By Karla Becker (Sat Bachan Kaur), published in “Branches Magazine” March –April 2004
Yoga is here to stay. You can buy your yoga mat at any discount store. Celebrities have written books on the subject, crediting their health and fitness to yoga. Major league football teams have hired yoga teachers to design yoga programs for their players. Some yoga teachers have even attained their own superstar status with best-selling yoga books, videos and DVDs. But yoga is more than just the latest popular exercise class. Much more.
Yoga has been around more than 5,000 years — not 30 years like aerobics or even 70 years like Pilates. Five-thousand years ago is Ancient History. Five-thousand years ago was when the first Pharaoh was uniting Egypt, and Stonehenge was under construction. The Pyramids were still 500 years away. Five- thousand years ago was when the first clay pots were made. What remains from 5,000 years ago? Stonehenge and yoga.
To find out more about yoga’s popularity and its potential, I talked with four long-time yoga teachers: Lorrie Collins, an Indianapolis yoga teacher since 1971 and senior Iyengar teacher, (www.earthlor9.net ); Lee Edgren, owner of River Light Yoga Studio and technical editor of Power Yoga for Dummies and co-author of a study on yoga and breathing , (http://www.riverlightyoga.org); Rose Getz, director of the Himalayan Yoga Meditation Center of Indiana since 1974 and student of the Himalayan master, Swami Rama (http://www.hymcenter.com), and Nancy Schalk, owner of All People Yoga Center (http://www.allpeopleyoga.com) and voted Best Yoga Teacher in Indianapolis by the readers of Indianapolis Monthly magazine. This is what they had to say.
Why do you think yoga is so popular?
Collins: People are seeking for a deeper meaning than they can get out of our technological society. And we've become so ungrounded that people feel they are not connected anymore, and yoga connects you.” The teachers all agreed, however, that the “feel good” aspect of yoga is what has drawn people to it:
Edgren: The great growth in the popularity of yoga came when it became primarily associated with health and physical prowess.
Schalk: Its benefits are innumerable! It is a great method of staying physically fit and healthy, not only muscularly; it improves function in all systems of the body.
Getz: It has become popular because yoga has become more body fitness, body oriented, and the true reason for practicing yoga has been forgotten. Yoga has become synonymous with stress reduction/relaxation and this is ok, but there is so much more. Until we understand the reason for our stress, which is buried deep within, it will always be there.
Because there is a mystical, “other-worldly” aspect of yoga, religious people sometimes are concerned that it will conflict with their beliefs. How does yoga transcend specific religious beliefs?
Collins: Yoga is philosophy. When you look at the philosophy, then it can transcend any religion because we are talking about basic things such as truth, honesty and knowing.
Edgren: The mystical experience of union (which is one of the definitions of the word yoga) is available to those of all faiths or those of no "faith.
Getz: You don’t have to believe anything – just learn to relax the body, regulate the breathing and quiet the mind. You don’t have to pattern yourself after anyone.”
Schalk: Yoga was developed 5000 years ago, so it predates religions. There are no rules, and no beliefs are needed. The first written material on Yoga, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, makes this very clear. No beliefs are required or encouraged.
Photo by Larry Gindhart, Tharp-Perrin Gindhart Artists, Inc.
Besides the well-known physical benefits, why is it good for people?
Collins: No matter what reason you come to class you're going to get something, whether it’s feeling better about yourself, feeling more alive, and more emotionally stable because of breathing practices –and you’ll become more spiritual because it takes you into a bigger picture of what the universe is all about.
Getz: Anytime you do anything to discipline any part of yourself it’s good. Only disciplined people are really happy.
Schalk: It’s good for people because it lifts them up to a higher and more easeful way of living and being.”
How has yoga helped your own personal growth?
Collins: I am more aware — not just of my own body and spirit but also of everyone else’s, and particularly nature.
Edgren: I have recently returned to and widened my practice; I am emphasizing more meditation, more relaxation through the practice of restorative yoga.
Getz: This is something not easy to answer here. It’s very personal, and your life changes dramatically. You have to be ready to admit that life with us at the center doesn’t work and go on to a God-centered life. Then everything changes, life really begins to make sense – it’s not haphazard, and you see where the coincidences come from, and why.
Schalk: For me personally it has been a HUGE help, maybe a lifesaver. I fortunately had a natural draw toward yoga early in my life, and very poor physical health compelled me to it. I recognized its value immediately, and have only been delightfully rewarded for my efforts ever since. It’s helped my heart open. It’s helped me be more sure of myself - able to stand firmly in my own boots. I value myself more, because I experience that inner me that is invaluable. Seeing that in myself, I can more easily see it in others.
How have you seen it affecting your students?
Collins: I have seen dramatic changes over the years – an alive quality to their being, as they moved into the asana and beyond. Out of that they became more balanced and centered.
Edgren: I have had students recover from panic attacks, test anxiety, chronic pain. I had a student with cerebral palsy who made incredible gains in her physical strength and her ability to use her limbs during her two semesters of yoga.
Getz: I notice the ones who buy books because they are interested in changing their lives – or are interested in something beyond focusing on this life where there are so many questions but no answers. Many times students talk before class, during a class discussion, or after about the things that are happening, or what led them to a yoga and meditation class. Sometimes it is a life-changing event and the knowing there had to be more to life than what they had experienced up to that point. Some, but not many, would like to experience Samadhi – the state of consciousness “where no question remains unanswered, no mystery remains unsolved.”
Schalk: Students have told me it’s helped them live with more ease, in countless ways. Specifically it helps them digest their meals better, sleep better, enjoy sexual sharing more deeply, physically and emotionally.
Yoga students are typically depicted in the media as young, thin, female and beautiful. Is yoga accessible to people who don’t fit that description?
Collins: I’ve had students who have had heart attacks and students with muscular control problems, such as muscular dystrophy or fibromyalgia. Many times I've had students who suffered whiplash from car accidents. There are so many poses that something simple can help. I’ve given private lessons to students with missing limbs. This is the secret: Keep working; don't give up!
Edgren: Many loving teachers are now working directly with those who have physical challenges. Restorative yoga and meditation particularly have been linked with improvements in cardiovascular health and stress-related disease.
Getz: The beauty of yoga is that there is something for everyone. Classes can be and are tailored for elderly or disabled people, some in wheelchairs, many with arthritis and every other medical condition. It can be done in chairs with very simple movements.
Schalk: We do Yoga Therapy at All People Yoga Center, where those with special considerations are guided into a practice that suits them. It is meant for people recovering from illness or surgery, are in chronic pain, or have other challenges, and those who want to prevent problems. No matter what condition a person has, yoga can be practiced successfully and beneficially.
Each of these teachers is a personal testimony to yoga’s unlimited potential. Lorrie Collins has a buoyant spirit and an infectious laugh. Lee Edgren has a beautiful smile and youthful spirit. Rose Getz, whom I studied with in 1987-88, looks no older than she did 17 years ago with radiant eyes and skin. And Nancy Schalk looks like she did step out of an advertisement on yoga due to her strong limber body and lithe beauty. May your practice of yoga lead you to your full potential.
Karla Becker is a student and teacher of Kundalini Yoga in Indianapolis. She is a 200-hour certified yoga teacher as recognized by Yoga Alliance and this March completes a second 200 hour teacher certification in Kundalini Yoga with her teacher Gurmukh in Los Angeles. Karla can be emailed from karlayoga.com or at email@example.com.