of our health and well-being.

Yoga business

To my surprise, Master Paalu talks about Yoga not only as a philosophy but also as a business, without any taboo regarding fees and money, market, business strategy and market trend. As many people, I thought about Yoga as a philosophy detached from all these materialistic concerns, that it should be free or on donation, generous and not profit-oriented. But it starts to make sense in my mind.
 
The warning came from a small incident at the beginning of the TTC course when a payment was not made on due time by the studio owner where the TTC was taking place. It was a real case illustrating what Master Paalu would try to tell us in the next few days: in the Yoga business, teachers should not be the poor ones while studio owners may exploit them in an unethical way. Yoga is not about being weak. It is not about living in poor and difficult conditions. Because one cannot live and practice without money, money should be earned in an ethical way and by the codes of Yama and Niyama. Once this question is handled in a proper way, we can fully dedicate ourselves to Yoga, without any frustration, hypocrisy or taboo. Or thinking about the money we should be making or this student or studio manager who owes money.
 
That was also illustrated by the way the incident was solved: it was discussed in front of all students and not in their backs, with transparency, calm and honesty. It made it crystal clear that money should be handled properly so that we can dedicate ourselves 100% to Yoga. Yoga has been alive for at least 2500 years already and it will not die in today’s world because yogis are living in dire conditions. On the contrary, it will strive and flourish even more, also because it is financially sound among other reasons. Yoga have come out of India , arriving in the West and other countries only recently. The business model applied in India (donation, ashram, university) may not apply here because the culture is different. Recently, I was told about a Vipassana meditation teacher who was charging 20 usd/ hour. It shocked me at first as I know it is on donation in India. But I realised that after all, yoga teachers may have faced the same cliché at the beginning 50 years ago when they started teaching in the West. It does not shock me to pay for yoga class, so why am I shocked if someone charges for meditation class? In 5 or 50 years, meditation could become as popular as yoga and people will have accepted it? The business model has to be invented and accepted by the general public. I guess there is no taboo about it as long as it is handled within the ethics of honesty – Satya -and non greed – Asteya.
Huy