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  • Writer's pictureSecond Opinion Magazine

Be Balanced 2011: An Overview

by Sandra Helpsmeet

To say that Yoga is a popular subject in our current culture is an understatement. We see and hear about Yoga in health — even medical — contexts, in the world of fitness, in conversations about stress reduction, in spiritual circles, and in written or visual glimpses into the life of our culture’s stars. Yoga art — those lovely photos of practitioners in amazing postures — and yoga advice is all around us. And yet, few of us know what yoga is.

The most ancient texts describe Yoga as the union of the individual self with the divine, in others words, development of a relationship between the self that lives in this body we inhabit and the spirit. The ancient texts also describe a series of practices and questions to consider as a pathway. Over the thousands of years since these early texts were written, Yoga has been influenced by social, religious, and political customs at the times and places it has been practiced. Many paths of Yoga have developed, and the specifics of those paths have evolved and changed. These Yogic paths include: Karma Yoga, which emphasizes selfless service as the pathway to integration of self and divine; Bhakti Yoga, which you may be aware of because of the popularity of kirtan chanting, emphasizes devotion to the divine; Jnana Yoga, which emphasizes knowledge as the path to liberation; Mantra Yoga, which emphasizes sound; and Raja yoga, which aims to train the mind for meditation. The yoga that is most well known in this country is Hatha Yoga, which works with the body and breath. The poses we know today are not found in the ancient texts, but the intention to use body and breath to gain awareness of what is often called mind-body-spirit integration is.

In the last 60 or so years, many paths of Hatha Yoga have developed. You may have heard of Iyengar, Ashtanga, Kundalini, Svaroopa, Viniyoga, Bikram, Sivananda and other styles of yoga. These various interpretations of Hatha Yoga may look different and have different instructions, but they are all comprised of body and breath oriented techniques. As one of my teachers said, “It’s all good.”

As Yoga has begun to be studied here in the West, the claims of practitioners have been validated. Yoga has been shown to be healthful for the bodily systems, calming for the nervous system, balancing for the mind, helpful in spiritual practice, and both relaxing and energizing.

The  articles in this section will help you learn about classes taught here in the Chippewa Valley. If you are thinking of trying yoga, you might want to talk to a teacher you are considering studying with and ask if the class is appropriate for everyone, what kind of training they have, and how long they have been teaching. The Yoga Alliance registers teachers who have completed training programs that meet a standard set of criteria. If you see RYT behind a teacher’s name, they are Yoga Alliance registered. A good yoga teacher will have a working understanding of the body, give clear instructions and demonstrations, know how to adapt yoga poses for differing needs, know the effects of yoga, be able to distinguish between their personal beliefs and yoga, and will teach with kindness and encouragement.

Different schools of Yoga and different teaching styles help make Yoga something anyone can appreciate. Do search around, trying different teachers and classes, until you find the right one for you.

Be Balanced 2011 special section text by Sandra Helspmeet, Patricia Wickman, Donna Sauter, Sandra Anderson, Nora Issacs

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