yoga

Yoga helps improve asthma symptoms

Ani, The Times Of India: A new study has suggested that meditation and yoga can be ‘helpful’ in improving asthma in urban adolescents.

A new study by researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) shows that urban adolescents with asthma may experience worse outcomes when not using spiritual coping and often use complementary and alternative medicine, or integrative medicine, like prayer or relaxation, to manage symptoms.

These findings by researchers could help physicians and other providers gain insight into additional ways to help pediatric populations self-manage chronic illnesses.

The study, led by Sian Cotton, assistant professor in the department of family and community medicine, looked at urban adolescents dealing with asthma and uncovered the ways that they were both coping with their illness as well as ways coping methods affected their mental and physical health outcomes.

In the spiritual struggles analyses, outcome variables included anxiety and depressive symptoms as well as quality of life. Researchers then determined the association Read the rest of this article…

between spiritual struggles and health outcomes after accounting for age, gender, ethnicity and asthma severity.

“As hypothesized, religious or spiritual coping and secular coping predicted similar amounts of variance in these outcomes, similar to previous findings in adult populations, suggesting that spiritual coping is an important element to consider when caring for adolescents with asthma,” said Cotton.

In the second analysis, the same group of adolescents completed a survey looking at 10 forms of complementary and alternative medicine methods used for symptom management, including prayer, guided imagery, relaxation, meditation, yoga, massage, herbs, vitamins and rubs as well as dietary changes.

“These findings show that this group of chronically ill adolescents is using complementary methods and finding them helpful,” said Cotton.

“Providers should consider discussing the use of complementary or alternative medicine with their patients with asthma to help improve outcomes.”

“These analyses point to findings that will help physicians care not only for patients with asthma but also for those with other chronic illnesses to ensure the best outcomes physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, producing a better quality of life,” added Cotton.

The findings were presented at the National Conference in Pediatric Psychology in San Antonio.

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Say ‘Om’ from the comfort of home

As yoga gains ground, more and more people are practicing on their own

There are so many types of yoga now on offer that you can choose a practice entirely based on your sensibilities, such as bikram if you like it hot, ashtanga if you like it more physical, kundalini if you’re interested in breathing alignment, or kripalu, which adds meditation.

As more people, young and old, take up yoga for good health, suppleness and sometimes for enlightenment, they often discover that they want more than a yoga class a few times a week.

They look for a favourite spot at home where they can complete the daily yoga ritual, a place they dedicate to their practice. Some use a separate room, while others simply carve out a quiet space in a corner of the living room. Whatever they choose, the key is to create an atmosphere that is so calming that even the family dog, with a deep sigh, is able to relax. What makes the space? Start with soft colours, music, candles and statuary.

All of these are in abundance in the yoga spaces that follow. Whether you’re a relative novice like Marie-Eve Methot, who has been…
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doing yoga for just a few years, or a veteran practitioner like yoga teacher Kelly McGrath, a tranquil space sets the stage for the concentration needed for yoga, the ancient practice of breathing, movement and meditation.Marie-Eve Methot learned about quiet spaces while living in Tokyo. “I lived in a traditional house in Japan, with a tatami bedroom,” she says. “There was a tokonoma, a little alcove space to meditate, that you could decorate with your favourite flowers.”

The little carved cabinet that she used for meditation in Tokyo is now part of her personal yoga space, a raised platform in her Montreal loft. Surrounded by fine gauze drapery, the cabinet stands on an antique lacquered side table, and on it Methot places objects that inspire her -a set of bells from Japan, lacquered rose petals, a crystal and her favourite photo from her collection of blackand-whites from Canadian photographer Gregory Colbert’s startling series on wild creatures.

On the floor near the edge of the Persian rug on which she practises her yoga early each morning, she keeps a low table with teacups and a pink wax bowl from Morocco filled with water and floating candles.

“When I practise, I like to light the candles if it’s dark, and put on soft music,” says Methot, who began yoga when she returned from Tokyo in 2008.

Each morning, the living room of Kelly McGrath’s small N.D.G. apartment undergoes a transformation. The coffee table is moved aside, the couches are pushed back, and a rattan screen becomes the backdrop for the low table in front of which she lays her yoga mat. With her three dogs relaxing nearby, inhaling the tender scent of Tibetan incense, she completes her hour-long ritual.

“I like to make up a small table, which I call an altar, so I can meditate,” says McGrath, who has been teaching yoga for 11 years full time, and practising for more than 20. On it, for inspiration, she puts a statue of Lakshmi, the goddess of beauty and prosperity, and images of people she loves.

She wears comfortable, loose clothing, always cotton, and usually plays soft music, feeling a sense of the sky or vast ocean from the turquoise walls. “I find turquoise very calming; it helps me feel more balanced,” she says.

Yoga teacher Bram Levinson has wide open spaces in his Plateau loft, but wherever he chooses to place his yoga mat, the ritual remains the same. “I make sure that I sweep the floor so that it’s really clean, and I wash my hands,” he says.

Then he chooses a piece of furniture, like a cabinet, which he covers with a soft cloth and prepares as the centrepiece for his practice. He places candles and a statue of Ganesh, “the remover of obstacles, prayed to at the beginning of celebrations,” says Levinson, who also has a tattoo of the god on his left calf.

Home practice is a necessity for Lee-Ann Matthews. Specially trained at the Kripalu yoga centre in Massachusetts, she has been teaching children for five years.

“I practise at home because I need quiet, and there’s something nice about early morning for me,” she says. “It helps me get into the zone.”

Matthews is referring to the meditation zone, which she believes is central to any yoga practice. For this reason, she believes yoga practice can be done anywhere.

“You don’t need a yoga mat to do yoga. It’s a state of mind,” she says.

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Adventures in mindfulness

Gill South tries a meditation retreat but finds it hard to keep to the code of silence.

It’s probably not the best idea to arrive at a peaceful, “silent” leadership retreat, red-faced and sweating. The walk to its location at Eden Garden on the side of Mt Eden took longer than I’d thought.

My meditation retreat today is being run by clinical psychologists Lisa Markwick and Marijka Batenburg – the workshop is based on Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn’s “mindfulness” methods. Lisa is an experienced leadership facilitator and coach with her company Mindful Adventures and has been recommended to me by Barry Coates, the executive director of Oxfam New Zealand, an excellent big thinker and an advocate of meditation.

According to Lisa, mindfulness is not something you have to get or acquire. It is a rich resource of aliveness already within you, waiting for your attention.

In this workshop people are asking themselves questions such as: How can I slow down when all around me is speeding up? What wisdom am I missing as I “think” my way through big issues? All this is very topical as everyone in the room is reeling from…

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the news about the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.One of the core transformational aspects of the workshop is that it puts us in touch with compassion for others.

I am a bit of a usurper – the rest of the group of 10 are two thirds of the way through an eight-week “Mindful Way Summer Series”. They are professional men and women who I get to pretty well completely ignore. Not being able to speak makes this incredibly relaxing. There’s none of the usual obligatory small talk.

We kick off with a yoga session, which reminds me, once again, that I am useless at yoga. Jon Kabat-Zinn, on his CD, kindly tells me to just visualise doing something if it is too hard to think of nothing – I abuse this suggestion shamelessly.

One of my favourite parts of the morning is when we are told to go off and do some standing meditation, where we walk freely around the gardens, stopping and staring, taking in the small things.

I have a special moment. Climbing up to a viewpoint, I come across an incredible view across the gardens. Some of the ferns and trees are truly vast and it’s so peaceful. I feel awestruck, as if I’m in a rainforest in South America rather than in the middle of chi chi Auckland.

I describe my experience to Lisa as a bit of an out of body moment. She gently corrects me, it is anything but an out of body experience, it’s about being embodied. I was transported, she tells me.

Do I manage to remain silent the whole time?

My healthy appetite after the hike from home is my undoing. Food starts arriving in the room toward the end of the morning session. A plate of toasted ciabatta bread slathered in butter, and another of sizzling bacon completely ruins my concentration.

I break the silence rule, murmuring appreciatively as I help myself to a large serving.

You really can’t take me anywhere.

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Veterans find peace with yoga in ‘Connected Warriors’

Boca Raton Some local veterans’ combat days are long gone, but they still have nightmares, edginess, short fuses and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

Many seek help from support groups, psychologists and drugs. But some are finding that a different kind of therapy releases the tension: yoga.

Connected Warriors, a weekly class at studios in Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale and Wellington, is filled with veterans and their families who seek to manage their stress through yoga poses. They learn how to breathe, meditate, stretch and balance with people who understand their battlefield encounters.

“I am learning to stop being on the defensive,” said Maria Mariska Allsopp, of Dania Beach, who retired after 25 years as a sergeant major in the Army. “I am making my own kind of peace.”

Allsopp, 58, was the fifth woman to go through Army airborne training, the first woman jumpmaster and the first female first-sergeant of an Army rigging company. She said she relished her trailblazer status but started having bad dreams soon after she retired and was diagnosed…

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with post-traumatic stress disorder. Memories of sexual harassment also plague her.

“In this class, I am getting something I have been missing: Trust from men,” Allsopp said.

The class has been so successful that yoga teacher Judy Weaver, of Lighthouse Point, has been training instructors to teach at studios across the state and hopes to start programs across the country. Weaver is a founder of Connected Warriors, a nonprofit organization that encourages yoga for veterans.

Weaver became sensitive to veterans’ issues after teaching yoga to Beau MacVane, an Army Ranger from Boca Raton who served five tours in the Middle East but died in 2009 of Lou Gehrig’s disease at 33. She saw how the breathing and meditation techniques she taught him remained useful even as his condition deteriorated.

“They give instant relief to the body,” Weaver said. “Whatever limitations you have, you can still get the benefits.”

Researchers are confirming that yoga’s exercises and relaxation effects help veterans’ physical problems, moods and energy levels. Several studies are exploring how yoga complements psychiatric therapy.

Preliminary results of a Defense Department study show that veterans with PTSD had fewer symptoms after 10 weeks of yoga classes twice a week and 15 minutes of practice each day at home.

This is not news to Ralph Iovino, 61, who thinks yoga has helped him heal from war trauma experienced in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969. He often relives his time as a rescuer on a helicopter crew.

“I would go down on the cable and get people back up,” remembered Iovino, who lives west of Boynton Beach. “If I froze or panicked, people died.”

Iovino still has shrapnel in his back, forehead and knee, and came back to the United States angry and sick from heart disease. He discovered yoga five years ago and said it has helped him slow down so he thinks before he speaks.

He said his high-blood pressure has disappeared and he is undergoing training to become a certified yoga teacher.

Bob Conway, of Delray Beach, also thinks yoga and meditation techniques have helped him calm his nerves and learn to trust. He turned to drugs and alcohol when he returned from Vietnam in 1970.

He said he always keeps his back to walls since he served in the Marine Corps as a sniper and tunnelman. But in yoga class, he is willing to get into poses facing the wall, knowing his fellow vets are nearby and supportive.

When he began learning breathing techniques with fellow veterans, “I thought, boy, is this dorky, just goofy,” said Conway, 60.

Now, “I look forward to yoga more than golf on Sundays, and golf is my religion,” he said.

lsolomon@tribune.com or 561-243-6536

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Yoga class aims to heal trauma victims

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Matt Brennan, The Beacon-News: Medical studies show that trauma is carried by cells and tissue in the body. Physical activities such as yoga can help alleviate that trauma. A Geneva social worker and a yoga instructor are teaming up to offer a program helping those who suffer from PTSD to heal.

“There’s no other program out there combining the verbal and nonverbal like this,” according to Isie Brindley, a licensed clinical professional counselor practicing in Geneva.

Brindley is working with Green Leaf Yoga instructor Pam O’Brien to develop a program that incorporates the benefits of therapy with a type of yoga designed to help victims of trauma. The program they are looking to create is called Pathways to Empowerment.

They are trying to generate enough local interest to begin the class.

Sometimes someone with severe trauma has lost the connection between mind and body. Something simple such as a command to lift your left leg may not compute in the mind of a trauma victim, she said.

“It helps people come back to awareness and learning how to self regulate,” she said.

Yoga for trauma patients is different than traditional yoga in how it is taught. It involves a more sensitive approach.

“The intention is different,” she said. “With this, you never force and you never push. You’re just inviting the student to explore.”

O’Brien is a certified Trauma Sensitive Yoga Teacher through the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute in Brookline, Mass. The class she is certified to teach is based on the research of Bessel van der Kolk, an expert on PTSD who is exploring the use of yoga to regain a physical mastery.

O’Brien is currently teaching an eight-week session of yoga geared toward trauma victims. For that class, there is a screening process to ensure that people are also seeking outside help.

With the program they are looking to create, O’Brien and Brindley will be able to more closely intertwine the yoga and therapy. Brindley said it would help to put someone in a place where they can process the information related to their PTSD without the trauma.

“It’s shifting the unconscious mind into the conscious memory,” Brindley said. “Rather than being victimized, they’re now in control.” The therapy also will help them to process the information related to the incident, she said.

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begin the class.

Sometimes someone with severe trauma has lost the connection between mind and body. Something simple such as a command to lift your left leg may not compute in the mind of a trauma victim, she said.

“It helps people come back to awareness and learning how to self regulate,” she said.

Yoga for trauma patients is different than traditional yoga in how it is taught. It involves a more sensitive approach.

“The intention is different,” she said. “With this, you never force and you never push. You’re just inviting the student to explore.”

O’Brien is a certified Trauma Sensitive Yoga Teacher through the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute in Brookline, Mass. The class she is certified to teach is based on the research of Bessel van der Kolk, an expert on PTSD who is exploring the use of yoga to regain a physical mastery.

O’Brien is currently teaching an eight-week session of yoga geared toward trauma victims. For that class, there is a screening process to ensure that people are also seeking outside help.

With the program they are looking to create, O’Brien and Brindley will be able to more closely intertwine the yoga and therapy. Brindley said it would help to put someone in a place where they can process the information related to their PTSD without the trauma.

“It’s shifting the unconscious mind into the conscious memory,” Brindley said. “Rather than being victimized, they’re now in control.” The therapy also will help them to process the information related to the incident, she said.

For more information on yoga for trauma patients, visit www.greenleafyogastudio.com or call 630-917-9171.

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Meditation For the Love of It, by Sally Kempton

‘Inner spaciousness is always there, with its clarity, its love, and its innate goodness,’ says Sally Kempton in her new book. Our task is learn how to connect with it, and in Meditation for the Love of It, which has garnered rave reviews from such spiritual luminaries as Lama Surya Das, Kempton sets out to show us how love and enjoyment should be at the heart of our experience.

A shame then that although the book contains much of value, it’s hard to love it, and at times, hard even to enjoy it.

Parts are written with sensitivity, imagination and a sense of who the reader might be. Kempton offers an excellent explanation of how to work with a mantra. She successfully combines practical advice with metaphors that foster intuitive understanding (‘after a while the mantra begins to act as a sort of magnet that aligns the particles of your scattered attention’).

The meditation exercises – which come towards the end of each chapter, in ones, twos, threes or more – are varied and imaginative. ‘Become Aware of your Awareness’ was one I found particularly good, to the extent that I now incorporate it in my practice.

But there were two aspects of the book that I found very difficult.

Firstly, Kempton talks a lot about bliss states and refers again and again to where our meditation practice will eventually lead us.

In those chapters where the meditation journey itself is the subject, such as ‘Where Do You Find Yourself?’ and ‘The Process of Ripening’ – chapters offering a kind of road map to help the reader assess his or her progress on the meditation journey – this is all well and good, and actually very interesting.

But the emphasis on transcendental states in the rest of the text is draining and counter-productive. It’s as if ordinary experience is being continually presented as something to move away from.

Maybe this is the case. But there’s a problem inherent in talking about it too much. As the poet Antonio Porchia said, ‘he who makes a paradise of his bread, makes a hell of his hunger.’

It’s something of a paradox, but the meditation teachings I find most helpful are those that barely mention any future state but help one to focus unconditionally on the here and now with all its pains and pleasures.

This may be just me, and Sally Kempton may be writing for more experienced meditators. But here was the second problem: I couldn’t see who the book was aimed at.

Kempton’s teachings are based on Kashmir Shaivism, a ‘philosophical system’ that she describes in the chapter ‘Moving Inward’ (pg 109 onwards). Nothing wrong with that, except that the book, with its frequent quotations from spiritual leaders of all traditions, seems to be marketed at the general reader.

And yet, among passages written in a down-to-earth colloquial style, the text breaks out into esoteric language and liberal use of the symbols of Kempton’s yogic tradition. This shuffling between registers is disorientating and made me wonder who was talking. I would feel on board with the ideas and concepts, only to feel crestfallen when I was suddenly excluded by alien words and concepts. Hope was offered, but it was also snatched away.

I was thrown by assertions like ‘the radiance of supreme Awareness is present inside the [mantra] syllables’ (pg 92), and ‘Oneness is the Truth’ (pg 110). The capitalizing of words made me uncomfortable, and sometimes I was invited somewhere I just plain didn’t want to go, as in the meditation exercise, ‘Seeing the Mind as Shakti, the Energy of Creation’ (pg 151).

Having said that, the book has something to offer both secular readers and readers from different spiritual traditions, if you approach with caution. For yoga practitioners out there, it is probably a godsend. For Kempton’s followers and fellow Shaivists, it may even be a Godsend.

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Yoga, meditation program helps city youths cope with stress

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Kelly Brewington, The Baltimore Sun: Researchers and lay people alike think yoga may help adults reduce stress. The popularity of the practice has surged, and it’s used as therapy for cancer patients and battered women, and as a treatment for back pain and depression.

But even as schools get in on the trend, the effect of the practice on children has not been subject to rigorous study, say researchers at the Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health. Even less understood is whether yoga can help youths struggling with the stress of urban life.

“Living in an inner-city environment with high crime and high violence, there are just so many kids here who have chronic stress,” said Tamar Mendelson, an assistant professor in the department of mental health at Bloomberg and the study’s lead researcher. “We wanted to really study this and see if this can be helpful for kids exposed to chronic stress and if we can give them some tools for coping.”

They found a 12-week yoga program targeting 97 fourth- and fifth-graders in two Baltimore elementary schools made a difference in students’ overall behavior and their ability to concentrate. They found students who did yoga were less…

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likely to ruminate, the kind of brooding thoughts associated with depression and anxiety that can be a reaction to stress. The findings, which focused on a pilot program that took place in 2008, were published recently in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. One program is still active, and researchers are now applying for federal funding to expand the effort into schools across the city.

Researchers identified four schools, offered four 45-minute yoga classes each week to students at two of them, and used the other two schools as the control group. They gave students questionnaires before and after the study period and followed up with interviews with students and teachers. Schools included in the study were Westside, Samuel F.B. Morse, Alexander Hamilton and North Bend elementaries.

While the study was small and the findings self-reported, researchers believe the findings hold promise.

“Kids in urban environments always have their antennas up for being wary of danger,” said Mark Greenberg, director of the Prevention Research Center at Pennsylvania State University, which does research on promoting healthy development in children. He worked with Hopkins on the study.

“Even though they may act tough, they are often very anxious and nervous about it,” he said. “[Yoga] gives them a space, and a place where they can let that down and understand their own private experience. They don’t need to be wary and careful all the time; they can learn to explore their inner lives.”

Ka’ron Fletcher, 11, said he found yoga challenging when he began classes last fall, but now finds himself using the deep-breathing techniques when he’s struggling to concentrate during science class.

“It’s easy,” he said of yoga. “I just close my eyes and think about the sunrise. I can block all that other stuff out.”

The damaging effects of stress on kids

Without a way to manage it, stress can harm the body, particularly for children, Greenberg said. Recent studies have linked high levels of cortisol, the primary stress hormone, to depression and poor performance in school. Greenberg’s research suggests a link between growing up in poverty and stress in a young child. In a study published in the journal Child Development, he found that children as young as 3 growing up in rural poverty with high stress levels had decreased cognitive abilities.

Stress disrupts a child’s ability to concentrate, he said. “They are not able to harness their thinking skills because they are preoccupied.”

Still, large well-designed studies showing a relationship between yoga and reduced stress are lacking, said Karen Sherman, a principal investigator with the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle, who has studied yoga’s impact on chronic back pain.

“Not all studies show that yoga improves the cortisol profile, but some do,” she said. “And from a subjective perspective, many people comment on the relaxing, stress-reducing benefits of yoga. I think that this is the reason that people seek it out.”

While many studies on yoga are limited, there is “intriguing evidence” that it can have a host of health benefits, she said.

To test their theories, Hopkins researchers used a curriculum designed by the Holistic Life Foundation, a Baltimore nonprofit founded in 2002 by brothers Ali and Atman Smith and their college buddy, Andy Gonzalez. Upon graduating from the University of Maryland, College Park, “the traveling yogis” as they called themselves, returned to their poor West Baltimore neighborhood looking for a way to give back.

Yoga was ingrained in the Smith household, where as kids, the brothers would do yoga and meditate before going off to elementary school.

In 2002, the three rounded up some neighborhood toughs and started offering them free classes at Windsor Hills Elementary School. With parents addicted to drugs, in jail and living on the margins, the students were skeptical of yoga, Ali Smith remembered. “We’d get an occasional, ‘Yoga? You mean that little green guy from Star Wars?’

“But it’s funny how they took to it,” he said. “We’re from where they’re from, we look how they look. We make sure that we are presenting yoga to them in a way that they will get it.”

Darrius Douglas, 20, was among that first group introduced to yoga. Where most of his friends were hanging out on corners selling drugs, Douglas was perfecting his Kundalini lotus position — sitting upright, hands grabbing the ends of his feet as his legs are stretched up and out to either side.

“Yoga saved me,” said Douglas, who volunteers with the Holistic Life Foundation every week, helping to teach yoga’s benefits to a new generation of students.

The traveling yogis combined various yoga disciplines, poses and breathing exercises to create their own blend of practice that emphasizes mindfulness, or awareness that emerges when one is present or “in the moment.”

These days, the Holistic Life Foundation runs an after-school program offering yoga and meditation to about 25 students in pre-K through fifth grade at Robert W. Coleman Elementary in West Baltimore.

One recent afternoon in the school gym, only about half the students in the 45-minute class were paying attention. A 4-year-old bounced around the room, getting up every few minute from her mat to ask for water, her sweat shirt and to go to the nurse. A 10-year-old ran around in circles. And the teachers were constantly reminding the fidgeting bunch to stay focused.

Then, Atman Smith began a guided meditation, which caps off the practice, and the students settled into corpse pose, resting flat on their backs. He encouraged the group to surrender to the breath and focus on the “thumb-sized light at your heart center.”

Within seconds, the room fell silent.

For eight minutes, the students lay motionless on blue mats, eyes shut tight, palms facing the ceiling in total calm. When the meditation finished, some eyes remained closed. A handful of students had dozed off.

“I just be so deep into my meditation, I fall asleep,” said Ja’naisa Brown, 9. She tries to draw on her yoga skills when she’s frustrated, she said. “If somebody gets on my nerves, my mother tells me to go into the house and do yoga. I sit on the floor in my room, put on my music and breathe.”

Carlillian Thompson, principal at Coleman Elementary said she has seen shy students open up since taking the class and angry students learn to settle themselves down.

“I look at some of the older children who have had anger management issues; now they do the meditation, and they try to solve their problems by speaking,” she said. “Is it a quick fix, are all of the children making great strides like this? No, but they all are making progress. And that’s the thing I really like about it.”

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Great escape: Meditation for active moms in downtown Palatine, Illinois

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Melanie Santostefano, Patch: If you’ve already experienced yoga or you’re thinking about trying it, Himalayan Yoga and Meditation Center in downtown Palatine could help you find the peace and balance so many busy Moms seek.

“Our focus is on meditation; it will help with stilling and quieting your mind so you can begin to discover more about yourself,” said Diane McDonald, director.

During meditation, instructors encourage students to keep their spines straight, which not only promotes good posture but also proper breathing technique.

McDonald said classes can give Moms the tools to meditate at home so even the busiest calendars can be accommodated.

“Meditation has really helped me to focus; as Moms we do so much multi-tasking and 20 minutes of meditation in the morning helps me to feel centered the entire day,” said McDonald.

“It calms me, makes me more alert and my awareness is heightened,” said McDonald.

A six-week meditation course is set to begin Thursdays from 6:15 p.m. to 7:30p.m. starting Feb. 24.

The second four-week class will be held Saturdays from 10:30a.m. to 11:30 a.m.; but the start date has not yet been scheduled.

Between now and April 15, ‘Patch Moms’ can take advantage of a 10 percent discount; just mention the ‘Patch offer’ when you call.

“Meditation creates an inner awareness and attention, and that is where you want to be,” said McDonald.

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so even the busiest calendars can be accommodated.

“Meditation has really helped me to focus; as Moms we do so much multi-tasking and 20 minutes of meditation in the morning helps me to feel centered the entire day,” said McDonald.

“It calms me, makes me more alert and my awareness is heightened,” said McDonald.

A six-week meditation course is set to begin Thursdays from 6:15 p.m. to 7:30p.m. starting Feb. 24.

The second four-week class will be held Saturdays from 10:30a.m. to 11:30 a.m.; but the start date has not yet been scheduled.

Between now and April 15, ‘Patch Moms’ can take advantage of a 10 percent discount; just mention the ‘Patch offer’ when you call.

To learn more, observe a class or to register, call 847-221-5250.

“Meditation creates an inner awareness and attention, and that is where you want to be,” said McDonald.

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Yoga at home: Relaxing space, relaxed mind

Yoga, the ancient practice of breathing, movement and meditation, is thriving in Montreal. In fact, there are so many types of yoga now on offer that you can choose a practice entirely based on your sensibilities, such as bikram if you like it hot, ashtanga if you like it more physical, kundalini if you’re interested in breathing alignment, or kripalu, which adds meditation.

As more people, young and old, take up yoga for good health, suppleness and sometimes for enlightenment, they often discover that they want more than a yoga class a few times a week.

They look for a favourite spot at home where they can complete the daily yoga ritual, a place they dedicate to their practice. Some use a separate room, while others simply carve out a quiet space in a corner of the living room. Whatever they choose, the key is to create an atmosphere that is so calming that even the family dog, with a deep sigh, is able to relax. What makes the space? Start with soft colours, music, candles and statuary.

All of these are in abundance in the yoga spaces that follow. Whether you’re a relative novice like Marie-Ève Méthot, who has been doing yoga for just a few years, or a veteran practitioner like yoga…

Read the rest of this article…

teacher Kelly McGrath, a tranquil space sets the stage for the calm concentration needed when doing yoga.

Marie-Ève Méthot learned about quiet spaces while living in Tokyo. “I lived in a traditional house in Japan, with a tatami bedroom,” she says. “There was a tokonoma, a little alcove space to meditate, that you could decorate with your favourite flowers.”

The little carved cabinet that she used for meditation in Tokyo is now part of her personal yoga space, a raised platform in her Westmount loft. Surrounded by fine gauze drapery, the cabinet stands on an antique lacquered side table, and on it Méthot places objects that inspire her – a set of bells from Japan, lacquered rose petals, a crystal and her favourite photo from her collection of black-and-whites from Canadian photographer Gregory Colbert’s startling series on wild creatures.

On the floor near the edge of the Persian rug on which she practises her yoga early each morning, she keeps a low table with teacups and a pink wax bowl from Morocco filled with water and floating candles.

“When I practise, I like to light the candles if it’s dark, and put on soft music,” says Méthot, who began yoga when she returned from Tokyo in 2008. “Now I have a different body with yoga; I feel taller. And now I’m addicted.”

Each morning, the living room of Kelly McGrath’s small N.D.G. apartment undergoes a transformation. The coffee table is moved aside, the couches are pushed back, and a rattan screen becomes the backdrop for the low table in front of which she lays her yoga mat. With her three dogs relaxing nearby, inhaling the tender scent of Tibetan incense, she completes her hour-long ritual.

“I like to make up a small table, which I call an altar, so I can meditate,” says McGrath, who has been teaching yoga for 11 years full time, and practising for more than 20. On it, for inspiration, she puts a statue of Lakshmi, the goddess of beauty and prosperity, and images of people she loves: her husband snowboarding on a mountainside, her two nieces and, at the forefront, the Dalai Lama.

“One is supposed to put a photograph of one’s teacher, and he has never been my teacher,” McGrath admits, “but I’ve been in his presence a few times and to me he is the living embodiment of compassion and humanity. He is a great teacher.”

She wears comfortable, loose clothing, always cotton, and usually plays soft music, feeling a sense of the sky or vast ocean from the turquoise walls. “I find turquoise very calming; it helps me feel more balanced,” she says.

“And I like the accents of red in the room: it’s associated with the root chakra, at the bottom of the pelvic floor, so it helps to feel grounded and stable. I put red in the cushions and the curtains as a highlight in the room.”

A large space isn’t necessary to practise yoga, says McGrath, who teaches at United Yoga Montreal. Doing yoga at home gives her a chance to practise with her three dogs around her. “Sometimes it brings a sense of playfulness, and other times they get so relaxed from the yoga that I’m doing that they’re often lying down around me. I really love that.”

Yoga teacher Bram Levinson has wide open spaces in his Plateau loft, lots of green plants and evocative yoga art and statuary set against sage green walls, but wherever he chooses to place his yoga mat, the ritual remains the same. “I make sure that I sweep the floor so that it’s really clean, and I wash my hands,” he says.

Then he chooses a piece of furniture, like a cabinet, which he covers with a soft cloth and prepares as the centrepiece for his practice. He places candles and a statue of Ganesh, “the remover of obstacles, prayed to at the beginning of celebrations,” says Levinson, who also has a tattoo of the god on his left calf.

Most days, with his sweet old Jack Russell terrier Oliver sound asleep nearby and illuminated by candles and natural light, he begins his practice with a short meditation and chant.

Home practice is a necessity for Lee-Ann Matthews, whose yoga teaching has its own particular rewards and challenges – her students are children from age 3 to age 10. Specially trained at the Kripalu yoga centre in Massachusetts, she has been teaching children for five years.

“I practise at home because I need quiet, and there’s something nice about early morning for me, when no one’s around and you’re not too far from your dream state,” she says. “It helps me get into the zone.”

Matthews is referring to the meditation zone, which she believes is central to any yoga practice and affords a sense of inner life that you can bring to any activity. For this reason, she believes yoga practice can be done anywhere, and with no props at all – in her case, a Persian rug and blanket is all she uses.

“When I’m on my own, I don’t need anything extra,” she says. “I try to dive in, to go inside. You don’t need a yoga mat to do yoga. It’s a state of mind.”

No shivers and no shoes

Spending a productive hour doing yoga, without being bothered by people talking or loud music, means you need to set aside a quiet time and a quiet space. To do that, it’s best to keep in mind the following:

First, outfit yourself in loose clothing, to allow unrestricted movement for the yoga postures and breathing exercises.

Keep the temperature moderately warm, and have a shawl handy as cover so you don’t get cold when you settle into relaxation mode.

Bare feet are preferable; it’s easier to keep them firmly planted on a yoga mat, which should be slightly tacky. Hardwood flooring is preferable to rugs, although you can lay your mat down on any surface. If you’re not using a mat, a clean, bare floor or small area rug will do.

Add a few pieces of contemplative art to an otherwise uncluttered space, and use natural light whenever possible. If you’re practising at night, light a few candles. Do your best to avoid harsh fluorescent lights.

If you like music during your practice, consider natural sounds, Eastern chants or soft classical music.

Interview for this story:

Kelly McGrath teaches kripalu yoga at United Yoga Montreal, 451 Ste. Catherine St. W., Suite 203. Phone 514-849-7100; visit www.unitedyogamontreal.com.

Bram Levinson manages and teaches at Centre Luna Yoga, 231 St. Paul St. W., Suite 200. Call 514-845-1881; visit www.centrelunayoga.com. He is also featured in the Yoga Flo for the Earth DVD, sold at all Montreal Lululemon locations as well as at Centre Luna Yoga.

Lee-Ann Matthews is founder and teacher at Kids Space Yoga. She can be reached at 514-262-4060 or kidsspaceyoga@gmail.com.

donnanebenzahl@videotron.ca

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Yoga: it’s not as old (or as Hindu) as you think

yogaNo one denies that Hinduism’s most sacred and ancient texts, including the Bhagvad Gita, describe different kinds of yogic practices. But what does this ancient and sacred tradition of yoga have to do with what people all around the world do in yoga classes in gyms and fitness centres today?

To most Indians, such questions are nothing less than sacrilegious. Yoga is for them what apple pie and motherhood are for Americans: a living symbol of their way of life.

Indians tend to affirm their claims on yoga by trotting out the familiar icons of the ‘5,000-year-old Vedic tradition,’ which supposedly stretches from the Pashupati seal of the (actually very unVedic) Indus Valley civilisation to the Bhagvad Gita and the venerable Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Yoga, Indians like to solemnly declare, is ‘eternal’ and ‘timeless’ and all the great yoga masters, from Swami Vivekananda to BKS Iyengar to Baba Ramdev of our own time, have only restored or reinstituted an ancient practice. It is also commonplace to hear Indians—even those who are not particularly spiritual themselves—blame

Americans and other ‘decadent’ Westerners for reducing their spiritually rich tradition to mere calisthenics.

Lately, Hindus in America have started flying the saffron flag over American-style yoga, which consists largely of yogic asanas and stretches. The leading Indo-American lobby, Hindu American Foundation (HAF), has recently started a vocal campaign to remind Americans that yoga was made in India by Hindus. Not just any ordinary Hindus, but Sanskrit-speaking, forest-dwelling Brahmin sages who learned to discipline their bodies in order to purify their atman. The purist Hindu position, articulated by the HAF, is that all yoga, including its physical or hatha yoga component, is rooted in the Hindu religion/way of life that goes all the way back to the Vedic sages and yogis.

There is only one problem with this purist history of yoga: it is false. Yogic asanas were never ‘Vedic’ to begin with. Far from being considered the crown jewel of Hinduism, yogic asanas were in fact looked down upon…

Read the rest of this article…

by Hindu intellectuals and reformers—including the great Swami Vivekananda—as fit only for sorcerers, fakirs and jogis. Moreover, what HAF calls the “rape of yoga”, referring to the separation of asanas from their spiritual underpinning, did not start in the supposedly decadent West; it began, in fact, in the akharas and gymnasiums of 19th and 20th century India run by Indian nationalists seeking to counter Western images of effete Indians. It is in this nationalistic phase that hatha yoga took on many elements of Western gymnastics and body-building, which show up in the world-renowned Iyengar and Ashtanga Vinyasa schools of yoga. Far from honestly acknowledging the Western contributions to modern yoga, we Indians simply brand all yoga as ‘Vedic,’ a smug claim that has no intellectual integrity.

It is the hidden history of modern postural yoga that is the main theme of this essay. But first, some background on the great ‘take back yoga’ movement.

YOGA IN AMERICA
Yoga is to North America what McDonald’s is to India: both are foreign implants gone native. Not unlike the golden arches that are mushrooming in Indian cities, the urban and suburban landscape of the United States is dotted with neighbourhood health clubs, spas and even churches and synagogues offering yoga classes.

Some 16 million Americans do some form of yoga, primarily as a part of their exercise and fitness routine. When everyday Americans talk about yoga, they mostly mean hatha yoga, involving stretches, breathing and bodily postures.

Many styles of postural yoga, pioneered by India-origin teachers—the Iyengar and Sivananda schools, the Ashtanga Vinyasa or ‘power yoga’ of Pattabhi Jois, and ‘hot yoga,’ recently copyrighted by Bikram Chaudhary—thrive in the United States. The more meditational forms of yoga, popularised by the disciples of Vivekananda, Sivananda and other swamis, are less popular. Americans’ preference for postural yoga over meditational yoga is not all that unique: in India, too, hundreds of millions follow Baba Ramdev, India’s most popular tele-yogi, who teaches a medicalised, asana-oriented yoga with little spiritual or meditational content.

By and large, the US yoga industry does not hide the origins of what it teaches. On the contrary, in a country that is so young and so constantly in flux, yoga’s presumed antiquity (‘the 5,000-year-old exercise system’, etcetera.) and its connections with Eastern spirituality have become part of the sales pitch. Thus, doing namastes, intoning ‘om’ and chanting Sanskrit mantras have become a part of the experience of doing yoga in America. Many yoga studios use Indian classical or kirtan music, incense, signs of ‘om’ and other paraphernalia of the Subcontinent to create a suitably spiritual ambience. Iyengar yoga schools begin their sessions with a hymn to Patanjali, the second-century composer of the Yoga Sutras, and some have even installed his icon. This Hinduisation is not entirely decorative either, as yoga instructors are required to study Hindu philosophy and scriptures to get a licence to teach yoga.

‘TAKE BACK YOGA’
One would think that yoga’s popularity and Hinduisation would gladden the hearts of Hindu immigrants.

Wrong.

The leading Hindu advocacy organisation in the United States, the aforementioned Hindu American Foundation or HAF, is hardly beaming with pride. On the contrary, it has recently accused the American yoga industry of ‘stealing’—even ‘raping’—yoga by stripping it of its spiritual heritage and not acknowledging its Hindu roots. Millions of Americans will be shocked to learn that they are committing ‘intellectual property theft’ every single time they strike a yogic pose because they fail to acknowledge yoga’s ‘mother tradition,’ namely Hinduism. HAF’s co-founder and chief spokesperson, Aseem Shukla, exhorts his fellow Hindus to ‘take back yoga and reclaim the intellectual property of their spiritual heritage.’

The take-back-yoga campaigners are not impressed with the growing visibility of Hindu symbols and rituals in yoga and other cultural institutions in the US. They still find Hindu-phobia lurking everywhere they look. They want Americans to think of yoga, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the great Vedas when they think of Hinduism, instead of the old stereotypes of caste, cows and curry. They would rather, to paraphrase Shukla, that Hinduism is linked less with holy cows than Gomukhasana (a particularly arduous asana); less with colourful wandering sadhus and more with the spiritual inspiration of Patanjali. It seems this yoga-reclamation campaign is less about yoga, and more about the Indian diaspora’s strange mix of defensiveness and an exaggerated sense of the excellence of the elite, Sanskritic aspects of Hindu religion and culture.

The ‘who owns yoga’ debate gained worldwide attention last November, when The New York Times carried a front-page feature on the issue. But the dispute started earlier, with a battle of blogs, hosted online by The Washington Post, between HAF’s Shukla and New Age guru Deepak Chopra. Shukla complained of the yoga establishment shunning the ‘H-word’ while making its fortunes off Hindu ideas and practices. He accused the yoga and New Age industry, including Indian gurus like Deepak Chopra, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and others, of using euphemisms like ‘Eastern wisdom’ and ‘ancient Indian’ to repackage Hindu ideas without calling them by their proper name. Chopra, who does indeed shun the Hindu label and calls himself an ‘Advaita Vedantist’ instead, declared that Hinduism had no patent on yoga. He argued that yoga existed in ‘consciousness and consciousness alone’ much before Hinduism, just like wine and bread existed before Jesus’ Last Supper, implying that Hindus had as much claim over yoga as Christians had over bread and wine. Shukla called Chopra a “philosophical profiteer” who does not honour his Hindu heritage, while Chopra accused Shukla and HAF of a Hindu-fundamentalist bias.

NEITHER ETERNAL NOR VEDIC
This debate is really about two equally fundamentalist views of Hindu history. The underlying objective is to draw an unbroken line connecting 21st century yogic postures with the nearly 2,000-year-old Yoga Sutras, and tie both to the supposedly 5,000-year-old Vedas. The only difference is that, for Chopra, yoga existed before Hinduism, while Shukla and HAF want to claim the entire five millennia for the glory of Hinduism. For Chopra, yoga is a part of ‘timeless Eastern wisdom’. For the HAF, ‘Yoga and the Vedas are synonymous, and are as eternal as they are contemporaneous.’

The reality is that postural yoga, as we know it in the 21st century, is neither eternal nor synonymous with the Vedas or Yoga Sutras. On the contrary, modern yoga was born in the late 19th/early 20th centuries. It is a child of the Hindu Renaissance and Indian nationalism, in which Western ideas about science, evolution, eugenics, health and physical fitness played as crucial a role as the ‘mother tradition’. In the massive, multi-level hybridisation that took place during this period, the spiritual aspects of yoga and tantra were rationalised, largely along the theosophical ideas of ‘spiritual science,’ introduced to
India by the US-origin, India-based Theosophical Society, and internalised by Swami Vivekananda, who led the yoga renaissance.

In turn, the physical aspects of yoga were hybridised with drills, gymnastics and body-building techniques borrowed from Sweden, Denmark, England, the United States and other Western countries. These innovations were creatively grafted on the Yoga Sutras—which has been correctly described by Agehananda Bharati, the Austria-born Hindu monk-mystic, as ‘the yoga canon for people who have accepted Brahmin theology’—to create an impression of 5,000 years worth of continuity where none really exists. The HAF’s current insistence is thus part of a false advertising campaign about yoga’s ancient Brahminical lineage.

WHAT VEDIC ROOTS?
Contrary to the widespread impression, the vast majority of asanas taught by modern yoga gurus are not described anywhere in ancient sacred Hindu texts. Anyone who goes looking for references to popular yoga techniques like pranayam, neti, kapalbhati or suryanamaskar in classical Vedic literature will be sorely disappointed.

The four Vedas have no mention of yoga. The Upanishads and The Bhagvad Gita do, but primarily as a spiritual technique to purify the atman. The Bible of yoga, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, devotes barely three short sutras (out of 195) to physical postures, and that too only to suggest comfortable ways of sitting still for prolonged meditation. Asanas were only the means to the real goal—to still the mind to achieve the state of pure consciousness—in Patanjali’s yoga.

There are, of course, asana-centred hatha yoga texts in the Indic tradition. But they definitely do not date back 5,000 years: none of them makes an appearance till the 10th to 12th centuries. Hatha yoga was a creation of the kanphata (split-eared) Nath Siddha, who were no Sanskrit-speaking sages meditating in the Himalayas. They were (and still are) precisely those matted-hair, ash-smeared sadhus that the HAF wants to banish from the Western imagination. Indeed, if any Hindu tradition can at all claim a patent on postural yoga, it is these caste-defying, ganja-smoking, sexually permissive, Shiva- and Shakti-worshipping sorcerers, alchemists and tantriks, who were cowherds, potters and suchlike. They undertook great physical austerities not because they sought to achieve pure consciousness, unencumbered by the body and other gross matter, but because they wanted magical powers (siddhis) to become immortal and to control the rest of the natural world.

Far from being purely Vedic, hatha yoga was born a hybrid. As Amartya Sen reminded us in his recent address to the Indian Science Congress, universities like Nalanda were a melting pot where Buddhist Tantra made contact with Taoism from China. By the time Buddhism reached China through Nalanda and other centres of cultural exchange along the Silk Route in the north and the sea route in the south, Taoists were already experimenting with qigong, which involved controlled breathing and channelling of ‘vital energy’. Taoist practices bear an uncanny similarity with the yogic pranayam, leading scholars to believe that the two systems have borrowed from each other: Indians learning exercise-oriented breathing from Taoists, and Taoists in China learning breathing-oriented meditation from their Indian neighbours.

But this Taoist-Buddhist-Shaivite synthesis was only the beginning. As we see below, hatha yoga was to absorb many more influences in the modern era, this time from the West.

FABRICATING ANCIENT TEXTS
The problem for historians of modern yoga is that even these medieval hatha yoga texts describe only a small fraction of modern yogic postures taught today. BKS Iyengar’s Light on Yoga alone teaches 200 asanas, while the 14th century Hatha Yoga Pradipika lists only 15 asanas, as do the 17th century Gheranda Samhita and Shiva Samhita.

Given that there is so little ancient tradition upon which to stand, unverifiable claims of ancient-but-now-lost texts have been promoted. The Ashtanga Vinyasa system of Pattabhi Jois, for example, is allegedly based on a palm-leaf manuscript called the Yoga Kurunta that Jois’s teacher, renowned yoga master T Krishnamacharya (1888–1989), unearthed in a Calcutta library. But this manuscript has reportedly been eaten by ants, and not a single copy of it can be found today. Another ‘ancient’ text, the Yoga Rahasya, which no one has been able to trace, was supposedly dictated to Krishnamacharya in a trance by the ghost of an ancestor who had been dead nearly a millennium. Such are the flimsy—or rather fictional—grounds on which rest Hinduism’s claimed intellectual property rights to yoga.

This sorry attempt to create an ancient lineage for modern yoga is reminiscent of the case of Vedic mathematics. In that case, Swami Shri Bharati Krishna Tirtha, the Shankaracharya of Puri, insisted that 16 sutras in his 1965 book, titled Vedic Mathematics, are to be found in the appendix of Atharva Veda. When no one could find the said sutras, the Swami declared they appear only in his own appendix to the the Atharva Veda and not any other! This ‘logic’ has not prevented Vedic maths from emerging as a growth industry, attracting private spending by well-heeled Indians seeking to boost brainpower and public spending by state governments that have introduced it in school curriculums.

SECRETS OF THE MYSORE PALACE
New research has brought to light historical documents and oral histories that raise serious doubts about the ‘ancient’ lineage of Pattabhi Jois’ Ashtanga Vinyasa and Iyengar yoga. Both Jois (1915–2009) and Iyengar (born 1918) learnt yoga from T Krishnamacharya from 1933 till the late 1940s, when he directed a yoga school in one wing of the Jaganmohan Palace of the Maharaja of Mysore, Krishnaraja Wodiyar IV (1884–1940).

The Maharaja, who ruled the state and the city of Mysore from 1902 till his death, was well known as a great promoter of Indian culture and religion. But he was also a great cultural innovator, who welcomed positive innovations from the West, incorporating them into his social programmes. Promoting
physical education was one of his passions, and under his reign, Mysore became the hub of a physical culture revival in the country. He had hired Krishnamacharya primarily to teach yoga to the young princes of the royal family, but he also funded the travels all over India of Krishnamacharya and his protégés to give yoga demonstrations, thereby encouraging an enormous popular revival of yoga.

Indeed, Mysore’s royal family had a long-standing interest in hatha yoga: Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar III (1799–1868), Wodeyar IV’s ancestor, is credited with composing an exquisitely illustrated manual, titled Sritattvanidhi, which was first discovered by Norman Sjoman, a Swedish yoga student, in the mid-1980s in the library of the Mysore Palace. What is remarkable about this book is its innovative combination of hatha yoga asanas with rope exercises used by Indian wrestlers and the danda push-ups developed at the vyayamasalas, the indigenous Indian gymnasiums.

Both Sjoman and Mark Singleton, a US-based scholar who has interviewed many of those associated with the Mysore Palace during its heyday in the 1930s, believe that the seeds of modern yoga lie in the innovative style of Sritattvanidhi. Krishnamacharya, who was familiar with this text and cited it in his own books, carried on the innovation by adding a variety of Western gymnastics and drills to the routines he learnt from Sritattvanidhi, which had already cross-bred hatha yoga with traditional Indian wrestling and acrobatic routines.

In addition, it is well established that Krishnamacharya had full access to a Western-style gymnastics hall in the Mysore Palace, with all the usual wall ropes and other props that he began to include in his yoga routines.

Sjoman has excerpted the gymnastics manual that was available to Krishnamacharya. He claims that many of the gymnastic techniques from that manual—for example, the cross-legged jumpback and walking the hands down a wall into a back arch—found their way into Krishnamacharya’s teachings, which he passed on to Iyengar and Jois. In addition, in the early years of the 20th century, an apparatus-free Swedish drill and gymnastic routine, developed by a Dane by the name of Niels Bukh (1880–1950), was introduced to India by the British and popularised by the YMCA. Singleton argues that “at least 28 of the exercises in the first edition of Bukh’s manual are strikingly similar (often identical) to yoga postures occurring in Pattabhi Jois’ Ashtanga sequence or in Iyengar’s Light on Yoga.” The link again is Krishnamacharya, who Singleton calls a “major player in the modern merging of gymnastic-style asana practice and the Patanjali tradition.”

SO, WHO OWNS YOGA?
The HAF’s shrill claims about Westerners stealing yoga completely gloss over the tremendous amount of cross-breeding and hybridisation that has given birth to yoga as we know it. Indeed, contemporary yoga is a unique example of a truly global innovation, in which Eastern and Western practices merged to produce something that is valued and cherished around the world.

Hinduism, whether ancient, medieval or modern, has no special claims on 21st century postural yoga. To assert otherwise is churlish and simply untrue.

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Meera Nanda is a visiting professor of history of science at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Mohali

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